The Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission will decide on October 10, 2019 whether to recommend rezoning of a roughly 1 acre section of Caswell Park for residential development, but the cutoff for public comments is a full week earlier: October 2 at 3 PM.

Residents are scrambling to get comments in with little over a week since the plan to rezone public park land to high density, planned residential development was revealed at the City's single public information meeting held September 23 at the Knoxville Area Urban League in the Parkridge Community of East Knoxville.

With the clock ticking down, over 25 residents responded to an action alert urging planning commissioners to consider a 60 day delay on the premise that public park land should never be sold or given away for development without extensive opportunities for public input and oversight. Parkridge residents in particular feel the single, short-notice public meeting and single week to submit comments to the Planning Commission does not qualify as "extensive public review and input" called for by City Council in 2010 when OS-2 zoning (Parks and Open Space District) protective of public park land was first proposed in response to efforts to develop 5 acres of Lakeshore Park as supportive housing.

Community activists say needed public review and input has been hampered by the Community Development Department's "active misrepresentation of the status of the land" giving rise to "misleading reports in local news coverage reporting the status of the public park land." City officials are quoted in the Knoxville News Sentinel asserting the parcels up to be rezoned are "adjacent to" rather than "part of" Caswell Park: "not actually part of Caswell Park," despite the City's own records and Council votes confirming the parcels are indeed part of Caswell Park.

A letter-writing campaign posted at points out the City's rezoning application filed with the Planning Commission "improperly characterized" the existing land use, recording "vacant land" instead of "Public Parks" logged in the "Existing Land Use layer" in KGIS. Inspection of KGIS shows the parcels in question no longer have a street address, even though the Planning Commission's website directs users to look up street addresseses for the three parcels forming Caswell Park's southeasternmost portion.

More missteps to justify a 60 day delay are cited, including a notice of rezoning in the Knoxville-News Sentinel noting a current zoning of "Open Space" rather than the full name of the current zoning district (Park and Open Space). Whether this oversight was an instance of intentional or simply accidental misinformation is unknown, just as the effect of any misinformation on public discussion of the rezoning cannot be known. Still, many area news outlets reported the parcels in question are "adjacent to," rather than part of, Caswell Park, likely because the City sent a media advisory to that effect.

Will these discrepancies and the outpouring of public support for delay and further public discussion be enough to sway commissioners? We find out on October 10, 1:30 PM, at the City-County Building.

bizgrrl's picture

Very good. Thank you.

Very good. Thank you.

tjessel's picture


Thanks- my first post. I grew up reading the Sentinel and was dismayed at their front-page story on this. I wrote a letter to the editor with "just the facts" and never got a call back. So, citizen media, here we are!

Bill Lyons's picture

VMC proposal for 5th Avenue

We appreciate Mr. Jessel’s and others’ interest in the proposed permanent supportive housing project on 5th Avenue. These are critical to dealing with homelessness and lack of services for our most vulnerable. The units at Flenniken and Minvilla are well managed and maintained and have caused no problems for their neighbors. The City Department of Community Development was excited to receive this proposal on vacant city owned land very close to a bus stop.

There are two issues here – Process and Park Designation. This will be a bit lengthy but we do want to address each in a respectful, thorough and unambiguous manner.


It is imperative that the community be informed of these projects in a timely manner. We respectively disagree with the notion that the community has only recently been informed on Sept 23rd. Here is the timeline about the notice the Parkridge Community had about VMC’s plan to build permanent supportive housing on city owned land adjacent to Caswell Park. All dates are 2019.

March 18th email from Bruce Spangler, to Lynn Randazzo, President of the Parkridge Community Organization. “ I would like to share and discuss with you a very preliminary project that VMC is considering that would create affordable housing on the vacant property just west of Positively Living. After our discussion, and with your permission, I would like to share the emerging project with the Parkridge Community Organization. I will be available for all subsequent follow-up community meetings as the project progresses as well.

March 19th email from Lynn Randazzo to Bruce Spangler “We are very interested in hearing more. I am out of the country until May so it would be best for you to meet with Matt Foster, our Vice President…

March 29th email exchange between Bruce Spangler and PCO Vice President Matt Foster Bruce Spangler: “Thanks for taking time to hear of VMC’s preliminary plans for permanent supportive housing in the Parkridge Community. I appreciate your questions and willingness to bring it to the Board of the Neighborhood Association and subsequently placed it on the agenda for the next appropriate board meeting. Even more, I appreciate your openness and interest in such a project. Matt Foster: ” Bruce, I appreciate the fact that you reached out to us and your desire for transparency. I will talk to the board and hopefully soon extend you an invitation to our next board meeting. ….

Mr. Spangler spoke with the PCO Board on May 2.

May 3rd email from Bruce Spangler to Lynne Randazzo and Matt Foster. “I wanted to take the time to thank you both for the invitation to speak with the Board of the Parkridge Neighborhood Association last night. I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Park Designation

Also, we respectively disagree with the notion that these parcels are a part of Caswell Park. Rather the local media has correctly described these parcels as “next to Caswell Park.” These lots were purchased to provide space for the fencing around the outfield of the ball field. They have never been included within Caswell Park in any description of the Park or considered as such by the Parks and Recreation department. The city ward map, the official map of the City as designated under the Charter, does not include them as part of Caswell Park. This is City Block 1803. These lots are designated as appropriate for mixed use in the one year and sector plans. Aside from the representation on the official ward map available through KGIS, the plat showing the park boundaries is available in Register of Deeds Office - Plan cabinet O Slide, 167-C.

There is a bit of understandable confusion because the KGIS interpretation as reflected in the KGIS prepared “Parks Map” does incorrecly show the parcels, along with other property in the area (O’Conner and Cansler Y”) shaded as parkland.” To be fair, KGIS makes clear that this information is not official or to be considered as such.

Information on this Web Site was prepared from a Geographic Information System (KGIS) jointly established by the City of Knoxville, Knox County, and the Knoxville Utilities Board for their internal purposes only, and was not designed or intended for general use by members of the public. The KGIS Policy Board… makes no representation or warranty as to its accuracy, and in particular, its accuracy as to labeling, dimensions, contours, property boundaries, or placement or location of any map features thereon; nor to the accuracy of any other information contained thereon.

