Chattanooga City Council recently voted down an ordinance to rezone Bassam Issa's Gunbarrel Road property where he hopes to build an IHOP restaurant, but a procedural oversight by the council may undermine that vote.
In the meeting when the vote was taken, the council did not give Issa an opportunity to offer a two-minute rebuttal after the opposition spoke. The council then voted to allow Mike Baker, a representative from Erlanger, to speak in opposition to Issa's request. Baker's comments were in addition to the three allotted opposition speakers who had already spoken.
"In effect, council replaced my two minutes' rebuttal in favor of my case with two minutes of more opposition to my case by unlawful procedures that broke the whole rezoning process," Issa wrote in an email to the council.
According to Chattanooga City Council District 8 representative Andrae McGary, skipping the rebuttal was an oversight by Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd, who is working with the city attorney to find a solution. The allowance of a fourth person to speak in opposition to a request is rare but not a violation of procedure since a majority of the council voted to allow it, he said.
"The oversight that was made has been recognized, and at this point every effort is being made to rectify the situation," said McGary.
A controversial case, Issa's desire to rezone his property which is currently designated as R-4 Special Zone to a C-2 Convenience Zone has drawn criticism because it violates the Hamilton Place Community Land Use Plan that was implemented in 2001.
According to Chattanooga City Council District 4 representative Jack Benson, rezoning Issa's property would set a precedent which would allow other property owners surrounding the Gunbarrel Road corridor to rezone their property as commercial. He said the plan was designed to preserve residential investments by limiting commercial growth on the East Brainerd Road side of Gunbarrel Road.
Citing eight instances since 2001 where the land use plan was violated, Issa said Benson's concerns are arbitrary since he was in favor of those requests.
"You are not the land use protector, you are the land use breaker," Issa said to Benson in the meeting.
Benson said he never supported a rezoning request that rezoned a property as commercial and could potentially disrupt residential properties.
"Every time we have tinkered with the land use plan it has had nothing to do with commercial," he said. "We have never gone against the recommendation of the Planning Commission or the neighbors, and we have never gone into the heart of the district and made something commercial."
McGary said more information about Issa's case is forthcoming and the issue raises a deeper question about the nature of land use plans. He said there is a lot of ambiguity as to how literally these plans should be interpreted and whether it's citizens or council members that get to make those decisions.
"It's interesting in my mind as to how council people and citizens view the land use plan," said McGary. "Even though the council voted against IHOP it doesn't address how we look at the land use plan."
The Hamilton Place Community Land Use Plan is due to be revisited next year, according to Benson.