Joint City/County Task Force on Ridge, Slope and Hillside
Development and Protection

The Proposed Knoxville-Knox County Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan

March 7, 2011

In 2008, the Knoxville City Council and Knox County Commission asked 30 citizen representatives from a variety of interests, including foresters, engineers, landscape architects, realtors, developers, neighborhood and environmental advocates to begin studying the issues related to steep slope, hillside and ridgetop development and protection. This City-County Task Force worked for almost two and half years with MPC staff to develop the Knoxville-Knox County Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan. The plan was adopted with changes by MPC commission on December 9th, 2010. The plan has been forwarded to City Council and County Commission with recommendations for adoption.

With adoption, it will be an element of the Knoxville Knox County General Plan, representing policies to provide for protection of hillside and ridgetop areas, while still allowing for development. The proposals for incentives, development guidelines, and land use recommendations are also contained in the plan.

Policy Highlights
In developing policies, the task force and MPC staff sought a balance between conservation and development. Several policies are including: (1) Encouraging development in the more level areas to protect forest and water resources and natural beauty; (2) a refinement of existing sector and general plan policies regarding density on the extremely steep slopes (those over 40 percent); (3) limitations on commercial (retail) development to slopes less than 25 percent, (4) allowances for medium density residential and office development on slopes 15 to 25 percent with guidelines for building size and parking provisions (5) the addition of land disturbance guidelines in hillside areas, and (6) a provision for commercial and office special districts at such places as interstate interchanges. The plan recommends that new zoning and use-on-review cases are the primary means to implement these policies, including zoning districts that require site planning via use-on-review (such as the planned residential zones).

In the course of public meetings some participants inquired if the plan was to take the proposed hillside protection area “off the table” for development. This is not the case. The policies were developed to offer a means to foster hillside development that would not be harmful to environmental resources while protecting property rights; those were major guiding principles that were kept in mind collectively by the Task Force and staff in developing and refining the plan.

Major Proposals: the plan calls for several new tools that should be used in future conservation and development practices. In summary, they are:

  • Conservation subdivision design to protect the steepest hillside areas and ridgetops while providing conservation easements
  • Density bonuses for development in level areas of a parcels in exchange for conserving land
  • Reduced road widths (26’ to 20’) to avoid slope cuts and additional runoff
  • Reduced setbacks to encourage less land disturbance for infrastructure and building siting
  • Reduced parking minimums and alternative offstreet parking designs
  • Grade standards for driveways to provide for reasonable access, including emergency vehicles
  • Development of a land disturbance permit process to reduce the amount of wholesale clearing in heavily forested hillsides and create a review process as part of stormwater management processes
  • Recommended reforestation practices for scarred hillside lands and new slope cut
  • Encouragement of a public review process of new water tank and tower construction early on in the development process, and
  • Opportunities for connections in and the protection of ridgetop lands through a recreational trail system (such as the work of the Legacy Parks Foundation with the Urban Wilderness Trail).

Public Participation
The plan was compiled through extensive meetings with the City-County Task Force, subcommittee meetings, eleven community meetings, and surveys. Surveys were conducted to assess general public response to the principles and policies guiding plan development. The plan is available on MPC’s website.

The City-County Task voted (21-3) to approve the plan in October 2010. The Metropolitan Planning Commission voted (11-2) to approve the plan, including changes as proposed by MPC staff to allow more flexibility in commercial, medium density residential and office uses on December 9th, 2010.


For more information, please contact Liz Albertson: 215-2500
This project is funded under an agreement with the
USDA Forest Service and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.