Thanks again for everyone's patience on what is always a difficult process involving the appropriate balance of a multitude of interests. Again, we appreciate the engagement of those in the neighborhood and appreciate Mr. Jessel's bringing the matter to this forum for discussion.

Park Citizen's picture

Park Designation

I think we can probably all quibble over what exactly constitutes reasonable public notification of any project (though personally I don't think that a meeting with the vice president of one adjoining neighborhood is reasonably inferable as meaning that the entire city has been informed about a project being undertaken in what is classified as a "regional" park), but I do take issue with Dr. Lyons' assertions about park designation, which need some additional context.

Disagreement with whether the parcels are part of Caswell Park is being predicated on a) the existence of maps that show something different, and b) that Parks & Rec does not and has never considered them to be park of Caswell Park.

The "maps" portion of this has relied on the strangest spread of arguments - that the City Ward Maps, a weird residual system in which original subdivision and block maps of the City have been overlaid for 200 years, irregularly being corrected and only then as required for development purposes, are reliable. Also reliable are a set of Parks wayfinding maps created by a city contractor under the company name of around 2006. But literally every other map that might be located, including every zoning map, every land use map, and every property map that might have been created by the City's own geographic information specialists or the Metropolitan Planning Commission - these are not to be trusted (with the possible exception of one really tortuous interpretation of the 2009 Magnolia Avenue Corridor Plan as translated into the 2014 Central City Sector Plan - that one might be reliable because it can be used to support the argument). But what basis is one supposed to have for knowing that any of them are in error? - because Dr. Lyons is saying so. That's worth approaching with a healthy dose of citizen skepticism.

I was at the public meeting held at the Urban League about this proposal, and watched Becky Wade go through the PowerPoint presentation of maps of the Park that she and Dr. Lyons consider to be reliable. When she flipped to the slide of the three E. Fifth Ave. parcels as shown on the Ward Map, she said, "And of course, the official map of the city of Knoxville is the Ward Map." "Interesting," I thought. "Where's she going with this?" As it happened, though, absolutely nowhere - that was the beginning and end of that thought; she moved on to the next slide.

So let's look at what the Ward Map is and what the Ward Map isn't. The first problematic statement being made is that this map "does not include [these lots] as part of Caswell Park." There's no real way even to make sense of this statement - the Ward Map simply shows platted and filed parcel boundaries; it does not show zoning or land use. There is no statement anywhere on any parcel on the Ward Map that says, "This is Caswell Park." The E. Fifth Avenue parcels have a separate block number, 15803, because they're a separate 'block' in the way these are defined in this map. Caswell Park has several block numbers - in addition to 15803, it exists on part of block 15740, a third of block 15526, and most of block 15720. There's nothing about block numbers that says, "park" or "not park."

The citation of the plat from Cabinet O, Slide 167-C, is similarly nonsensical. If you look up this plat, it's clearly labeled as "Survey of Winona Athletic Fields" and dated June 12, 1995 - of course this plat doesn't include the Fifth Ave. parcels because it was filed five years before they were even purchased. It was filed before the property on the east side of Winona Street was even made part of the existing Caswell Park on the west side. If I owned a vacant lot, and then five years later bought an adjacent vacant lot, nothing would require me to file a new plat at that time. Which is the other point about the Ward Map - not only does it not indicate zoning or land use, it notes nothing about who a land owner is. Saying to me about my two lots, "Clearly, you didn't even intend to own both lots because the Ward Map doesn't show them as one," is a statement unsupported by logic.

In normal situations, building a structure on a lot in such a way that it would cross an existing Ward Map boundary is the only thing that requires a multiple-lot situation on the Ward Map to be corrected by a new one-lot subdivision. But even that isn't true in the case of city park property because both the City and the County are exempt from having to file corrected plats. The County Health Department, for example, sits in the middle of a closed street on the Ward Map. If "still shown as multiple parcels on the Ward Map" is justification for declaring a park no longer to be a park, Island Home needs to get on that - Island Home Park, as just one example, is made up of three street rights-of-way, never legally closed, and over a dozen still-platted residential lots - all of which has never been a matter of confusion for anyone.

I think that's where we probably reach the question of those lots "never being included" in the Park. It should be obvious to anyone that the local media reporting that they aren't part of the park is directly attributable to the City issuing press releases saying that they aren't. But this isn't a matter of differing opinions; there are factual determinations that are possible to be made. The first and simplest one is that the properties are zoned OS-2 Parkland. Zoning does not happen by accident. In this case, this specific zoning was deliberate and is easily documented - when City Council in 2010 voted to create OS-1 and OS-2 zoning, they directed MPC to get from the Parks & Rec Department accurate boundaries of all city parks so that they could be so zoned. These were returned as MPC File No. 12-D-10-RZ, in which every park boundary in the City of Knoxville was shown; Caswell Park, unsurprisingly, was shown with a boundary including the Fifth Ave. parcels. Those specific boundaries are what was voted on by Council in 2011. Is the contention honestly that the maps produced by Planning Commission and voted on by City Council are not to be relied on either?

The last avenue to approach this from, then, is whether these parcels were intended to be part of the park from the beginning. There are maps for that, too, but it's not as though the year 2000 was so long ago that no one has other sorts of records of it. Here is an excerpt of the transcript of the September 5, 2000 City Council Meeting:

Mayor Victor Ashe: 11-E is a Resolution authorizing the Mayor to execute all documents on behalf of the City of Knoxville necessary to purchase one parcel of real property located at 1605 E. Fifth Avenue for a total price not to exceed $100,000.
Council Member Larry Cox: So moved.
Vice-Mayor Jack Sharp: Second.
Mayor Victor Ashe: Moved by Councilman Cox, seconded by Vice-Mayor Sharp. Uh, this is a ... Mr. Anderson, is this part of Caswell Park?
Director of Parks and Recreation Sam Anderson: Yes sir, it's uh, it's at the corner of Myrtle and Fifth Avenue.

The actual historical and legal record of these parcels contains none of the "understandable confusion" referenced by Dr. Lyons. If the communities of East Knoxville seem surprised by the sudden admission that the Department of Community Development has been negotiating giving away its public park land for a year and a half, that's not because they've misunderstood its status as "park" for the last two decades. From this side of the tracks, the "confusion" appears to be entirely generated by the administration misrepresenting knowable facts and history.

michael kaplan's picture

What is the projected

What is the projected construction cost of this project?

michael kaplan's picture

What is the projected

What is the projected construction cost of this project?

