The new road up Aetna/Black Creek Mountain is not your typical city street.
First, it is different in how it is being financed. Unlike streets in other subdivisions, the developers are not paying for this one. Instead, it is being funded through a $9 million taxpayer subsidy known as tax increment financing — TIF, for short.
Approval of TIF support for this project has started Chattanooga on a path down a very “slippery slope.” How do we now say “no” to other residential developers who would certainly prefer that taxpayers pay for their streets, too?
I believe that exempting certain corporations from property taxes, either through tax increment financing or through payment in lieu of taxes, known as PILOT, should be based on clear, rational and appropriate written criteria. And, compliance with the established guidelines must be discussed in public meetings, if we care anything about transparency in government.
Second, unlike other city streets, this road was not reviewed as part of a plat in the normal subdivision process, including a Planning Commission public hearing. Typically, citizens have the opportunity to ask questions about storm water, slope stability, grade, width, etc.
The normal review process also gives the public and city staff the right and responsibility to ask questions about compliance with various governmental codes. This process would have allowed someone to question how it is legal for this road to provide the sole access to the top of the mountain.
Both Chattanooga’s subdivision regulations and the International Fire Code require at least two separate and approved emergency access roads for new residential developments with over 200 projected houses. The Black Creek developers are projecting more than 1,000 homes. What will happen when this road is temporarily closed because of boulder or mud slides and there is a fire or medical emergency on the mountain?
Third, this road will almost certainly be much more expensive for the city to maintain than other residential city streets because it will be significantly steeper and longer.
Unlike the three highways up Lookout and Signal Mountains, the road up Aetna Mountain is not a highway and will not be maintained by the state. The W Road up Signal is a county road located in unincorporated Hamilton County. The road up Aetna will be within the Chattanooga city limits so it is doubtful that the county will contribute to the cost of road maintenance. It is worth noting that the county recently spent $1.2 million on repairing the W Road.
I would prefer our tax dollars go toward maintaining existing streets throughout Chattanooga rather than maintaining this new road. Our city council has recently discussed trying to find additional funds for street maintenance.
If you want to know more about the unusual funding of this road, visit www.helenburnssharp.com. There, read about the efforts of a local resident who has filed a lawsuit asking Chancery Court to declare the TIF approvals null and void so that no taxpayer dollars are spent on the road.
If you would rather see your tax dollars go toward maintaining existing city streets in need of repair, insist that the mayor and city council not accept this road as a public street after it is completed.
Andra Jurist, a career educator, has a strong concern for sound city governance and responsible and prudent use of all public funds. She lives with her family in downtown Chattanooga.