The City Council's decision Tuesday to deny approval of a proposed 190-acre mixed-use development on a Hixson hilltop may quell that controversy for the moment. But given the basket of larger concerns reflected in that debate, it seems a good time for Hixson residents to reconsider their dated growth plan. At the least, Hixson residents should finally consider a plan to remodel the Highway 153 corridor, the source of so many complaints that are seen as restraints on Hixson's vibrancy.
Opponents of the hilltop development rightly called attention to the corridor's traffic congestion, high vacancy and turn-over rates of commercial properties, grinding sprawl, scarred and ugly land left idle after speculative grading to the barren yellow dirt, and the bleak absence of pedestrian connections from adjacent neighborhoods to the traffic-only commercial highway frontage.
Without a guiding growth plan that calls for a 180-degree change in such conditions, they have every right to fear more of the same with new development proposals. Duane Horton, the developer of the proposed Chattanooga Village, proposed to make his project more pedestrian friendly, but his application for a rezoning bogged down on other important issues.
At the root level are Hixson's lagging economic resiliency and quality of life standards, and their nexus with the deadening congestion and retail hop-scotch along Highway 153. Those concerns could be significantly mitigated by remaking Hixson's essential Highway 153 corridor into what planners call a "complete street" -- a multi-function street that attracts a range of useful business developments precisely because it invites and serves residents and shoppers in a more attractive way.
Models for such pedestrian and shopper-friendly complete streets abound in more progressive cities in America -- including more aesthetic Southern cities -- and abroad. Hixson's most congested and visually besieged artery needs a complete-street conversion if Hixson's core is to thrive and carry its weight as a community asset.
From the approach to Chickamauga Dam all the way to Highway 27, Highway 153 is easily wide enough to accommodate such a conversion. It measures 10-to-11 lanes wide at the formidable Gadd Road intersection if turn and storage lanes are counted, and it's nearly that wide in other portions.
A model conversion to a complete-street would remake that space as a six-lane, tree-lined boulevard, with a tree-adorned center island at least a lane wide running down the boulevard's middle the entire way from the dam to Highway 27. Vehicles headed the opposite direction from a given side could be allowed to make U-turns at turn-left arrows at traffic lights.
To make the highway an attractive, business-building boulevard surrounded by cohesive neighborhoods, both sides of the highway also would be lined with trees between the curb and the sidewalk, and the sidewalks and green space would be wide enough to accommodate a bicycle lane, occasional benches and plants. Streets from the surrounding neighborhoods to their intersections with Highway 153 would also get sidewalks on each side. The boulevard's pedestrian spine would encourage consolidation of curb cuts for businesses along Highway 153, better signage control, and, over time, buried power and utility lines.
A leafy tree canopy, crosswalks and convenient pedestrian access from the adjacent neighborhoods would naturally encourage more pedestrian traffic along the boulevard, and more diverse retail shopping, restaurants, open-air cafes and mixed-use options. Such vibrant benefits would spawn a healthier lifestyle for walkers, bicyclists, skateboarders and for neighbors looking for an interesting stroll.
Recreating Highway 153 as an active shaded boulevard also would help lower traffic speed, buffer noise, reduce neighborhood traffic, and build more cohesive, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. All of which would foster higher property values, more stable and interesting housing, a better quality of life, and similar development along Hixson Pike.
Hixson's 2002-2003 community growth plan did not consider such a remake of its overly congested and sadly blighted central corridor, nor did the 2004-2005 revision. Yet it is increasingly apparent that the community's economic stability and future growth depends on such a project to enliven and build a vibrant urban core.
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