Bill Lyons's picture

Project Development Cost

The development cost for the project is estimated to be about 7.4 million dollars.

michael kaplan's picture



tjessel's picture

Process, or secrecy

Mr. Lyons-- when I speak of community, I speak broadly. The community that uses the park land in question is greater than just Parkridge Community. Caswell Park is, after all, a "community and regional park," according to the City's own planning documents.

Regardless, your single public information meeting was shared with the Parkridge Community Organization's board on Friday, September 13. Your media advisory was sent on Wednesday, September 18. The City refused to assist with notifying neighborhood residents of the public information meeting by mail, except to the extent required by law (addresses within 200 feet of the re-zoning). Because this is a community and regional park, it hardly seems appropriate to alert only residents within 200 feet of the park of the zoning change from Park and Open Space to high density residential.

An additional note on "Process" should reflect Mayor Rogero waited 69 days before responding to a request for information about the City's intentions concerning the park land to be re-zoned. The Mayor finally provided information the same day Becky Wade filed the rezoning request (September 3, 2019).

Your argument concerning the City Ward map is peculiar. Caswell Park was established in 1914, in the Caswell Addition, back when the area was still part of Park City. The City Ward map does not determine what is and is not park land-- but this is an interesting criteria for determining which parks are at risk in the future, under the precedent you are now setting. Thank you for that insight, as it will help raise alarm about the prospect of losing park land throughout Knoxville wherever City officials decide park land is not park land.

As you well know, the parcels were acquired for $237,000 in 2001 to expand Caswell Park. Construction diagrams on file in the building you work in clearly show the boundary and intent at that time.

The Planning Commission’s records, which KGIS is keyed to, also reflect the land was designated as park land in a 2001 Use-On-Review case (5-T-01-UR) and affirmed as public park land in 2010 (case 12-D-10-RZ). The parcels were recently re-affirmed as park land during Recode. Caswell Park has been around since 1914. Part of it was even sold in the 1920s, and then the boundaries changed again in the 1950s as the City swapped land with the Standard Knitting Mill.

We will, of course, be checking in on the "official recorded plat showing the park boundaries." Perhaps that map should have been brought to the September 23 public information meeting, rather than the two enlarged, informational cartoon diagrams City officials brought to the meeting?

bizgrrl's picture

Additional info from

Additional info from KnoxTNToday, The city’s race to convert a park to homeless housing. Be sure to look at the comments from citizens.

Knoxoasis's picture

How do you see comments? I

How do you see comments? I don't see them in the story nor do i see any link that lets you comment or see comments. :-(

R. Neal's picture

If you scroll down they are

If you scroll down they are at the bottom of the article. It uses a facebook plugin, so maybe you have an ad blocker or javascript restrictions or something that is blocking it.

Knoxoasis's picture

Ahh thanks.

Ahh thanks.

Bill Lyons's picture

Caswell Park, Open Space, and Sector / One Year Plans

Park Citizen,

Thanks for your well researched post which effectively highlight the points underlying the difference in positions here.There is one underlying reality upon which we all agree; the parcels are presently zoned as Open Space. The underlying factual disagreement is whether the parcels (minus the small portion with the outfield fence) are part of Caswell Park. The underlying substantive disagreement is whether this is an appropriate place for VMC’s permanent supportive housing.

We have never quarreled with the fact that the property in question was purchased to enable the construction of the outfield fence and necessary drainage for the ball field at Caswell Park as reflected in the Council discussion. However that portion represents a very small portion at the north end of the lots in question (see below). This partial use has obviously been the source of confusion about the overall status of the large lots in question including the designation as Open Space in 2010. There was even an early plan, obviously never implemented, that represented the remainder of the property as an asphalt parking lot.

However the fact is that the City Parks and Recreation Department has for years represented the boundaries of Caswell Park at the fence line (see below), not at Fifth Avenue and the City has contemplated future residential development on these lots. That is why they are designated for mixed use development in both the one year and sector plans, consistent with the official city map, the Ward Map. Of course,if this zoning request is successful the area north of the blue line will be separated and placed formally within the park boundary. The Sector Plan was updated through a public process in 2014 without opposition of which we are aware to the uses represented below.

One Year and Sector Plan designations. The Green line is the Caswell Park boundary. The blue line is the outfield fence.
One Year Plan A_0.jpg

The City is requesting a rezoning for multifamily use consistent with these one year and sector plans and the City’s long term representation of Caswell Park boundaries. Ms. Wade double checked with the Parks and Recreation Department at the time of the VMC request, not only this boundary designation, but any use, past or contemplated, for the lots in question.

Finally, putting aside the issue of whether or not the open space on 5th avenue is or is not in Caswell Park we fully acknowledge that it does exist as open space and that the zoning request is a matter upon which there is bound to be disagreement. We fully understand that many in the neighborhood prefer that it remain as it is.

Parks and Recreation Department graphic of Caswell Park boundaries.

As Mayor Rogero noted in her letter to PCO President Lynn Randazzo on Sept 3, this is a difficult choice that involves a balancing of interests, including the critical need for permanent supportive housing.

Letter from Mayor Rogero to Lynn Randazzo

Thanks engaging these issues and helping extend the dialog to isolate the points of disagreement. Special thanks to the KnoxViews hosts for providing this forum for civil engagement on important community issues.

tjessel's picture

The name is "Park and Open Space."

Mr. Lyons: in one post you are telling us to look at the legal document on file in the register of deeds, and in another you are telling us to look at a cartoon diagram created during the Haslam Administration when the City's website said Caswell Park was 10 acres. Today, the City's website says Caswell Park is 37.29 acres, a total that cannot be reached without including the parcels on East Fifth. You really can't have it both ways.

Of note: that mixed-use overlay you are using to justify taking the park land also covers Ridley Helton Field and Ashley Nicole Park. Are you planning on putting housing on that park land too? Perhaps you need to update City plans to remove conflicts before using them to make unjustifiable land grabs reducing public park land in a low income, racially integrated community.

Park Citizen's picture

The reliability of maps

Yes - that's the one.

