letters to the editor
The issues surrounding the recently approved amendments to the Mixed-Use Town Center (MUTC) portion of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) and the Biddle Farm proposed development are linked together.
First, the recent CLUP MUTC amendments were spurred by the discussions surrounding the Biddle Farm development. Within the MUTC, there are five zoning districts that can be used to develop a multi-family residential property.
During the August Staff Developer meeting, they opted to utilize the Planned Commercial Development Zoning District (PCD). The PCD district does not allow apartments on the ground floor and has a maximum height of 45 feet.
The Town asked the applicant to review the PCD Zoning District and identify any provisions that they “may wish to have revisited and amended.” The developer responded asking to remove the “upper floor only” residential requirement, increase building height and some other changes.
The FMPC has agreed to the development concept on Biddle Farm but will need to change the PCD Zoning Ordinance to meet this developers’ desires.
This created a problem that the Town addressed with the CLUP text amendments. Without approval of these amendments, the PCD changes would have impacted all vacant parcels within the MUTC. During these discussions, residents asked to pause the amendment process to conduct the appropriate public outreach. These requests were dismissed with various justifications. Then, at the last BMA meeting, the other shoe dropped.
We discovered that another developer had already notified the BMA of his intent to develop the MUTC property next to Kohls. This development includes the type of multi-family residential properties that have been a staple in the MUTC Land Use Area for eight years.
Much was made about what “substantial outreach” means. It is clearly defined and the CLUP refers people to the types of outreach completed when the Plan was developed. The Town discussed the various meetings emphasizing the CLUP Steering Committee meetings and advised that these met the significant public outreach requirement.
The Towns’ Agenda Center does not include the CLUP Steering Committee. Why, because it is a Steering Committee reporting to the FMPC. Checking the Town Hall Sunshine Board is the only way a citizen would know of these meetings. This notification meets the Sunshine Law requirements but fails to meet examples of “significant public outreach.”
Finally, the Town has said that the main reason for the changes is to protect existing neighborhoods. This is a strawman argument. There are currently two protections for existing neighborhoods — transitions in density and building height restrictions in the multi-family zoning ordinances. They do not allow an apartment building within 100 feet of the residential property lines. Members of the BZA confirmed these protections during the meeting.
Regardless if you support apartments in the MUTC or not, as a citizen, the revelations that the Town was aware of the second developers’ plan while pursuing amendments to effectively eliminate key portions of the CLUP is concerning. Moreover, these changes negatively impact the CLUP Strategies 1 & 3 and the Intent and Uses sections in the MUTC Land Use Description.
These constitute a “major update” to a key portion of the CLUP, one that has been adopted into the Zoning Ordinance. I now understand why the Town had no desire to conduct this outreach and provided various rationalizations to not do so. There was an approval deadline; one we were not aware of.
The citizens of Farragut should have real concerns about these events and our voice regarding future changes to the CLUP.
Michael Wilson, Farragut