From Betty Bean's column this week

by Betty Bean

Fast track for 'one-stop' shop?

For the past decade, city officials have been pumping big bucks into
plans to lure more people downtown.

Now mayor Bill Haslam proposes to spend $400,000 to move all the city’s
codes-related offices, including the Metropolitan Planning Commission,
out of the City County Building to west Knoxville. County codes offices
(now housed on Baxter Avenue) would also be moved into Cherokee Place,
a building on Concord Street (which runs north/south between Kingston
Pike and Sutherland Avenue across from the intersection of Kingston Pike
and Neyland Drive).

Offices that are to be moved are MPC, the Transportation Planning
Organization (TPO), City Engineering, County Engineering, Plans Review
Inspections, KGIS mapping and the Fire Marshal and inspections.

Haslam has included the money to implement the move in the upcoming ’06
budget, and his county counterpart, Mike Ragsdale, strongly approves.

"Bringing city and county codes together under one roof, along with the
MPC, just makes good sense," Ragsdale said. "Both governments are here
to serve the public, something we can always do more effectively when
we work together."

The plan to make the move, which will involve at least 150 city
employees and a number of county codes employees, is being pitched in the name
of convenience, and its supporters cite the difficulties of parking
downtown as a primary reason to move the codes and permit offices west.

The relocation plan first surfaced in January when city chief operating
officer Dave Hill organized a series of meetings with developers. In
notes posted on the city Web site outlining the purpose of the
Development Partners Advisory Group (DPAG), Hill said that he wanted the
consolidated codes offices to be "literally and figuratively a ‘One-Stop Shop.’
Everyone in one department, same building, same floor, with one
purpose: To promote public health and safety while promoting development."

The DPAG meetings – where early on developers vented hostility toward
neighborhood, community and homeowners groups, dismissing them as
"housewives and senior citizens" – left the impression with several
constituencies that the primary reason for the relocation plan is to better
serve one particular segment of the population – developers. Many maintain
that Ragsdale’s 2002 move (which he said was based on security
concerns) barring the public from the City County Building’s parking garage has
created the downtown parking problem that the move is supposed to
alleviate. Still others contend that relocating and combining the city and
county services is a move toward de fact metro government.

Fountain City Town Hall board member Jamie Rowe, who attended DPAG
meetings this winter, is one of those skeptics.

"I don’t believe that moving these offices out to Cherokee Place will
make them more convenient. For one thing, this is going to be moving
them away from offices they need to be working closely with, like the Law
Director, the Register of Deeds and Tax Assessors’ offices. And if
they’re trying to revitalize downtown, why are they moving them out of the
City County Building?"

Developer Scott Davis is an outspoken critic of the city codes and
permitting offices. He says he is all for cutting down on red tape and
streamlining the process, but he is leery of combining city and county

"If it falls under the county’s jurisdiction, I’m very, very much in
favor of it. If it is going to come under the city, I’m adamantly
opposed. There’s a reason 83 percent of the residential development here was
done outside the city limits last year."

The plan to relocate and consolidate the city and county offices
appears to be on a fast track to implementation. County spokesperson Dwight
Van de Vate is enthusiastic:

"The co-location of City and County Codes and MPC under one roof is
going to promote accessibility for everyone, whether it’s a citizen who
has a question about remodeling their house, or a civic activist with
concerns about a Use on Review, or a developer who is embarking on a new

"It will also promote a closer working relationship between the city
and county employees who are responsible for codes enforcement, as well
as MPC staff."

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