It's completely nonsensical that the 'spectrum' of reliable maps goes from Reliability Level 10 "Ward Maps," which inconveniently don't provide an iota of information about zoning or land use, to Reliability Level 1 "Wayfinding Diagrams," like the map you're referring to as "graphic of Caswell Park boundaries" - because of course that's not what it is. The graphic designer who made this map, for whatever wayfinding reason, didn't color the Fifth Ave. lots green (I'd guess that the reason was so as not to confuse anybody about the inability to access the ballfields from Fifth Ave. due to them being completely fenced off on that side) - and that that spectrum includes literally nothing in between. Knoxville's Geographic Information Specialists? unreliable. Knoxville's Planning Commmission maps? unreliable. The maps City Council voted on? unreliable. It should be self-evident that the only reason this is being put forth as the one true gospel on park boundaries is that it is literally the only map that shows them this way. And that the only reason the graphic designer didn't include a disclaimer about its relative reliability is that literally everyone understands that a wayfinding graphic is inherently intended not to be reliable for things like property boundaries.

When you're selling a parcel of land, you hire a civil engineer and a surveyor to set out its boundaries, not a sketch artist.

For comparison, here's's "graphic of Adair Park boundaries," as you'd describe it.
Adair diagram.jpg

But here are Adair Park's actual boundaries.
Adair map.jpg

By the logic you're using above to claim that the diagram is the most reliable representation of the park boundaries, somebody at the city really needs to inform the residents of the five enclave houses that they're illegally residing in the park.

jbr's picture

It seems integrating low

It seems integrating low income folks into housing more piecemeal in more economically advantaged communities is a better approach in long run than building large housing entities that reorganize them effectively in the same box in which they already reside. In essence, just moving the box around. In the end, nothing is changing. Sort of a "ok you have been standing on my right side, now move to my left side". The impact of plunking a family into, for example, Fox Den, changing their surroundings and the environment to which they live will have the sort of eventual impact I assume most of us would like to see.

...comments by UT associate professor of architecture, Micah Rutenberg, to Knox Planning, set out below. Among other things the professor points out that the repeated and excessive placement of such low-income facilities on the eastside of town hinders its rejuvenation and “perpetuates income segregation.”

Mayor pushes ahead with proposed park conversion

Dale Rio's picture

It might not seem germane in the very narrowest sense, and...

...I don't live that close to Caswell Park, but if I did, I would've been at every single City Council meeting from here on back to 2017, and would be at every single City Council meeting from here on out, wondering aloud and loudly, but politely and respectfully, why the City is allowing a perfectly swell Knitting Mills to slide further into the trough of decay even as they are pursuing this disposition over at Caswell Park, and why the taxes have not been paid on this ol' proppity for the last two years. Maybe it's just me, but I see a potential convergence of needs and solutions there, and also a city that'll listen to you about your parks if you can afford really huge legal representation from people who live not all that far from Lakeshore Park, and that doesn't seem to have learned much from that little bonfire down on Jackson here a while back.

michael kaplan's picture

Totally agree .. the city

Totally agree .. the city needs to get on properties (all over town) that have been sitting vacant for years, blighting our urban landscape. If city bureaucrats can't think creatively about these issues, they should be replaced.

j.f.m.'s picture

There are serious legal

There are serious legal limits in dealing with blighted property in a state with strong "property rights" laws. For one thing, property merely sitting vacant isn't a violation of anything -- there's no legal requirement that a property be occupied. Where you run into codes issues is if the property's not maintained and kept up to a basic level -- lawn mowed, roof maintained, etc. But even if a property is falling apart, the remedies pretty much end at condemnation, meaning no one can occupy it until it's brought up to code.

And you can't seize or sell a property for unpaid taxes until it's at least three years delinquent. (Standard Knitting Mills, mentioned above, is two years delinquent at the moment.) Owners of distressed property typically are aware of the three-year rule. And even if it is three years delinquent and you start actions on it, all the owner has to do is come in and pay off one year, and they're fine until they hit three years again.

Dale Rio's picture

Thanks, Jesse, but that's more than a little weak.

And if I lived all that close to Caswell Park, I'd be at all those Council meetings, past and present, telling you why. It's not just that that property's vacant, nor that the lawn's a little unkempt. With all due respect, I know you know that, and you're doing your best to deflect, but just for fun I'll come back tomorrow or the next day maybe and hip ye a little to why your hands aren't quite as tied as you'd like the rubes to think they are. K?

j.f.m.'s picture

You asked about tax

You asked about tax delinquency, I just gave the law because I happen to know it and I took the trouble to go look up the property.

And they're not my hands being tied, I don't work for the city. But while I did, I learned a lot about how a lot of things work. You can discount that or not, I don't care. None of these issues are insoluble. But many of them aren't easy and they involve multiple layers of government.

Dale Rio's picture

It’s not just the taxes.

It’s more that by any reasonable estimation, the property is a nuisance, and has been for years. The City has all kinds of recourse to address that, and get the tax revenue in its coffers where it belongs, because state law gives the City better tools to address nuisance properties than properties that are simply in arrears, although the tax bit should multiply the incentive. It’s a decent little pile in this case after all.

But I digress. The City knows, because it is plain enough from outside the building, much less inside, that the Mills are a nuisance in the Standard legal sense, and has known for a long time that it has the necessary tools to address the issue. Sure, it’s not easy, but taking care of business like this is what the City is supposed to do. Taking care of this particular bit of business could yield a nice spot for some residential development, including some PSH, without scarfing up the low-hanging fruit that is parkland in a part of town that doesn’t have tiny, meddlesome former mayors and hefty, dead-eyed hypercompetent lawyers living in it.

barker's picture


The definition of "nuisance" under Tennessee law does not include code violations, though the Tennessee Municipal League is lobbying for that to be added.


Dale Rio's picture

Sure. But this isn't just about a few code violations.

I suggest that there are plenty of things about that property, and that go on in and around it, and that happen to it, that render it a nuisance.

And then there's blight. Its blighted state, and continued deterioration, are self-evident. And the City is granted ample power under state law to take control of blighted property as egregious, as notorious, as this one is and get it into the hands of someone who actually has the will and the capacity to do something with it. It is a terrible indictment of our City that this structure is allowed to exist in this state. It's abysmal, and it's unnecessary, for the Law doth provide remedies, City, if thou wilt gird up thy loins and of them avail thyself.

I assume addressing this beast would be hard work, and that it would require that the City's law department lawyer with a little less focus on protecting the administration and more on protecting neighborhoods and solving problems. The potential is there, certainly. The City-County building's full of bright people who know how do the work, and it even has a few lawyers in it, who probably can lawyer pretty well.

