Panel defers reuse plan for Brainerd's 21st Century School

Panel defers reuse plan for Brainerd's 21st Century School

July 10th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Bud Helton has made a provisional offer to buy the former 21st Century Academy buildings.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

A Maryville, Tenn., developer said Monday he still wants to turn the former 21st Century School in Brainerd into a business incubator, even though planners questioned his original proposal.

Businessman W.C. Helton said he'd like to meet again with Brainerd residents, some who spoke against his request to have the Cherryton Drive site rezoned from R-1 residential to C-2 convenience commercial.

"We're not going in with a wrecking ball," he said about the building that has been vacant for about two years.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission agreed to defer the proposed project for 60 days to give Helton time to submit plans more in line with R-4 zoning that would limit some commercial options.

Still, panel member Wanza Lee questioned if more time will yield results.

"I'm not sure of the likelihood of reaching a consensus," he said.

About a half dozen people in the Hamilton County Commission meeting room held up small pink signs with "No" on them.

Alan Richelson, who lives in the Belvoir community nearby, said he opposed the C-2 zoning. "Whatever happens to this site we believe will have a significant impact not only on the immediate neighborhood but virtually all residential Brainerd," Richelson said.

He questioned creation of a cluster of businesses in a neighborhood setting and increased traffic.

"The proposed use is vague, undefined and entirely speculative," he said.

But, Helton said he'd like to try again to come up with an acceptable plan.

"We're willing to sit down and talk," he said.

Helton said he has done a redevelopment project in the former Franklin Middle School in Chattanooga under C-2 zoning "and we have been very successful in what we've done over there."

"We'd like to do the same thing over here," he said about the Brainerd site, adding that his business has revitalized about a dozen school facilities.

But, Commission member Jack Benson said the former Brainerd school is different, noting a viable neighborhood surrounds the site.

"Without a site plan or specific conditions, I don't see how I could vote for it," said the city councilman.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.