Hixson developer faces questions over $100 million project

Hixson developer faces questions over $100 million project

September 5th, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Developer Duane Horton discusses plans for the Chattanooga Village project at a public meeting at the Hixson Community Center in this file photo.

Photo by Allison Love/Times Free Press.

A Chattanooga developer looking at resurrecting a $100 million Hixson project pledged Wednesday to better communicate his plans than he did during an earlier unsuccessful attempt as he faced an array of questions about his efforts.

"I much prefer a conversation before we submit [a development proposal]," Duane Horton told a group of Hixson area citizens formed to review his potential plans related to the 190-acre tract at Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road.

Horton talked to the Hixson Community Review Committee about such issues as buffers to nearby neighborhoods, retail vacancies in the area, access points to the site and financing related to the Chattanooga Village apartment and commercial project.

Other potential thorny issues such as traffic and sewers are expected to be taken up later.

"We embrace the process put forward right now," Horton said.

The nine-member review panel was picked by City Council Vice Chairman Chip Henderson along with Council members Jerry Mitchell and Ken Smith to help give them input on possible Hixson development.

Horton faced a series of queries about his possible project, which he has said he's looking at resubmitting for approval among other development options.

Review panel member Jerry Jones noted, for example, that Horton had at one point last year put out answers to some questions on Twitter.

"I'm not there yet," quipped Jones.

Jones asked Horton about the possibility of a 100-foot buffer between existing properties and the possible development of the site, which is owned by Chattanoogan Jack Lonas.

Horton said he knows that such a buffer is a request from the community, but he needs flexibility.

"We made a commitment not to chop off the top of the hill," he said about the parcel. Horton said he plans to develop another site plan after hearing all the issues related to the possible project. He could resubmit a proposal to city planners as soon as next month.

Panel member Suzanne Keith said traffic was the big concern to her.

"Traffic was the main thing" with the citizen group she's representing in the Hixson area, she said.

Another panelist, Ellie Wallis, asked about what happens to the site if it's rezoned but a project doesn't move forward. City officials said the rezoning stays with the property.

Horton had proposed building up to 280 apartments, 500,000 square feet of retail space and 250,000 square feet of offices on the tract. However, Chattanooga Village drew sharp community criticism, and the City Council turned down the initiative in January.

Horton told the group and less than a dozen observers at the meeting that the Hixson area is losing a lot of retail dollars to Hamilton Place and downtown.

"It's leaving your community and going to other communities," he said, adding retail vacancies in Hixson are filling up.

Smith said the aim of the panel is to "get to the main hot topics and get those worked out."

Henderson said plans are to meet soon with city's planning staff to discuss the traffic and sewer questions.

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