The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission have given their thumbs-up to a zoning code change that will allow assisted care living facilities to be built on property reserved for commercial use.
Currently, the only zoning that allows assisted living facilities is R3, which is intended for multiple-family residential homes.
If the zoning regulation amendment is OK'ed by the Hamilton County Commission, developers will also be able to obtain a special permit to build assisted living facilities on properties zoned C2 and C3, typically meant for convenience and central commercial, respectively.
The decision came just a week after Morning Pointe Senior Living shared its plans to build a three-building senior living facility on commercial property at the intersection of Ooltewah-Ringgold and East Brainerd roads.
"That's not uncommon, where you see a project come through and you realize, 'Wow, we don't have a really good tool for that,'" said John Bridger, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.
The need had been brought to county planners' attention through other projects in the past, he added.
A 2016 report of real estate market trends commissioned by the RPA highlighted the growing demand for walkable mixed-use developments throughout the county, citing the East Brainerd/Ooltewah area as one of the prime locations for such growth.
"It was certainly something on our mindset," Bridger said, adding that Hamilton County will likely see more such developments as the population continues to age. "This particular project [made it click that], 'Hey we need to do something. We can't wait six months to fix this problem, we need to go ahead and do something now.'"
Morning Pointe already has four senior living facilities in the Ooltewah area, but company President Greg Vital said last month that its Greenbriar Cove location and the two on Shallowford Road are already at capacity.
"We're continuing to see growth in the East Brainerd corridor," he said during a community meeting concerning the proposed new facility.
Plans for the new living complex, which would spread its three building across 23 acres to match the area's suburban-rural feel, currently include walking trails and plenty of landscaping, planners said.
Fearing an R3 rezoning to accommodate the senior living center, some residents were concerned about the possibility of another developer building multiple-family dwellings or townhomes at the site if plans fell through.
With the special permit, however, the property will keep its C2 zoning, and Bridger said the permit would not allow anything residential, outside of an assisted living facility, to be built on the site.
"A special permit is intended just for that [use] only," he stressed. "This special permit is specifically for assisted living."
Developers who apply for a special permit to build an assisted living facility will still need to submit a site plan and get approval from the Planning Commission and the Hamilton County Commission, Bridger added, as not every eligible location would be suitable for such a structure.
The amendment will be brought before the county commission for a vote later this year.
Email Myron Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org.