Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tomorrow could be a grim day for Knox County: The controversy of Midway

Since deciding to stay in Knoxville and make it my home, I've realized that I frequent West Knoxville less and less. You can call me pretentious (do it, I really don't care) because it's not arrogance that keeps me away but something more. As I grow older, I consider the things that are most precious to me, and as a result, discover the things I disdain. I know I risk sounding melodramatic here, but I think I've developed a chemical aversion to sprawl. (Sidenote: As you read this, please do not mistake what I mean for sprawl as progress. I am pro-progress, anti-sprawl.)

I can assure you, it's not just West Knoxville. I feel it each time I go home to Memphis and stay at my parents' home in the suburb Cordova. Back roads that were once surrounded by farmland are now rows of desolate looking cookie cutter houses, stretching for miles along treeless streets. It breaks my heart and makes me lose faith in the creativity of mankind, to see people's greed at the expense of beauty and living in quality environments. I wonder how we got here, creating places that are cold and characterless, that all look the same, from city to city. Places you can't walk around by foot. Places that only accommodate vehicles. The lofty idea of development- bulldozing land, putting up buildings in hopes to lure tenants all in the name of "stimulating economy" - has made our cities and towns identity-less.


Tomorrow, Knox County Commissioners will vote on whether or not to approve the proposed business park off the Midway exit in East Knox County. This has been an ongoing battle, as outlined by Jesse Mayshark in this week's Metro Pulse. If you haven't been following this very controversial plan, in essence, the Development Corporation of Knox County wants to build a 300+ acre Industrial Park in East Knox County off of I-40 at the Midway Exit. Pam Strickland of the News Sentinel writes about the problems with the plan here.

This area of mostly farmland happens to be relatively untouched, a beautiful place unscathed by development. Many Knoxvillians don't want it to be developed, especially the people who have called it home for generations.

I decided to take a drive out there yesterday to take some photographs. I wanted a fresh reminder of what is at stake here for East Knox County. It's true, there is nothing there but farmland, rivers, and homes, farmhouses, and barns on stretches of land. There is nothing commercial or sprawling about it. Not yet.

So why put a business park here? Essentially, the Development Corporation bought the land for too much money in a supposedly shady business deal and are proposing this business park in order to make back the money to cover their asses. They say it will bring in thousands of jobs, but they don't even know what business will occupy the space much less how many jobs it will provide.

The Development Corporation masks their greed by promising that the business park will incorporate parks and natural spaces and that it won't result in a domino effect of sprawl, but everyone knows that within a few years, gas stations will pop up, fast food restaurants, and the subdivisions to "sustain" them. East Knox County will be on its way to looking like West Knoxville, and I cannot think of a sadder fate for such a beautiful area. It is a gem, the kind of place that makes East Tennessee East Tennessee- Seven Islands Wilderness, the French Broad River, and expanses of farmland as far as you can see are all there.

What is even more frustrating is that the Development Corporation has been sweeping their already failed industrial parks under the carpet and won't consider using locations in Knoxville that are already vacant and perfect for commercial use. They say they need the acreage on Midway or else their plans won't succeed.

Tomorrow, the Knox County Commission will vote on whether to pass the plan or not. If it passes, it will be a dark day for not only residents of East Knox County, but all of those who oppose the plan across Knox County. Either way, I hope it will motivate a call for bigger and more organized movements to sweep across our county to protect the precious and beautiful land that makes Knoxville special and unique and to think of better, more creative ways to stimulate our economy.

Addendum added 12/13/2010: The vote by County Commission that was scheduled for today has been postponed due to inclement weather. It has been rescheduled for December 17, 2010 at 4pm. IF YOU ARE AGAINST THE PROPOSED INDUSTRIAL PARK AT MIDWAY The French Broad Preservation Association asks you to show up at 4pm at the City County Building to show your County Commissioners you don't want your tax money to be spent on it. See you there. -B


Andrea said...

Really well written! I agree with you completely. Sprawl is depressing.

ManInBoots said...

I own a farm just off Midway and on the French Broad River. Perhaps I could make a small fortune by developing it someday, especially considering that I am a General Contractor. However, that very idea makes me nauseous. So does the idea that a business park at Midway is even on the table. This article very eloquently outlines the reasons this whole thing makes me sick, and I encourage all readers to pass it on!

micah daniel said...

Well spoken, b. These images are really powerful. i hope that more developers take up the charge to be more creative with already developed, yet under-used spaces.

Audrey said...

Really good post, Beth. Thanks for the information. It makes me angry too. I wish we had "sprawl belts," or whatever you call them, like many cities out west have, where you can't develop past a certain line around a city. So you're forced to reuse old buildings and, like you said, think of better, more creative ways to build and use the space you have.
Sigh. It's so sad and frustrating.
Thanks again for the post, though.
You rock.

Mickey said...

Went to Seven Islands not long before we left Knoxville and got a little lost on the way, which was okay by me. Beautiful area.

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."
-Edward Abbey

etenn said...

I just love what Aldi and Kriger are doing to some of the last undeveloped lands in K pike... thank good ness there are about ten vacant centers as I type! Stop New development and start RE-Development NOW!!!!!!!!!!

Softcoremac McCarthy said...

"the Development Corporation has been sweeping their already failed industrial parks under the carpet"


"and won't consider using locations in Knoxville that are already vacant and perfect for commercial use."


Not saying you're wrong, in fact I agree that mindless expansion is a definite negative. I'm just curious about the specifics of all this.

B said...

Softcoremac McCarthy, you pose a good question.

I linked to articles where you could read examples of what I'm talking about, but one example is the Hardin Business Park out west they built in 2008 that has never been filled. They blame the economy, which is viable, but why not fill that first before making another.

This may or may not be related to the Development Corporation, but another example of a failed project that promised great things is the Downtown Convention Center.

Other examples of space that could be redeveloped are all the big empty office buildings along I-40, Standard Knitting Mill, Big Box Stores like Circuit City (East Town mall area), etc.

I'm not saying put industrial parks in these places, but to fill them before paving over paradise with another development that may not work. Scrap the new far-fetched ideas and work with what we have.

And just for kicks, here are more letters that have come out this week:

The Modern Gal said...

B, I meant to say this sooner, but this is a great post. I really hope the commissioners heed the calls to stop this in its tracks. I've lived in both Memphis and Nashville and have seen the way development runs unfettered, trashing every beautiful landscape in its path and for no apparent reason, when there are already empty buildings and houses that would fit anyone's needs. Knoxville is already on its way of doing the same, but maybe with a stand on a project like this it would send a message.

max said...