When Gunbarrel Road property owner Bassam Issa goes before the Chattanooga City Council next week with a request to rezone his property from residential to commercial with the intention of building an IHOP restaurant, he will present two points.
Issa has been at the center of a heated debate since August because his request would break the Hamilton Place Land Use Plan. At the Dec. 20 City Council hearing, he said he will direct the council's attention to information taken from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency that states the land use plan has been broken at least eight times since 2002. He will also reference a section of the land use plan that calls for rezoning of individual properties after the plan has been fully implemented.
"This is really the crux of the matter," he said. "Politics need to be out of this case."
Since the discussion surrounding Issa's rezoning request began nearly six months ago, City Councilman Jack Benson has repeatedly explained his opposition to the project comes solely from the fact that it opposes the land use plan.
"Our issue is just one thing," said Benson at a community meeting in October. "If we break it one place, we're going to have to break it other places."
According to Benson, the eight rezoning requests Issa plans to cite happened along the "fringe" of the land use plan, which is why the variances were acceptable. Issa owns one of those eight properties.
"He's trying to cut out the heart of the land use plan. If we rezone his, we will have to by law make all of those properties along Gunbarrel Road commercial," Benson said, adding that, "The neighbors he says are supporters are the same ones who want to sell their property as commercial."
According to Issa, Benson's objection to rezoning his property despite being part of the voting body that approved at least eight other requests in violation of the land use plan may be an indication that Benson's issue with him is personal.
"I have defended his actions where they were defensible," said Benson, whose continued support of the Islamic Center of Greater Chattanooga Issa is helping to develop met extensive backlash, including threats on his own life, he said.
Issa's rezoning request will be addressed at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Chattanooga City Council Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. The council meets in the assembly room of the City Council Building at 1000 Lindsay St. downtown. Members of the public will have a chance to voice their opinions on the matter at that time.