published Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Chattanooga city planners reject Hixson project

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    Developer Duane Horton speaks before the Planning Commission on Monday at the Hamilton County Courthouse in Chattanooga. Horton was defending the proposal for the re-zoning of an 189-acre development at Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road in Hixson. The proposal was later denied by the Planning Commission.
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WHAT'S NEXT

The Chattanooga City Council will cast the final vote at its May 8 meeting on whether to approve a $100 million, 190-acre Hixson development.

PLANNING DECISION

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

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    A group of residents discusses which three will speak before the Planning Commission on Monday at the Hamilton County Courthouse in Chattanooga, Tenn. The residents were speaking in opposition to a proposal for the re-zoning of an 189-acre development at Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road in Hixson.
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Poll
Do you support the Hixson development project?

The developer of a $100 million, 190-acre Hixson development says he'll improve roads and spur the area's economy.

But traffic is a top concern among city planners and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission voted 10-3 Monday to recommend against the rezoning request from developer Duane Horton.

Planning Commissioners Barry Payne, Jon Bell and Kenneth Jordan voted in support of the project, which is more than twice the size of Northgate Mall a few miles down the road.

The proposed development would sit near the intersection of Highway 153 and U.S. 27, both of which are projected to reach or exceed traffic capacity within the next three years. City planners and community members fear the addition of the development's 42-acre, 280-unit apartment complex and about 140 acres of offices and commercial space would increase traffic on the roads, which aren't scheduled for expansion until 2025.

But the area will get plenty of construction whether or not this project goes through, Horton said. Majority property owner Jack Lonas already has the legal right to build single-family homes, a major church campus, golf course or other similar projects under the site's current zoning, he said

"I don't think people understand the situation right now," Horton said. "The issue is not whether the site will be developed, it's how should it be developed."

Chattanooga City Council members Pam Ladd and Deborah Scott and Hamilton County Commissioner Mitch McClure, who represent areas the development would affect, said they received an unusually large amount of feedback from their constituents on the project, all of it negative.

But Horton said his plan is the community's best shot at making the site work, noting that he united the owners of several properties, some of which already are zoned for this type of development, under one cohesive project.

But many city planners said the project is inappropriate because Hixson doesn't have the necessary road infrastructure.

"We cannot continue to allow more rezoning and compound a problem that we already have," John Van Winkle, the city's traffic engineer, told the planning commission.

Horton argued his project creates a better scenario than strip development, which requires multiple curb cuts, compounds traffic problems and could be developed under the current zoning.

As it stands now, the proposed development property sends the city and county less than $20,000 a year in taxes. By the time the project is complete, Horton expects both the city and the county will receive $1 million each annually.

The traffic problem could be addressed quickly by designating expected tax dollars from the development for area roadway improvements, Horton said.

"There's a lot positive attributes that haven't been addressed that outweigh the negatives," he said. "There's nothing else that can be done that we're not willing to do."

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

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