But it's much easier for a municipality to roll over a community that doesn't have a lot of resources in order to inappropriately site a development like the one proposed for Caswell Park. I support the project of PSH 120%, but we don't need to be doing it this way, in this place. That's my opinion.

michael kaplan's picture


TN Code § 13-21-104 (2017)

An ordinance adopted by a municipality under this part shall provide that the public officer may determine that a structure is unfit for human occupation or use if the public officer finds that conditions exist in such structure which are dangerous or injurious to the health, safety or morals of the occupants of such structure, the occupants of neighboring structures or other residents of such municipality. Such conditions may include the following, without limiting the generality of the foregoing: defects therein increasing the hazards of fire, accident, or other calamities; lack of adequate ventilation, light, or sanitary facilities; dilapidation; disrepair; structural defects; or uncleanliness. Such ordinance may provide additional standards to guide the public officer, or the public officer's agents, in determining the fitness of a dwelling for human occupation or use.

tjessel's picture

October 10, 1:30 PM Meeting Looms


Public comments are up to 290 pages ((link...))

Only one comment in support of the proposed re-zoning.

141 public comments were generated with the help of the form letter hosted by and involved citizens who care deeply about the preservation of public park land in Knoxville.

WATE did a follow-up story:

The Knoxville News Sentinel refused to publish any submitted letters to the editor concerning this issue. When a member of our group attempted to hand-deliver a letter to Joel Christopher, News Sentinel editor, the park land advocate was gruffly told by Sentinel staff, and I quote: "I don't care. Get out."

Publisher Steve Hunley with the Knoxville Focus ran the letters instead-- page A3.

michael kaplan's picture

The Mayor writes:

The Mayor writes:

“ .. to construct additional units on the adjacent city-owned land to address our City’s urgent need for permanent supportive housing for individuals who were formerly chronically homeless.”

What’s astonishing is that, in the nearly eight years of the Rogero administration, I'm not aware of a single unit of permanent supportive housing built, nor a single unit of emergency ‘low barrier’ housing provided (until the recent allocation of funds to rehab the vacant Salvation Army Thrift Store on N Broadway). But the Mayor was extremely efficient in evicting homeless and vagrants from under the I-40 overpass last October, scattering them into residential neighborhoods with no designated place to sleep or store their belongings. And now, an “urgent need”?

And to be fair to this Mayor, only about 105 units of permanent supportive housing were built during the Haslam administration, at Minvilla and Flenniken.

j.f.m.'s picture

the City is granted ample

the City is granted ample power under state law to take control of blighted property as egregious, as notorious, as this one is and get it into the hands of someone who actually has the will and the capacity to do something with it.

When I worked for the city, one of my favorite things was when people asserted or ascribed municipal powers that didn't actually exist. "You guys can do it if you want to!" As if small details like state laws simply didn't matter. Meanwhile, the actual political environment in which cities across Tennessee have been operating in recent years is one in which a single instance of one property owner alleging to have been somehow abused by local codes could easily result in a new state law further restricting local authority. The current legislative supermajority is intensely alert for any sign of property-rights abridgment by what they consider the raving left-wing urban centers.

Standard Knitting Mill is in a redevelopment area, so theoretically the city could condemn the property and take ownership of it — at fair market value — but only for a clearly defined public purpose. It could not do that and then turn around and sell or even give away the property for private redevelopment. Condemnation would be an expensive route, but it's available if anyone wants to advocate for it. (Someone would need to define the public purpose, of course.)

So, basically, no — the city can't take a vacant property just because it's vacant and "get it into the hands" of someone else. That's not how any of this works.

tjessel's picture

“the city can't take a vacant

“the city can't take a vacant property just because it's vacant...”

That is literally what the city is doing to the “vacant land” at Caswell Park, Jesse.

I truly wish It *didn’t* work that way... but unfortunately your former boss thinks it does.

michael kaplan's picture

Not true

the city could condemn the property and take ownership of it — at fair market value — but only for a clearly defined public purpose. It could not do that and then turn around and sell or even give away the property for private redevelopment.

"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party” - Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in her dissenting opinion, 2005 United States Supreme Court ruling (Kelo vs. The City of New London)

Dale Rio's picture

Who said anything about “vacant,” Jesse?

I mean, besides you?

bizgrrl's picture

I guess one of the points is

I guess one of the points is that the city already owns this land.

Sad, though, that there are plans urging this green space to no longer be green space. Better planning might be to find a blighted spot and make it better, like Flenniken and the other place on Fifth. Downtown Knoxville doesn't have a lot of green space, but there are quite a lot of blighted (?) properties.


j.f.m.'s picture

“Any property may now be

“Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party” - Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in her dissenting opinion, 2005 United States Supreme Court ruling (Kelo vs. The City of New London)

Yes, that was the famous/infamous Kelo decision, which said that in the absence of state laws to the contrary, there was no constitutional restriction on using eminent domain for private development. It caused a national outcry, which those of us who were alive way back in 2005 remember well, and prompted states across the country to quickly pass laws saying you can’t use eminent domain for private development. Tennessee’s passed in 2006 and was further strengthened in 2017. You cannot use eminent domain for private development in Tennessee, period. Only for a defined public purpose.

As for “vacant,” Mr/Ms Rio, that’s exactly what you’re talking about. You allege some vague, undefined cloud of problems around the property, but in reality what’s blighted about SKM is that it’s a big old empty building. You haven’t given a single specific cause that you think would somehow provide a pretext for government seizure of private property (except unpaid taxes, which we’ve already discussed). If you have something you think would stand up in court, let’s hear it.

Dale Rio's picture


Look. This is obviously a dead horse for you. My arm's getting tired, so I'm probably going to stop beating it after this. And I respect you, and your current work, so please don't hear me harshing on you gratuitously. I don't necessarily expect you or anyone else to agree with what I'm saying, and that's fine, too. When it comes to this sort of issue and the City of Knoxville, I have very, very reasonable expectations.

You speak here as though "blight" and "nuisance" aren't legal terms of distinction, but are, rather, just synonyms for "big" and "old" and "empty."

"...but in reality what’s blighted about SKM is that it’s a big old empty building."

I think there may be more to it than that. If what you said was the whole story, then SKM would be usable. Intact. Not dilapidated, and not decaying. Secured. Stabilized. Not sometimes host to illegal and dangerous activities, like illegal drug use, squatting, things like that. Those are factors that could contribute to a case for intervention, as per current TN law.

