Blount County Commissioners sent a resolution changing regulations to new residential developments to the county and Alcoa regional planning boards Thursday, Nov. 17. The vote — 14-4 in favor of setting higher minimum lot sizes for residential developments — comes one month after commissioners deadlocked over a near-identical proposal.
In October, commissioners voted 10-10 against a resolution to set larger minimums for lot sizes in the Suburbanizing and Rural 1 districts of the county. Without a majority of the full commission’s support, the resolution failed.
It would have set a .75 acre per unit of development minimum in the Suburbanizing district, if the new development were connected to county septic, raising the required square footage by 2,670 square feet. It would have set a .66 acre minimum for developments on sewer, adding 22,185 square feet to the current requirement. In the R1 district, the minimum was to have been .75 acre per unit of development on either septic or sewer.
In successive meetings that saw hours of comment from the public, proponents of the resolution contended that it would help preserve the look of the county and its infrastructure. The most frequent criticism of the resolution given during public meetings was that it would decrease the availability of affordable housing.
During a Nov. 8 agenda meeting, Commissioner Mike Akard introduced a proposal he said was “identical” to the resolution that failed in October, with one exception. The new resolution reduced the minimum lot size requirement for developments on county sewer in the Suburbanizing district from .66 acre to .50.
He noted that high density zoning was a primary concern of his. “We can’t fix it after the fact. We need to take action right now to stop it from happening right in front of us,” he said during the Thursday meeting. “Those builders can still build. It’s just not going to be a whole bunch of houses on a little bitty piece of property. It will spread it out.”
“It isn’t going to adversely affect the prices of land because the land to build on will still be in demand,” he commented.
Commissioner David Wells, who opposed the resolution, said that he remained concerned about the potential effect of the proposal on property costs. He specifically cited gentrification as a possible problem. “Folks, I think that what we’re seeing here is a potential continual rise in costs, and if we do things like this that would continue to exacerbate that increase, we’re potentially looking at gentrifying our county,” he said.
Commissioners Tom Stinnett and Ron French said that they shared Wells’ concerns, particularly as they relate to young Blount Countians’ ability to afford housing. Stinnett also commented, “These contractors, developers, couldn’t do a thing if people didn’t sell their property. We represent those people too.”
Their arguments failed to sway their peers. For Commissioner Nick Bright, affordable housing is a thing of the past. “That ship’s already sailed. There’s nothing going in that route,” he said. “The question before us now is, ‘what’s this place going to look like?’”
“Are we gonna continue to run it and our kids still not afford to live here, or are we going to at least preserve something for the ones that are already here?” he asked.
Commissioners John Giles, Scott King and Mike Caylor were absent from the meeting; Wells, French, Stinnett and Commissioner Linda Webb voted against sending the resolution to the planning bodies. All others voted in favor.