Planners against zoning change for $100 million Chattanooga project

Planners against zoning change for $100 million Chattanooga project

January 8th, 2014 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

WHAT'S NEXT

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Planning Commission is expected to consider the Hillocks Farm plan Monday at 1 p.m. at the County Commission room in the fourth floor of the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Site of proposed apartment and commercial project off Highway 153 in Hixson.

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

Chattanooga planners on Tuesday cited road and traffic worries as they called for officials to block the newest proposal for a $100 million apartment and commercial project off Highway 153 in Hixson.

But the developer of Hillocks Farm said that turning aside the 190-acre plan is to walk away from the new jobs and taxes to fund road fixes in the Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road area.

"To deny this project is to deny jobs growth as well as tax growth for the Hixson area," said Duane Horton, whose Scenic Land Co. is proposing one of the largest-ever such developments in Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton Planning Commission is to take up the issue Monday.

The staff report for Hillocks Farm, formerly known as Chattanooga Village, said that proposed road improvements in the area don't address the limited road network.

Horton's company, Scenic Land, has offered to add turn lanes on Highway 153 and widen it for a distance eastward from Boy Scout Road. Hillocks Farm, which includes 280 apartments and about 750,000 square feet of retail and office space, would have two entrances off Highway 153.

The staff report said the developer "is prepared to make a reasonable amount of improvements to the vicinity to mitigate the traffic impacts...."

But the planning staff concluded that the traffic problems created by the project can't be addressed feasibly by the developer or within a time frame.

"Staff is not suggesting that the applicant has the responsibility for making these improvements, only that ultimately the city would need to anticipate making these improvements to accommodate the consequential growth in traffic that would occur as development intensifies," the report said.

Also, the report said the steep topography and areas of flood plain in the area limit opportunities to improve road capacity or new networks to handle added traffic.

The staff said Highway 153 and U.S. 27 are projected to reach or exceed capacity in the next three years, and there are no scheduled improvements until 2025. In addition, the staff said there's already a high accident rate at Boy Scout Road, and the Dayton Boulevard intersection at Highway 153 is a substandard one.

The report said a draft 2040 transportation plan does call for a section of Highway 153 from Stoneridge Drive to Highway 27 to be widened from four to six lanes.

Horton said in an email that his project is caught in "the middle of the age old chicken and egg question" with planners.

He said if development is allowed to occur first, public revenue from it can be invested into new roads. Horton said the City Council is planning to vote on a Highway 153 widening to be carried out in 2020. He said that time period corresponds closely to when Hillocks Farm could reach full development.

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.

"The choice is clear: If this project doesn't move forward, the city may choose to fund and maintain nearly a full mile of six-lane highway without any public revenue generating a return on taxpayer investment," Horton said.

The staff report said the new proposal appears to address a lot of key issues and concerns, noting it has 39 conditions related to buffers, stormwater runoff, lighting, parking lot landscaping, building height and size along with the road improvements.

Still, the report said there's just one primary access point along with the minor one at Stoneridge Drive.

"The staff would prefer that the site have another direct access point to Boy Scout Road to better distribute traffic that would access this development...," the report said.

The planning staff said approval of Hillocks Farm will likely lead to more unrelated commercial and higher intensity development in the area.

Horton estimated that Hixson already is losing more than $100 million in retail sales to other parts of the city, such as downtown and East Brainerd.

"I am simply asking for permission from the RPA and the City Council to approve a project that will allow the Hixson community to prosper as other communities have in the region," he said. "We have a wonderful opportunity for Hixson and they deserve this project."

John Bridger, the Regional Planning Agency's director, declined immediate comment.

"The report speaks for itself," he said.

Horton, landowner Jack Lonas and some city councilmen have met with nearby residents and others in an effort to address concerns related to the project.

Last January, the City Council turned back the Chattanooga Village proposal after hearing concerns from neighbors about traffic, stormwater runoff and the project's need.

Rick Hill, who's working on the project, recently told neighbors it will be village-like.

"I see outdoor cafes. I don't see aluminum storefronts like a Kmart shopping center," he said. "It must be a pedestrian-friendly village."

Hill said he also doesn't foresee big-box stores such as a 150,000-square-foot Walmart. He does see several stores of 25,000 to 35,000 square feet, along with specialty shops.

Roland Aberg of the design firm Hart Howerton said the site will have tight stormwater standards to control runoff through retention ponds and other methods.

"It won't increase the runoff, or the rate of runoff," he said.

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