A 93-home planned unit development in East Brainerd was endorsed by Chattanooga planners Monday despite concerns from some neighbors about traffic problems in the area.
The proposed development, which is projected to cost up to $30 million to fully develop, consists of 83 traditional home lots and 10 townhome lots, all for single-family living. The homes will sit on a 19.9-acre tract of land off Hitchcock Road, with seven acres set aside for public green space.
Chattanooga's Collier Construction — owned by planning commission Chairman Ethan Collier — is the project's developer.
Collier has built several urban housing developments in Chattanooga. The new East Brainerd project will look and feel more like a traditional neighborhood than a typical suburban subdivision, he said. For instance, it will not contain cul-de-sac streets and will have a shared, neighborhood green space, he added.
But during discussion about Collier's East Brainerd project at Monday's meeting, some neighbors had heavy criticism.
Shiley Harper, a resident of the nearby Ashley Mills subdivision, said for starters, Hitchcock Road is too small to accommodate additional traffic.
Then Harper accused Collier of using his influence as planning commission chairman to ram-rod the project through.
She and other area residents met with Collier during neighborhood meetings about the new project over last weekend.
And "I was told several times it was a done deal," said Harper on Monday.
"I was actually so offended by that, I actually asked [Collier] to stop saying it was a done deal," she said.
Harper also accused Karen Rennich, deputy director of the Regional Planning Agency, of instructing planning agency staff to amend their project recommendations to favor Collier.
Meanwhile John Anderson, another resident of the Ashley Mills neighborhood, said the normal nine minutes allocated for opponents of a project to speak isn't enough when the project's developer sits on the planning commission and has round-the-clock access to the board.
Anderson then questioned whether the commission could make an objective decision on the project. He said the body should grant a 30-day deferral for the project's neighbors and Collier to talk.
Collier left the meeting while his project was discussed, but the accusations of Harper and Anderson elicited responses from others on the planning board.
"I take great offense to the suggestion, or inference, that I would not be able to make an impartial decision," said Donna Williams, planning commissioner and administrator of Chattanooga's community and economic development department.
Barry Payne, commissioner and local developer, said RPA staff take "great pains" to be fair.
Monday afternoon, Collier answered the criticism himself.
He said that when talking to Harper on Saturday, he tried to explain that legally, since the East Brainerd property in question is already zoned R-1, Collier Construction could build 90 homes there without getting a planned unit development — or PUD — permit.
"What I was trying — in working with the community — to help explain was that we were going to do the development there, because it's R-1," Collier said. "By right, we can put 90 houses on that parcel, because it's currently zoned R-1."
He said a PUD was required when Collier Construction decided to set aside seven of the available 20 acres for permanent green space and put 93 homes on the remaining land.
Collier said his company "will work to address traffic," but he doesn't see it being as big a strain on Hitchcock Road as said Monday.
Collier Construction's PUD application will go before Chattanooga City Council on Aug. 11 for review and final approval.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6480.