Letter from Mayor Re: Open Space Land Parcels on E Fifth

From: Madeline Rogero <mrogero@knoxvilletn.gov>
Date: Tue, Sep 3, 2019 at 5:08 PM
Subject: RE: City of Knoxville – Parkridge Challenge Grant Proposal
To: Parkridge Community <historicparkridge@gmail.com>

Dear Lynne:

Thanks for your patience as I reviewed the situation regarding the land at 1605, 1615, and 1617 E. Fifth Avenue and your Challenge Grant proposal.  In your email below you asked:  If there are other plans in the works for the improvement of this parcel by the Parks Department, our neighborhood has not been made aware of them – could you elaborate on why this portion of our public park is out of contention?

Let me begin by outlining the chain of events that have occurred regarding this property, as I understand them.


As you know, earlier this year, Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC) approached the City Community Development Department about their desire to build permanent supportive housing on these city-owned properties (1605, 1615, and 1617 E. Fifth Avenue) which are next to the Positively Living permanent supportive housing (1501 E. Fifth).  It is their intention to purchase the Positively Living building and 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.


The Parks Department did not object because the space has never been used by the City as a Park and is cut off from the rest of Caswell Park by fencing.  Though zoned open space, the online City description and map of Caswell Park has never included those three lots.


In addition, the One Year Plan and the 2014 Central City Sector Plan adopted by Knoxville City Council do not envision these lots as Open Space.  Rather they recommend that these lots be Mixed Use-SD/Mixed Use-CC4 (high intensity residential).


Community Development encouraged VMC to take their plans to your neighborhood organization.  It is my understanding that Dr. Bruce Spangler met with the Vice-President of your Board in March and then with the Parkridge Board on May 2, 2019.  He has asked to meet with your full membership. City Council and I received an email on May 3, 2019 from Mr. Salmons stating the Board’s concern over reducing park space.


On May 7, 2019 at a City Council meeting, Director of Community Development Becky Wade informed City Council of the VMC proposal and the City’s intention to pursue the necessary steps and public process to request rezoning of the property and the closure of Myrtle Street, followed by conveyance of the land to VMC.  She addressed the fact that Community Development had requested a change of zoning of the property during the Recode process, but then asked the Planning Commission to revert the zoning to Open Space for Draft 4 of the Recode Zoning map.


She stated:  We believe that leaving the open space use in place for now and starting from scratch on a rezoning at Myrtle and East Fifth is clearly a better, more transparent approach.  We request a postponement on the vote to close a section of Myrtle Street. Volunteer Ministry Center and the City will continue developing plans for permanent supportive housing at this site. And if the project is deemed to be feasible, the rezoning process would start with Knoxville-Knox County Planning and then City Council would vote on the rezoning and conveyance of the property.”  Mr. Salmons and other neighbors were present to hear that statement and intention.


On May 17, 2019, Parks and Greenways Coordinator Tim Hester was asked to meet with Parkridge resident Tanner Jessel to discuss a possible Challenge Grant for the community garden at 2087 Fifth Ave (at Olive St.).  Mr. Hester was told there was a desire to improve that lot which hadn’t been maintained for a couple of years.  Mr. Hester encouraged that Challenge Grant proposal.


Instead, on May 31, 2019, a Challenge Grant proposal was received from Parkridge Neighborhood for the city-owned lots at 1605, 1615, and 1617 E. Fifth Avenue for an ethnobotanical food garden.


On June 18, 2019, Mr. Hester informed Mr. Jessel by email that the Challenge Grant Application was not approved because “the use of the property you have proposed is under review…”  Mr. Hester also offered an alternate city-owned lot at 1500 Woodbine for the food garden.


I believe that’s the basic chain of events leading up to now.


This is an example of where two community-serving proposals run into conflict with one another.  My administration has been proactive in supporting and expanding open space, community gardens, and park lands, and in increasing opportunities for affordable housing and permanent supportive housing (PSH).


Fortunately, we don’t often have to make a choice between these two worthy goals — both of which meet important needs in our City.  In weighing these conflicting needs, this is what we have considered that tips the balance in favor of permanent supportive housing:


Though every neighborhood wants and can use more open space, Parkridge is comparatively well-served.   Caswell Park is a major neighborhood park with over 37 acres including the ball fields, Ashley Nicole Dream Playground, a picnic shelter, open space for special events, restrooms, concession stands, First Creek Greenway, and the John T. O’Connor Senior Center.  A block east from Caswell Park is Parkridge Park with over 2 acres including a picnic shelter, playground, open space, paved trail, and basketball court.  We recently made some park improvements there after meeting with neighbors.  Two blocks further east is the Parkridge Community Garden space at 2087 E. Fifth (at Olive) which was discussed with Mr. Hester about a Parks & Rec Challenge Grant.  A Butterfly garden on Washington Ave between 6th and Mitchell received a Challenge Grant from the City in 2017.  We are willing to explore other opportunities and open space that can be made available for an ethnobotanical food garden in addition to the lot already offered at 1500 Woodbine.


The proposed site for VMC’s permanent supportive housing is adjacent to a similar and compatible use (Positively Living) that has operated safely and effectively for many years.  VMC will own and jointly operate both facilities, allowing for greater efficiencies and services such as on-site full-time case management and property management 24/7.  The Fifth Avenue location is close to transit.  Workforce training and other resources are available across the street at Knoxville Area Urban League.  The adopted 2014 Central City Sector Plan anticipates mixed use / high intensity residential for these lots rather than open space. Land for nonprofit supportive housing can be expensive when purchased at market rate.  The City owns the property and can make the property available for this worthwhile and urgently-needed purpose. VMC has an excellent track record of success at Minvilla, a permanent supportive housing facility in North Knoxville.


In conclusion, we will gladly work with you to find other opportunities for an ethnobotanical garden and open space in the Parkridge community.  But we continue to believe that this city property at 1605, 1615, and 1617 E. Fifth Avenue is urgently needed and a good location for permanent supportive housing.


Here is the projected timeline for the VMC and Community Development proposal, should each step move forward with the necessary approvals:

  • September 3 – submit rezoning request to the Planning Commission for their October 10 meeting.
  • September – hold a public meeting on the proposed rezoning. Date TBA.
  • October 10 – Planning Commission will hear the rezoning request.
  • November 5 – City Council 1st Reading of zoning request.
  • November 19 – City Council 2nd Reading of zoning request, request to close Myrtle Street, and conveyance of the land to VMC.


I hope that the Board of Parkridge Community Organization will reconsider their position on this property and work with us to expand the availability of permanent supportive housing while continuing to expand open space opportunities in the neighborhood.



Madeline Rogero


Mayor Madeline Rogero

City of Knoxville

400 Main Street, Suite 691

Knoxville, TN  37902


Executive Assistant:  Ms. Terry Alexander


865-215-3643  Office


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