What is the City’s proposal for Middle Housing in Knoxville?

Chief Policy Officer

Cheryl Ball
[email protected]
(865) 215-4991

400 Main St., Room 655
Knoxville, TN 37902

Last item for navigation
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share via Email


What are examples of Middle Housing types?

The City has led a team to propose changes to the Knoxville zoning code that would remove barriers to Middle Housing. With support from Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission and City Council, we hope that changes could take effect in early 2024.

We have updated our proposal to Planning based on feedback from open house event attendees, additional community and neighborhood outreach, and suggestions from Opticos Design. 

The full details of the City’s UPDATED submission to Knoxville-Knox County Planning can be found here.

Identifying a geographic area

The Opticos team suggested starting with a somewhat limited geographic area. After analyzing maps and data, the team determined that the Traditional Neighborhood Residential (TDR) area from the Land Use Classification Table (which can be found here) was a good starting point. 

Traditional Neighborhood Residential (TDR) is shown on the map below in yellow.

It is an area in the urban core of Knoxville supported by existing infrastructure such as:

Walkable / Bikeable
Neighborhood Servicing Businesses in proximity
Transit Routes in proximity
Existing middle and multi-family housing in proximity

Notably, South Knoxville is not included in the TDR area. However, the South Waterfront Redevelopment area has Form Based Code which allows, and is supporting, Middle Housing. In fact, numerous new examples of middle housing have been happening already in South Knoxville.

The City’s proposal would allow more types of Middle Housing to be built in TDR areas.

The City’s proposal focuses on allowing specific types of Middle Housing across existing RN-1, RN-2, RN-3, and RN-4 properties located within TDR area. These types and where they can be utilized are summarized in the chart below. It is important to note that all Middle Housing projects require Planning Staff Review to ensure that middle housing complements the look-and-feel of the neighborhood.

The focus for this group of code changes is on seven types of Middle Housing. These types and where they can be utilized are in the chart below. 

Proposed Middle Housing Types Allowed in TDR

Middle Housing Type Permitted Use + Planning Staff Review
RN-1 RN-2 RN-3 RN-4
Duplex (side-by-side)
Duplex (stacked)
Townhouse (small - 3-4 units)
Townhouse (large - 5-8 units)
Multiplex (small - 5-10 units)

* Location criteria for triplexes: Three-story triplexes are only permitted on lots with frontage on arterial roads as defined in the Major Road Plan. Three-story triplexes are not permitted on flag lots.

Community Outreach

City and Planning staff hosted two Community Open House Events on September 21 and 25, 2023. More than 170 Knoxville residents came out to learn about the City’s proposal for Middle Housing Zoning changes, get their questions answered, and provide input into the plans. Additionally, staff will have visited 13 neighborhood meetings and met with at least 10 community organizations on the proposal for Middle Housing.

This Community input and additional consultation from Opticos Design, informed some edits to the original submission to Planning. The website reflects these changes and the most recent version of the City’s proposal. To see the City’s proposal on the Knoxville-Knox County Planning site, click here.

NEW Construction Standards for Middle Housing within the TDR areas to promote compatibility with neighborhoods include:

Dimensional Standards (Revised) such as lot width, height, set back, etc.
Parking Standards (Revised) for off-street requirements
Design Standards (Revised) to ensure neighborhood compatible structures

Conversion Construction Standards for Middle Housing within the TDR areas to retain existing housing stock and neighborhood character can be found here (Revised). 

Administrative Variations, Variances, and Appeals

1. In some instances, it may be practical to provide relief from certain standards due to existing conditions on the site. A project may receive an administrative variation during Planning staff review based on the below criteria only.

a. Allowable administrative variations are as follows:

i. Lot width:  a decrease in the minimum required lot width, up to 20 percent, provided the existing lot can be developed following the intent of Middle Housing standards, meets all other applicable dimensional standards of Section 4.6, and is similar in scale and placement of buildings on the subject block face and the block face directly across the street; 

ii.  Corner side setbacks:  a decrease in minimum corner side setbacks, up to 20 percent, provided the reduction receives approval from the Department of Engineering;

iii. Design standards: a variation on the design standards in Section 4.6.E may be permitted, provided the project meets all applicable dimensional standards of Section 4.6, and variation from the design standards is necessary to achieve a creative architectural design which is similar in scale with the buildings on the subject block face and the block face directly across the street.

b. No other administrative variations to Article 4.6 are allowed.

2. In no case may a variance, under Article 16.3, to the requirements or administrative deviations contained in this article be granted to allow Middle Housing developments, with the exception of variances related to parking.

3. Any person may appeal a Planning staff approval or denial to the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission as provided in Article 16.12.A.