published Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Chattanooga city planners don't back massive Hixson development project

Gregory Vickrey, executive director of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, stands on the bank of the creek as it runs by Boy Scout Road near state Highway 153.
Gregory Vickrey, executive director of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, stands on the bank of the creek as it runs by Boy Scout Road near state Highway 153.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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PLANNING DECISION

Before a 190-acre development off state Highway 153 in Hixson can be built, the city must rezone the area. City planners recommended against rezoning, citing:

  • Significantly more traffic along Highways 153 and U.S. 27.
  • Unacceptable environmental effects on nearby land reserves.
  • Vacant commercial spaces along Highway 153 in need of redevelopment.
  • Insufficient public transport.

Source: Regional Planning Commission Staff Report & Recommendations

WHAT'S NEXT

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency will meet Monday to decide whether to approve or deny a rezoning required for the 190-acre residential and commercial development in Hixson. The rezoning recommendation will then go to the Chattanooga City Council, which will make the final decision.

City planners recommend blocking a development that would level a Hixson hillside to create commercial space twice the size of Northgate Mall just miles down the road.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency cited extreme traffic and environmental problems as reasons to oppose the project, according to a report released Monday.

Developers want to put the 190-acre development near Highways 153 and U.S. 27, which both are projected to reach or exceed traffic capacity within the next three years. There are no scheduled improvements to the roads until 2025.

The addition of 148 acres of commercial development and a 42-acre, 280-unit apartment complex would exacerbate that problem, the report states.

"The Regional Planning Agency staff thinks it is reasonable for the site to be developed more intensely, but at a much different scale and with a different arrangement of uses to reflect the site conditions," the report states.

Hannah Bunch, who works at Academy Sports in a shopping center about a mile south of the proposed development site, said traffic's not too bad when she travels up Highway 153 to work each day, so long as she's not scheduled to work near morning or evening rush hours.

"If we get off at 5 [p.m.], it doubles the time it takes," she said.

Duane Horton, president of Scenic Land Co., which is overseeing the development, has not returned multiple phone calls after a March 12 community meeting about the project. He did not return calls on Monday, asking for comment on the report.

At the March meeting, Horton said the project turns property with several different owners into one cohesive development with only one major entrance. If the project is denied, he said, the space probably will be developed piecemeal, making traffic problems even worse.

But for nearby landowners, potential problems go well beyond traffic.

Gregory Vickrey, executive director of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, expects stormwater, which already causes flooding, pollution and erosion along the creek, will increase dramatically if the project is built.

"This is an area impacted any time there is a significant rain event," he said. "We already know it can't handle it now."

In the March meeting, Horton pledged to exceed stormwater retention requirements and promised there would be no flooding downstream from the development. His preliminary plans include three water-retention ponds on the site.

But Vickrey was doubtful Horton could find a place for the millions of gallons of stormwater that would run off the site if it is paved over.

"If he can, he's a better engineer than God," Vickrey said.

Flooding left Boy Scout Road, which runs along the northern edge of the property, impassible during storms earlier this year. Drainage into North Chickamauga Creek is quickly eroding the public and private land the creek runs through, a problem that cost millions in taxpayer dollars in Soddy-Daisy, just north of the Hixson development site.

Erosion has caused problems for decades in that area, washing away yards, porches, home foundations and the U.S. 27 bridge. The federal government paid $1.77 million in 2005 for just one of many projects aimed at fighting erosion along the Willow Creek subdivision near Dayton Pike.

"It could be three times in a year, it could be once in five years, but it's going to happen," said Hardie Stulce, city manager in Soddy-Daisy. "When that creek starts ripping and rolling, the water goes somewhere. There have been instances in the last 10 years where U.S. Highway 27 was underwater."

Stulce wasn't familiar with the details of the proposed Hixson project but said he wouldn't be surprised if it caused water problems similar to what his town has seen.

"I can tell you what it does up here on this end, and the water that comes through here is definitely going to come through there," he said. "I think the people who are concerned have a reason to be concerned."

There are plenty area residents who are concerned. Vickrey has gotten more than 670 signatures on a petition against the project. He said he plans to fight the development till the end to keep the creek healthy and area residents safe from what has happened in Soddy-Daisy.

"I would label it inevitable that some property owners are going to be affected that dramatically," Vickrey said. "It's a no-brainer to describe it as a long-term cost for the community."

Contact staff writer Carey O'Neil at coneil@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525. Follow him at twitter.com/careyoneil.

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