CLINTON — Although the two sides appeared to engage in a civil discussion, a Tuesday forum again pitted planners and property rights advocates against each other.
The property rights advocates oppose the drafting of a five-county regional development plan known as PlanET.
“I am concerned more about freedom of choice and personal property rights,” said Lynn Byrge, an Anderson County resident and owner of Active Electric in Oak Ridge. He attended a PlanET forum on Tuesday at the Anderson County High School in Clinton.
Opponents of the three-year plan, funded with help from a $4.3 million U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant, draw a connection between PlanET and an international resolution passed in 1992 that was designed to encourage nations to use fewer resources and conserve open land by steering development to already dense areas.
“It’s Agenda 21, straight out of the United Nations,” Byrge said.
That resolution has drawn greater scrutiny as activists across the country tie it to a range of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy, according to The New York Times.
But the officials helping to develop the local plan, and currently collecting public input in a week-long series of forums, say they are only asking East Tennesseans to share their vision for the future of the region.
“We have no preset goal,” planner Rob Kerns said. He works for Wallace Roberts and Todd, a planning and design firm based in Philadelphia that was hired to run the PlanET project.
The officials said they recognize the value of property rights and personal freedoms, and they said property rights are protected under planning laws.
Responding to a protester’s concern about possible property confiscation, Kerns said there is no recommendation involving a “land grab.”
The officials said they are hoping to build regional cooperation, help create jobs, and understand important community issues.
“This is just trying to generate folks’ ideas,” said Jeff Welch, director of the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization. “How should we manage our resources for future generations?”
The two sides met in the Tuesday forum at Anderson County High School. The two-hour forums continue tonight in Loudon County. There is also a forum in East Knox County on Friday morning and another in Union County on Saturday.
The forums in the five participating counties—Anderson, Blount, Knox, Loudon, and Union—focus on five areas of long-term livability: jobs, housing, transportation, a clean environment, and community health.
Besides participating staff members, about 40 people attended Tuesday’s forum.
Officials are completing the first phase of the three-phase planning process, which began last year and is managed by the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission. A finished product is due by Jan. 1, 2014.
Kerns has said the ultimate goal is to have a regional plan and implement it.
More information on PlanET is available here.
A related story by Oak Ridge Today is available here.