The winning planning team is expected to be selected before year's end, with the initiative to begin early in 2012.
Counties in the planning study:
• Tennessee: Hamilton, Bradley, Polk, McMinn, Meigs, Rhea, Bledsoe, Sequatchie, Marion
• Georgia: Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Whitfield, Murray
• Alabama: Jackson, DeKalb
OVERSIGHT TASK FORCE
Corinne Allen, Benwood Foundation president; Brian Anderson, Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce CEO; Mike Babb, Whitfield County board of commissioners chairman; Bruz Clark, Lyndhurst Foundation president; Pete Cooper, Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga president; Jim Coppinger, Hamilton County mayor; D. Gary Davis, Bradley County mayor; Gary Farlow, Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce CEO; Ron Harr, immediate past Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce chairman; Beth Jones, Southeast Tennessee Development District executive director; Ron Littlefield, Chattanooga mayor; Tom McCallie, Maclellan Family Foundations representative; Tom Edd Wilson, Chattanooga Chamber CEO
Planners and the public engaged in a spirited, sometimes testy debate Thursday over the 16-county, long-range growth planning effort.
At a meeting of more than 200 people in downtown Chattanooga, three planning groups each seeking to lead the initiative explained what they could bring to the table if selected.
But they also were met by a small but vocal group that expressed worries over issues such as property rights, transparency of the process and an imposition of urban growth boundaries.
"My biggest concern is that Chattanooga is driving this," said Polk County, Tenn., resident Karen Bracken.
Each planning group sought to allay concerns.
C. Gregory Dale, leading the McBride Dale Clarion team, said people should talk to others in places where his firm already has worked.
"We are open, transparent, fair," he said. "We pride ourselves on listening."
Chris Sinclair, of Renaissance Planning Group, said he doesn't see how a proposed 40-year growth plan could affect property rights.
"It's not about whether rights or any choices are taken away from you," he said.
David Rouse, of Wallace Roberts & Todd, said he's committed to an open process, and that property rights won't be impacted without the public's consent.
Each team said at the public meeting that jobs and bolstering the economy are viewed as key to the plan, which could take two to three years to craft after work starts early in 2012.
In addition, Dale said a quality environment and lower taxes could be outcomes for the effort that involves counties in the tri-state area.
"It could result in a more tax-friendly environment," he said.
Sinclair talked about developing a vision for the region, and he added the effort is about jobs as well as the infrastructure to train people and the ability to move around the region.
"It's about jobs, certainly, but it's about the quality of the job," he said.
Rouse said more and better jobs is "a huge issue for the future."
Additionally, he cited the area's natural beauty and the issues of clean air and water.
Bradley County, Tenn., Mayor Gary Davis noted that a regional growth strategy is needed because "dollars cross boundaries."
Walker County, Ga., Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said the region is competing against the world. The plan, she said, would give the area an advantage.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said the effort is a continuation of a process that started in the 1980s when the city undertook a visioning initiative.
"It's about building on our past," he said.
However, June Griffin of Rhea County expressed worries about the initiative. She thought the effort was "a totally controlled situation."
There were also concerns expressed that the planning process could bring about implementing of Agenda 21, which is an action plan of the United Nations related to sustainable development.
The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce included creation of a 35- to 50-year growth plan in its newest jobs initiative unveiled late last year dubbed "Chattanooga Can Do: Building Tomorrow Today."
The city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County government and area foundations have pledged $3 million for the effort.
Also, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger received the OK from the county commission to try for $2.5 million in federal grant money to help fund the project.