You're acting as an apologist for a City gov (not just the present administration's either) that has relatively recent history of ignoring issues like this to the detriment of the community. It's not my responsibility to make a case for a taking here, and for you to act as if SKM isn't blighted is as vacant as the building mostly is. It's the City's responsibility to use the powers available to it to remedy situations like those brought about when faux developers like Mark Saroff and H&W don't do the things they don't do, and the inevitable rot, loss, and community hazard result.

I believe that the legal beagles in the City live in a defensive crouch and aren't very aggressive (or creative) about issues like the ones presented by properties like this, as I've said before, but to suggest that state law doesn't give them anything to work with is, I think, more than a little disingenuous. A more realistic assessment is that they just lack the will to dig in and do the admittedly very hard work it would take to but that SKM site back into play, and meet a community need at the same time. It's a lot easier to do what's proposed at Caswell Park.

j.f.m.'s picture

I appreciate the exchange and

I appreciate the exchange and I'll just note that you are basically still just falling back on, "They could do something if they wanted to," without offering any actual legal justification. Most of the things you're talking about are at most codes violations. Blight and nuisance do indeed have legal definitions, and legal remedies, and you haven't identified a single one that would give anything like grounds for the government seizing private property.

I did identify one thing the government could do if it wanted: take the property for a defined public purpose. I haven't heard anyone so much as suggest that, much less identify what the use would be, how much it would cost, and how it would be paid for. But it's an available avenue if you or anyone wants to advocate for it.

And for what it's worth, correcting misinformation and mistaken legal beliefs isn't "apologizing" for anything. It's just explaining legal and political reality, which is often more complicated than people want it to be.

michael kaplan's picture

But it's an available avenue

But it's an available avenue if you or anyone wants to advocate for it.

Isn't that why we elect and pay government officials, to represent constiuents and advocate for projects that would better the city?

I've made the suggestion before that the entire issue of vacant properties - especially properties vacant for more than, say, 20 years - should be thrown to the UT Law School for research. It seems to me having miles of vacant properties (e.g. Chapman Highway, Magnolia Avenue, etc) is not in the public interest. It may be in the interest of the property owners, but I think it can be demonstrated that such 'hoarding' can lead to blight and crime.

Dale Rio's picture

Jesse, please.

a·pol·o·gist (ə-pŏl′ə-jĭst) n. A person who argues in defense or justification of something, such as a doctrine, policy, or institution.

So you see, really, being an apologist means never having to say you're sorry.

I've said or suggested these things:

  1. I believe SKM is blighted.
  2. I believe it is a nuisance.
  3. I believe those things together contribute to it being a dangerous building, as opposed to one that's just vacant or has a lawn that needs a trim.
  4. I believe state law, not to mention local ordinances, give the City the tools it needs to get that mess corrected, and ultimately to take the property if it comes to that.
  5. If the property were put to use, I favor its use for a specific public purpose, namely development of permanent supportive housing, the "critical need" for which the City gives verbal assent all the time, and believe that the property could accommodate that purpose within a development scheme that's broader than PSH alone, because I don't believe in ghettos, and neither should you.
  6. I believe it's shameful for the City to pursue PSH development in a bad location (Caswell), especially given its history with other such failed location efforts, and the relative lack of resources in the area close to Caswell Park as compared to their far more affluent and well-connected neighbors over near the old state mental hospital a little west of here.
  7. The Great Saroff/Jackson Avenue Conflagration is a failure of leadership from which the City sometimes appears to have learned not so awfully much.
  8. I think the City has a lot of very bright and capable folks attached to it, and that doing hard things the right way is eminently feasible at any given time.

These are things I have not said, and have not suggested:

  1. A property simply being vacant makes it a valid target for a taking under eminent domain.
  2. A property so taken can and should be turned over to any old developer to do with it any old thing he damn well pleases.
  3. I can prove SKM is technically blighted and/or a nuisance and/or a dangerous property, and can present the City with with a watertight eminent domain case.
  4. SKM is the only place like it in the whole universe of Knox.
  5. I have completed a mixed-use redevelopment plan for the SKM site, including mixed-income rental housing with seventy units of PSH. I have finished architectural drawings, bids from all qualified contractors, and necessary funding sources in place, so all the City has to do is say, "Go!"
  6. Stuff like this is easy. Anyone can do it.
  7. I'm always right.

I agree with Michael Kaplan, that people in government in Knoxville have the resources, if not the will, to pursue these kinds of issues for the public good and to solve problems that everyone says they want to see solved. The City and its apologists emeritus will never get closer to that by being so passive and defensive. The City of Knoxville sometimes seems to love to say "No" and to explain why things can't be done when, really, they could be. It would be nice for that to change.

j.f.m.'s picture

Right, but this is the part

Right, but this is the part that's just wrong:

I believe state law, not to mention local ordinances, give the City the tools it needs to get that mess corrected, and ultimately to take the property if it comes to that.

Your "belief" does not make it so. I've told you the law. You have yet to identify a single thing that would come close to beginning to be the bare start of a case for government seizure of that property. When was the last time you were even there? What specific conditions have you documented? In reality, we both know this is just based on your general vague sense that "somebody" should have done "something."

I've cited specific laws and circumstances, you just keep saying, "Oh, there's some way," but you actually don't know what you're talking about. Which of course hasn't put a dent in your condescending tone. (It's OK, being condescended to by people who don't know what they're talking about is an occupational hazard for me.)

I could offer you some other options, if you don't like the one I already suggested (a public purpose that would justify the use of eminent domain). Someone could push for an H-1 overlay on the property, which City Council usually doesn't like to do over the objections of a property owner but has in a few particularly recalcitrant cases (South High, Kern's Bakery, Cal Johnson Building). That still wouldn't let the city just take the building, but if there were unaddressed structural issues (at South High, it was the collapsed roof), they could issue orders for repairs. And then if those weren't addressed, the city could do the repairs and bill the owners for them. Still not a way to just seize the property, though.

The sweeping powers you have invented for local government in your head just don't exist. And, not to be a broken record, but especially right now the political environment is fraught for any city trying to take an overly aggressive approach to property rights. Most people I think just don't understand the actual relationship between the cities and the state, particularly under our current arrangement where you a have a Legislature dominated by suburban/rural Republicans who love nothing more than unearthing and beating back rampant socialism in the major metros. This is a fact of life for everyone trying to run a city government in Tennessee right now.

tjessel's picture

Whatever happened to Bar Marley?

