published Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Panel opposes builder's plans

A plan to build 254 apartment units on Hunter Road was denied Monday by a Hamilton County panel after a contentious debate.

Civil engineer Mike Price, representing developer Lighthouse Enterprises, said the plan was appropriate for the area and that development would not create the danger feared by the opposition.

"There's going to be a need for people that are working at the Volkswagen plant and their suppliers to have a place to live," said Mr. Price. "Hunter Road is capable of handling the additional traffic."

Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency staff initially recommended the project at 5336 Hunter Road for approval, provided developers placed appropriate vegetation between the proposed apartment complex and the adjacent Windhaven subdivision.

The main point of contention, however, turned out to be the volume of traffic the rezoning could create along the already overcrowded Hunter Road, according to Planning Commission member Mike Langley.

"You've got real traffic issues on Hunter," Mr. Langley said following the debate.

During the discussion, Mr. Langley and others suggested a cost-sharing deal between developers and Hamilton County to install traffic signals and expand the traffic capacity of Hunter Road, but Mr. Price was noncommittal.

"We will certainly negotiate with the county engineer to look at what's appropriate," Mr. Price said following the denial of the application.

The audience, most of whom showed up in opposition to the Hunter Road project, were vocal during the proceedings, and panel Chairman Dale Mabee reprimanded the crowd, telling them they were hurting their case.

Even so, debate halted several times as attendees heckled developers and sometimes cheered the commissioners' comments and questions.

Residents Mike Wilson, Roger Duckworth, Clay Smith and Lynda Childress led the opposition to the development, citing already dangerous traffic conditions. Mrs. Childress said she had already experienced six traffic accidents in the last 15 years.

Mr. Duckworth called the project "the wrong plan at the wrong place at the wrong time." Mr. Wilson called safety "a major concern."

Engineering professor Steve Rutledge also spoke in opposition, calling the developer's traffic and density studies into question.

"You cannot sit out on Hunter Road at anytime during the day, especially during rush hour, and not understand that road is well over capacity," said Mr. Rutledge. "This is insanity."

A similar zoning proposal was denied in 2003 based on like complaints, according to residents opposed to the plan.

The proposal is to now go to the Hamilton County Commission next month for final evaluation, with a Planning Commission recommendation for denial.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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