published Monday, May 9th, 2011

Planners seek allies in South Broad proposal

The Southern Saddlery building is on South Broad Street.
Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press
The Southern Saddlery building is on South Broad Street. Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Planners put an ambitious South Broad rezoning proposal on hold Monday, pending meetings with property owners affected by the changes.

The plan would transform about 100 lots that for years served as the industrial heart of Chattanooga into an urban, walkable shopping and residential district.

South Broad has been a target of Chattanooga’s planners because the current heavy manufacturing zoning common in the corridor doesn’t allow for residential dwellings, said John Bridger, head of the Regional Planning Agency.

The presence of residential tenants typically reduces crime, raises property values and revitalizes an area, Bridger said.

Under the proposed Urban Commercial Zone, buildings will sit closer to the street, with parking in the rear or on the side. Ground floors typically serve as retail or office space under the zone, while upper floors are available for residential and other light uses, much like Main Street and Frazier Avenue, Bridger said.

“We’re trying to align the zoning to fit the existing land use, and promote a little more of an urban form,” he said.

Though there would be no immediate effect, the zone would transform the street over a period of years as new property owners and developers build and rebuild.

Calvary Chapel, a church that relocated to an old Bi-Lo on South Broad, is an example of how such renewal would take place, said Pastor Ted Seidel.

“The industrial, that was OK years ago but not necessarily today,” Seidel said. “I think it will foster the type of growth on South Broad Street that we need down here.”

Owners Uneasy

But while promoting a pedestrian and tourist-friendly corridor to Lookout Mountain is a worthy goal, a few property owners are a little uneasy about giving away their versatile M1 manufacturing zones in exchange for a more stringent UGC zone said Karen Hundt, director of the Chattanooga Planning & Design Studio.

Most owners understand that as long as they don’t change their property’s use from a TV station to a bar, for example, they can continue operating unaffected by the zoning changes, she said.

But if owners decide to sell the property to a buyer who wants to use it for a different purpose, the limited number of uses could drive away some buyers or lower the property’s value.

“None of the zoning restricts what we do today, but it obviously changes things long term,” said Chad Dirkse, president of Chattanooga Christian School.

The school supports improving the community, he said, but is concerned about what happens if the long-term plan doesn’t work.

“What they’ve asked us to go to, that would cover the vast majority of uses that CCS would have for property, but the problem is that we have no idea what things will be like 10 years from now,” Dirkse said.

That’s why Hundt and others will be meeting with property owners over the next three months, she said.

“We haven't seen those heavy industrial uses even proposed for a long time, so I think people are comfortable with changing that heavy manufacturing to something else,” Hundt said. “We just have to help educate them.”

Complete street

The plan arose following years of work by the South Broad Redevelopment Group, led by Mike Harrell and Ann Weeks. But even after all the meetings, there is still a lot of work yet to be done, Harrell said.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of work, and now the property owners are saying, ‘Wait a minute, we want to understand what’s gong on,’” he said.

Eliciting an agreement with all the stakeholders in this case is preferable to bullying through the zoning, he said. After all, this is just the first stage in an ambitious long-term plan for the area, and everyone will have to work together to achieve the end goal, he said.

“It’s not something we can’t work through, but it was enough where we need to go talk to them and tell the value of UGC,” Harrell said. “After all, we already did it on the first half of Broad.”

The ultimate goal is to transform the area into a complete street; something that will complement the adjoining property that was formerly home to the 141-acre U.S. Pipe complex and Wheland Foundry.

Planners have said they have looked at everything from Atlantic Station in Atlanta to Chattanooga’s Main Street as examples of what good urban planning should look like.

Part of the plan calls for extending the city’s popular Riverwalk all the way to Lookout Mountain, among other civic improvements, Harrell said.

A large commercial and residential mixed-use development at the Wheland site, envisioned by planners and developers after the site’s closure and partial disassembly, would directly adjoin the South Broad corridor.

But while redevelopment on South Broad has proceeded at a steady pace, conversations about what to do with the Wheland site are still just that — conversations.

Mike Mallen, part of a group that bought the site from 2002 to 2006, said the group has prepared plans but has yet to nail down an anchor tenant.

“We’ve said no to some generic big-box concepts because it’s not the right thing to start with,” he said. “We’re trying to accomplish something a little different. It’s not a suburban retail site, it’s an urban brownfield redevelopment.”

Any successful plan will have to involve the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which will have to approve an exit off Interstate 24 for the area to become a viable shopping and residential district, Mallen said.

“If you did that, you’d be able to bring people off the interstate midway between the Aquarium and Rock City, to give people a chance to get off for purposes of tourism,” he said.

In the meantime, he’s waiting for a master developer before worrying too much about the zoning.

“There’s nothing definitive yet, and we’re trying to work on the type of things that are capable of being worked on,” he said.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315.

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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May 10, 2011 at 3:41 a.m.
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