Knoxville/Knox County definition of ‘family’ awaits public input


The Knoxville/Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) deferred a vote scheduled for Thursday, April 13, and called for the establishment of a task force charged with studying the issues surrounding the definition of “family” for zoning purposes.

Complaints originating from the South Knoxville area regarding housing rented to University of Tennessee students initiated the move to refine the requirements for single-family zoning. Other complaints were also directed at migrant worker housing, with residents noting an inordinate number of people per rental unit for temporary construction workers in their area.

Previous interactions with the MPC indicated that the Belle Terre model for family definition had been suggested by area residents and was under consideration by certain commission members.

The Belle Terre definition prohibits more than two unrelated people per household in areas zoned as single-family residential. The United States Supreme Court upheld this definition in 1974 in the Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas case.

“Since by law they cannot marry, members of Knoxville’s gay and lesbian community feel this would be writing discrimination into the housing code,” asserts Robbie Arrington, member of the Greater Knoxville LGBTQ Leadership Council (GKLLC)’s Public Policy Committee. “We have heard some encouraging comments from the Knox County Commission regarding their willingness to accept same-sex couples as spouses for zoning purposes.”

More than 150 people attended the April 13 MPC general meeting during which the predicted task force formation was officially initiated. GKLLC Public Policy Committee members Robbie Arrington and Donna Hankins signed on to represent the GLBT community.

“I look forward to insuring the GLBT community’s voice is heard in decisions like this, that are sure to affect our families. I hope to eventually see that we have a seat at the table,” Arrington said.

Interested community members may contact the Leadership Council for further information. Visit their Web site at or write [email protected]

The push to bring the definition of family to the public arena is not isolated to Knoxville or East Tennessee. National statistics show a population that is rapidly moving away from a traditional definition of a family unit.

The MPC is composed of officials from both the City of Knoxville and Knox County. They regulate zoning and land subdivision, providing oversight for comprehensive development in the Knox County area. Funding for MPC activities comes from both local and federal sources; however, the 15 members serve as volunteers. Regular business meetings are held on the second Thursday of each month at 1:30 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room, City-County Building. Their annual meeting is normally held in October of each year.

In addition to the volunteer commission members, an executive director and a staff of forty work in the following designated areas: comprehensive planning, development services, information services and transportation planning in addition to their work with the Knox County and Knoxville Historic Zoning Commissions.

See the Metropolitan Planning Commission’s Web site for updates. You will find them online at