published Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Tempers flare over Hixson project

TO EXPRESS CONCERNS

Developer Duane Horton can be contacted at 153@sceniclandcompany.com.

Tempers flared at a public meeting Thursday night over a proposed major Hixson apartment and commercial project, with the developer saying he's making key changes to try to ease residents' worries.

But, some of the nearly 200 people at the meeting balked when developer Duane Horton tried to break the crowd into about a half dozen groups.

"The whole practice of small groups seems like divide and conquer," said Hixson resident Sharon Peker. "We're a community. We want to act like one."

Horton agreed to answer questions before the entire gathering at the Hixson Community Center, where he laid out a recalibrated proposal designed to win support.

The developer late last year proposed building a 280-unit apartment complex and 763,000 square feet of commercial space on a 190-acre site near state Highway 153 and U.S. Highway 27.

Potentially the biggest revamp to his earlier proposal, which he withdrew this year after concerns were raised, was reducing the amount of land on which he's seeking commercial zoning by more than one half, he said.

That change will sharply cut the retail component of the plan and add possible future corporate office space, Horton said.

"I've had discussions with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce," he said. "They're recruiting business to the area."

Horton also promised to do all the traffic-related infrastructure for the project, and he answered concerns about soil erosion and water runoff. Also, apartment space will range from 250 to 280 units, he said, and he will not seek any federal money for the housing.

But some of the people at the meeting had questions about the development project that has a land area about the size of Hamilton Place mall.

Sue Mickel, president of the North Hixson Neighborhood Association, said she had concerns about erosion and flooding.

Some of the area already is "subject to serious flooding problems," she said.

Mickel also worried that the development could take a lot of time to fill up.

Sunset Pointe resident Carol Million said nearby Boy Scout Road floods regularly.

Also, Ellie Wallis, another resident, said she didn't think the project would help property values in the area. She also complained that the public meeting wasn't broadly communicated to neighbors.

Horton said he hadn't decided yet when he will refile a rezoning request with the city.

But, he said, the site will be developed by someone and his plan is better than just building hundreds of single-family houses.

"With more houses there would be worse traffic," Horton said.

Since 1991, the land has been looked at for at three other projects.

Crown American Corp. proposed building a shopping center on the scale of Hamilton Place in 1991. In 2002, developer Tom DuPre proposed a smaller commercial site.

Around 2007, Hixson Methodist Church optioned land for a possible church and community-oriented development, but decided against the move.

Jack and Carolyn Lonas own almost all of the property,

Linden Stricker, a member of a group against the project called "Don't Chop the Hilltop," said there are more than 625,000 square feet of vacant retail structures in the Hixson area. Also, there are more than 80 acres of available land already zoned for redevelopment, he said.

"That's nearly enough to create another Northgate Mall," Stricker said.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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