Interestingly, I think Parkridge might actually be the one community that could get behind redevelopment of SKM as a very large supportive housing facility.

I don’t think you have to go in to SKM to know it’s in bad shape, or that it really is a repeat of the Saroff Inferno (another blighted, City-owned alternative to building supportive housing, by the way).

Why was the City able to persecute Bar Marley, but not SKM or McClung warehouses?

Dale Rio's picture

A little clarity about "belief."

I'm using the idea of "belief" not because these are things I'm making up just because I wish they were so, but because TCA § 13-21-202 and its friends seem to me to confer to municipalities the powers I believe the law to have conferred. There's no need to cite the whole thing here, because anyone can look it up. I recommend people read it. The language seems plain enough, but I'm not a lawyer, so I'm hedging my bets by saying I believe these powers exist, instead of pretending to be certain, which I haven't and am not now.

You seem to be suggesting that there's nothing like this in the law, and maybe you're right. That's not what it looks like to me, though.

j.f.m.'s picture

Yes, Knoxville has all that.

Yes, Knoxville has all that. It has an in-house blighted properties committee, it has a Public Officer who hears monthly cases involving blighted property. The city ends up as the default owner of abandoned property on a fairly regular basis.

But again, the condition of being vacant does not by itself constitute actionable blight. You're just looking at a big empty building and assuming it must be full of code violations. I don't know the code violation history of that property, but I know it's been inspected and fenced. (That doesn't mean people can't get over or around the fence, I'm sure they do.) But if/when code violations are issued, the owner has the opportunity to remedy them, which is what owners of any means will do. Hence this section of that part of the code: "Which has not been rehabilitated within the time constraints placed upon the owner by the appropriate code enforcement agency..."

Rehabilitated here means addressing the codes issue. It doesn't mean the city can require them to renovate the building or find a tenant. The cases that end up being dealt with through the process you're talking about are properties with absent or untraceable owners, and/or people without the means or the motivation to fix the problems. That does not characterize your average development company (or even an un-average one, as in the case). The bar that property owners have to clear to maintain ownership is not that high.

michael kaplan's picture

You're correct

I forgot the Tennessee response(s) to Kelo, which is summarized below:

PC 422 restricts eminent domain to “public use,” while finally removing the “industrial parks” loophole from that definition. Under Tennessee law, “public use” explicitly “shall not include either private use or benefit, or the indirect public benefits resulting from private economic development and private commercial enterprise, including increased tax revenue and increased employment opportunity,” with narrow exceptions for public projects like roads, utilities and actual blight. The new law also raises the cost of eminent domain for the government by requiring the condemning body to pay appraisal and engineering fees, along with, in certain circumstances, legal fees for the property owners. These new reforms make it substantially more difficult for government officials to take private property from law-abiding citizens.

I wonder, however, whether/how this applies to government taking public property for private use ...

j.f.m.'s picture

I wonder, however,

I wonder, however, whether/how this applies to government taking public property for private use ..

Public property already belongs to the government, or a government, by definition. They don't have to "take" it. Governments can certainly dispose of public property for private development. There are a bunch of old school buildings in Knoxville that have been sold to private developers, the city's selling the state supreme court site, Knox County sold several pieces of property to pay for new schools.

michael kaplan's picture

Isn't that the issue with the

Isn't that the issue with the Andrew Johnson building?

j.f.m.'s picture

No, that's not the issue with

No, that's not the issue with the Andrew Johnson Building. The issue there is the county deciding whether or not it wants to do the deal. There's no legal obstacle to selling the building for private redevelopment, there's just a policy decision to be made by the school board and County Commission.

michael kaplan's picture

Governments ‘take’ properties

Governments ‘take’ properties they legally own when they appropriate them from communities in which the properties are located for uses often inimical to the communities. An example is Trump’s opening public lands to fracking and drilling, actions often opposed by the communities. Trump has argued that these actions promote economic development, provide jobs, etc., i.e. are for the 'public good.'

Rachel's picture

No, they don't. "Taking" is

No, they don't. "Taking" is a legal term for government taking private property. See the 5th amendment of the Constitution.

You may not like what the City does with its property, but it can't "take" it because it already has it.

michael kaplan's picture

There's 'take' as a legal

There's 'take' as a legal term, and 'take' as a word with a commonly accepted meaning.

take verb
remove (someone or something) from a particular place.

Rachel's picture

Yes, so let's stop conflating

Yes, so let's stop conflating the two.

tjessel's picture

Bear’s Ears

Lots of similarities between Madeline and Trump.

Public land does not belong to “the government.”

It belongs to the public.

The government is merely the steward of something held in the public trust.

The Planning Commission, in opining there is such a thing as “too much” park land, ignored today the City’s OS-2 zoning ordinance is very clear that OS-2 zoning is intended to be permanent and protective of public park land.

michael kaplan's picture


Well said.

Rachel's picture

okay, now you've totally lost

okay, now you've totally lost me. Comparing Madeline to Trump is just silly and will cause me to discount your opinions in the future.

tjessel's picture

Madeline has a reputation

Abuse of power, now theft of park land.

What’s not to compare?

Oh, and open records requests are the only way we can wrest information from Rogero these days.

Under Rogero, whole departments blithely ignore requests for information, such as “what were City engineering crews doing taking height readings on August 15, 2019?”

Simple question— simple answer, unless you are a Trumpian regime— right down to the gaslighting “what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what is happening” and “this park is not a park.”

Rachel's picture

I checked with City

I checked with City Engineering and they were simply surveying property boundaries. Not a nefarious plot.

bizgrrl's picture

I have found from past

I have found from past property/ re-zoning dealings, it is recommended to find a good lawyer that has dealt with these types of issues.

Treehouse's picture


Do you think the City could take the building for a baseball stadium? Wouldn't that be private development?

j.f.m.'s picture

That is literally what the

That is literally what the city is doing to the “vacant land” at Caswell Park, Jesse.

