Western Heights plans for future

Western Heights residents ask questions of KCDC officials at Wednesday’s open house. Photo by Jenna Stambaugh.

Knoxville Community Development Corporation (KCDC) officials sought input Wednesday from people who live, work or have an interest in the Western Heights housing project and surrounding Beaumont neighborhood. 

Community members learned about KCDC’s Transforming Western planning initiative and offered input in design options for buildings parks and greenspaces as well as improving the overall site.  

Established in 1939, Western Heights is KCDC’s largest affordable housing development with 440 units. The housing project is located just off Keith Avenue and Western Avenue in Northwest Knoxville.

Wednesday’s open house was held in the gymnasium of the Western Heights Boys and Girls Club. Dozens of people drifted in and out over the course of the 90-minute event, taking advantage of the chance to speak with KCDC officials and review plans.

KCDC CEO Ben Bentley said his main goal Wednesday was to hear what residents had to say.

“There are three main buckets that we are getting feedback from residents about needed improvements: housing renovation, investing in people-social services for the neighborhood, and planning  for neighborhood improvements — sidewalks, greenways, open spaces, and connectivity,” Bentley said. 

“The housing in here is old. We have one section that was finished in 1940 and another in the late 1950’s and not much investment in the community has occurred since that time,” he continued. “We are looking at major substantial rehabilitation and reconstruction of housing in the community.  That is the feedback that we have been hearing the loudest and the most clearly.”

He added: “There is also a lot of talk of additional programming, especially for kids. There has been a lot of talk about educational enrichment opportunities in their community, to supplement what has been already going on at Beaumont Elementary. Also, we have a lot of land here, so how do we use that more effectively to get the community more involved and engaged?”

A resident ambassador, Mr. Murphy, said he’d been surveying his fellow residents about changes they’d like to see in their community.

Western Heights residents at Wednesday’s open house. Photo by Jenna Stambaugh.

According to Murphy, “Residents have been telling me they want less crime, they don’t want the drug dealers out here. Community members want more spaces, more opportunities for gardening, more flowers. They want the place to look more pretty. They also want people to respect the neighborhood, and for guests to control themselves. Actually, the most complaints that the office gets isn’t about residents themselves, it’s from people’s guests.” 

Transforming Western is a 15-month planning process for the future of the Western Heights neighborhood and people. The process is meant to engage residents and stakeholders and will culminate in KCDC applying in November for a $30 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant to fund the transformation of the neighborhood. 

Theogene Nasanze, who has been a resident of Western Heights for four years, attended the open house to let developers know his hopes for the neighborhood. “I am looking for safety and an environment where, as parents of eight kids, my wife and I won’t worry about them. I need a place where my kids can feel safe and can go outside and play without having to look around worried that someone is going to shoot them, an environment where we can feel safe,” Nasanze said. 

Nasanze also discussed the need for economic development in the area. 

“We are looking to the young people who finish high school but have nothing to do. Western Heights has a lot of kids that have a lot of dreams that can benefit society. Entrepreneurship is needed here because a lot of young people here have dreams and with nothing to do those dreams are dying,” he said. 

“I’m excited to see people from around Knox County thinking about this neighborhood and this area. It’s an amazing day for me. I hope that for my kids, and for their future, that this transformation will be great for them. This is a dream, and when this dream comes true everyone who has goodness in his heart will appreciate seeing this change in Western Heights.” 

The Transforming Western planning process began in February and has included several meetings to gather input from the broader community on a variety of topics. 

Input from residents and other stakeholders will be combined and presented at another open house in late summer or early fall. 

People may learn about the planning process and complete an online survey at https://www.engagetheteam.com/western 

KCDC’s Transforming Western planning partners include the City of Knoxville, Knoxville Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC), BarberMcMurry Architects and Urban Design Associates.

Jenna Stambaugh can be reached at news@hardknoxwire.com

Published on June 17, 2021