Citing a need for more answers, Chattanooga City Council members on Tuesday put off a rezoning decision on a proposed 190-acre commercial and apartment project for two weeks.
"It's causing a lot of stress. There's a lot of passion," said Councilwoman Pam Ladd about the $100 million Chattanooga Village proposal off Highway 153 near Boy Scout Road. "We want to get this right."
For more than an hour, developer Duane Horton and critics to his plan offered their cases and took question after question from council members.
Horton said he would pledge not to take off the top of the hill on the wooded site.
"We'll say it will not be touched," he said in response to more than a dozen people in the packed council room who wore green "Don't Chop the Hilltop" T-shirts.
But, nearby resident Ellie Wallis said she's still cautious about the plan that would add up to 280 apartments along with hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space.
"I've seen many developments that look good on paper but fail," she said.
If approved, Horton's Scenic Land Co. wants to build what would be one of the largest mixed-use projects ever raised in the Chattanooga area.
Horton has estimated it would spur 2,000 jobs and generate another $2 million in annual real estate taxes.
But, nearby residents and others claim that more retail space isn't needed in Hixson and they've expressed environmental worries.
Joe Conner, an attorney for the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, said Scenic Land has refused to release a market feasibility study done on the site.
He also told the panel that there's no timeline for construction offered by the developer.
"They could build any phase they want to when they want to," Conner said.
He cited The Fountains commercial development on Highway 153 nearly across the street from Chattanooga Village that has a lot of empty lots waiting for development.
Conner added that Horton is a partner in that development as well, and that it has been cited by regulators for drainage problems. Conner also mentioned a development on Lookout Mountain, Canyon Ridge, saying Horton and developers didn't follow through on that project.
But Horton defended his track record, saying the owner of the 190-acre Hixson parcel, Jack Lonas, picked Horton because of what he has done.
Horton said his Chattanooga Village plan is consistent with community plans, and that he has already made a lot of concessions after meeting with planners and citizens.
Still, before the decision to defer action, City Councilman Manny Rico moved to deny the rezoing request. Panel member Jack Benson also complained about the lack of a timeline for the project's phasing.
Councilwoman Carol Berz termed Horton's proposal "a good beginning," but said there's room for more consideration.
Panel member Andre McGary offered the motion to defer, while Councilwoman Sally Robinson asked if that was enough time. The council agreed to defer by an 8 to 1 vote, with Rico dissenting.
Horton said he plans to spend the next two weeks talking to planners and others to address questions.
"We think the more people learn, the better it is," he said.
Gregory Vickrey, the Conservancy's executive director, said his group will spend the time talking about new conditions it has offered that could be added to the project's scope.
He said the phased zoning of the property is one idea that could be put forward.