Different situation, obviously. Governments are allowed to sell or otherwise dispose of property they already own. Whether you think any particular conveyance is a good idea is a policy issue, but it's not affected by eminent domain laws. The legal restriction that does apply in this case is the prohibition on building housing on park land — which of course is why the city is seeking a rezoning. You can think that's a terrible use of the property or a good one, but it doesn't have anything to do with eminent domain.

j.f.m.'s picture

Do you think the City could

Do you think the City could take the building for a baseball stadium? Wouldn't that be private development?

I think a government could use eminent domain to acquire property for a publicly owned baseball stadium. They couldn't use it to then turn around and sell to a private owner to build a baseball stadium.

In Knoxville's case, there's already privately owned land tentatively designated for a possible stadium, so that probably wouldn't enter into this particular picture.

Rachel's picture

So what happened at MPC

So what happened at MPC anyway?

tjessel's picture

Gerald Green says East Knoxville is “well served” by Park land

Without doing a study, without acknowledging conflicts in the 2014 Center City Sector Plan, and without even knowing if a minimum national standard for public park land is being met.

One commissioner implied East Knoxville has “too much park land,” and that it is expensive to maintain, and trash-strewn.

(Ignoring, of course, that Caswell Park is a line item, money generating venture in the City’s budget— the part locked to the public, anyway).

Park and green space advocates lost today. And that is how Knoxville’s public parks started on the path of becoming a system of privatized reserves for the privileged class, where residents must “prove” their use of a public park, or risk having it taken away whenever there is an “urgent need” necessitating its conveyance to a private developer.

Park Citizen's picture

Who needs parks anyway?

Add to that the hired consultant recommending in their master plan presented yesterday the redevelopment of huge portions of Chilhowee Park as "mixed use" and "residential," and you'd get the feeling that somebody in the City doesn't feel that the poorer sides of town even need parkland.

For some reason, there's a distinct difference in process between places like the South Waterfront, where the creation of parks is assumed to be a catalyst for private development, and East Knoxville, where the sale (or give-away) of parks for private development seems to be the goal.

I guess that must be because they're "trash strewn" over on the East Side, or something... Anybody else remember when minorities were legally restricted in cities to being able to live only in certain neighborhoods, where the municipal governments then systematically withdrew city services (like maintenance of parks), enabling the suburban white folks to drive by the urban ghettos and say, "Look how these people live - even their parks are falling apart."? Anyone remember when that suddenly stopped happening? I don't.

michael kaplan's picture


What are VMC's intentions regarding the Positively Living building? Is the building still in use and occupied by residents?

barker's picture

So far they have said their

So far they have said their intentions are to keep running it as a supportive housing facility for current residents. They're going to keep offering social services to the residents as part of their mission. I don't know if they see the mission as evolving over time.

michael kaplan's picture



Ron Peabody's picture

Taxpayer-funded private ownership for profit?

Since Volunteer Ministry Center is leading this effort to develop chronically homeless housing at Caswell Park it might be worth discussing who currently owns Minvilla Manor?

My understanding is that Volunteer Ministry Center had to sell their interest in Minvilla Manor a few years ago to raise money for their operations.

I'm concerned if this proposal moves forward that the same thing may happen at Caswell Park.

barker's picture

The city's iIndustrial

The city's iIndustrial Development Board has owned the Minvilla property since 2009.

michael kaplan's picture

According to KGIS, the city -

According to KGIS, the city - through the Industrial Development Board - owns Minvilla.


The Industrial Development Board may acquire, develop, lease and sell property to facilitate new businesses locating to Knoxville or assist businesses in expanding their operations. The board may also issue tax-exempt revenue bonds to assist in the financing of projects.

The City Industrial Development Board is governed by a nine member Board of Directors, nominated by the Mayor and confirmed by City Council. Members serve for six years and in the event of a vacancy, an appointment may be made only for the unexpired portion of the term.

Ron Peabody's picture

Well that's not completely

Well that's not completely accurate is it Scott?

The industrial development board is listed as the owner because it's being held because of the pancake financing deal that was done to get Minvilla Manor open. They don't actually own the property it's being held by the industrial development board for what 10 years 15 years until the what is it Pilot or the Tif runs out and then it reverts to the actual owners.

michael kaplan's picture

How can there be a TIF when

How can there be a TIF when Volunteer Ministry is a non-profit and doesn't pay taxes?

Maybe it's time to end the neo-liberal privatization schemes, and have the city - through KCDC or a newly-created agency - build housing for the homeless.

Ron Peabody's picture

Thank you for pointing that

Thank you for pointing that out Michael, as I mentioned to Scott I don't really remember what the rules were that govern how that worked with Minvilla, but the involvement of the idb was only because of the complicated financing that the city helped facilitate to get the deal done. Basically the transfer of the deed to the idb was part of the requirement to achieve the financing and it will revert back to the actual owners after whatever that time was either 10, 15 or 20 years.

And I completely agree with you, that if the city of Knoxville and in fact any local government across the country wants to tackle homelessness and use taxpayer dollars they should use their own building authority and do it themselves much like what happened during the thirties and the Roosevelt administration when all of the first waves of federal housing was built.

michael kaplan's picture

they should use their own

they should use their own building authority and do it themselves much like what happened during the thirties

Absolutely. All the current 'neo-liberal' structure is doing is making developers and contractors wealthy at the expense of 'affordable' housing. The privatizers have, for their own benefit, created a 'homeless industry.'

But the 'project'- if you can call it that - has been a failure: only about 105 units of supportive housing for the homeless have been constructed in the 16 years of the Haslam, Brown, and Rogero administrations: Minvilla and Flenniken. I suppose the Rogero admin expects the Caswell project to add 48 units to the total.

Ron Peabody's picture

VMC is a nonprofit, but the

VMC is a nonprofit, but the LLC's, at least as of 2010 that own Minvilla Manor are for profit. VMC sold 50% ownership prior to the project being completed, and I believe sold their remaining interest four or five years ago, that's why I've asked this question.

Can anybody verify this?

Ron Peabody's picture

According to your former

According to your former paper at least in 2011 Volunteer Ministry Center still owned the property.


barker's picture

I don't have the time to go

I don't have the time to go back and research all the details, but the financing was complicated and there is a PILOT, hence the IDB's involvement. Nonprofits are not automatically granted exemptions for paying property taxes; it depends on land use.

bizgrrl's picture

From WATE: The city has

From WATE:

The city has decided not to move forward with a plan that would have rezoned three parcels of city-owned property at Caswell Park to make way for the construction of permanent supportive housing by VMC.

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