Growing Forward: Chattanooga eyes new planning strategy

Growing Forward: Chattanooga eyes new planning strategy

April 1st, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Chattanooga City Hall

Photo by Meghan Brown

Eight months ago, Chattanooga City Council members rejected an out-of-town developer's plan to build a 260-apartment complex in East Brainerd after neighbors complained it would add to Gunbarrel Road's congestion.

That wasn't the last time Chattanooga officials halted development projects because of infrastructure concerns and clashes in community priorities.

Officials say there is a disconnect among the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency's 25-year comprehensive plan for the region and what neighborhoods, public officials and planners have envisioned. There also have been major land development and growth since the plan was adopted in 2005.

In response, planning officials are asking the City Council today to approve the beginning stages of a two-year study to solve how to combine transportation and zoning with land-use plans to promote regional growth.

"We need to be doing the best job we can to look at both pictures," said Melissa Taylor, the planning agency's Strategic Long-Range Planning Division director. "It's a tough thing to wrestle with."

The project, called Growing Forward, will include three phases that will start with asking the public to identify trends in decision-making on land use. The project will end with a list of recommendations for updated policies and codes.

One of the goals is for officials to be able to prioritize community needs, Taylor said.

Chattanooga and Hamilton County now have a 2030 comprehensive plan that is the guide for policy making for goals, projects and actions on zoning requests and development proposals.

In contrast, there are now about 44 planning policy documents that exist in the county to guide land use decision-making within specific pockets of the community. More than half of those plans are in Chattanooga city limits, and include neighborhood plans in East Chattanooga, St. Elmo and Orchard Knob and city-wide plans for parks and future sidewalks. Some neighborhood plans date back to 2004, and none are interconnected.

Officials, then, make decisions about investments without full understanding of the impact on the greater community.

Councilman Chip Henderson said problems usually arise when developers make zoning requests and officials try to understand how the commercial or residential project will affect the area. When officials ask about the plans for the area, they are often told that information is outdated and doesn't reflect the current layout of the region.

"It gets frustrating for us," Henderson said.

Today the City Council also will review a request from retired Baylor School coach Schaack Van Deusen to erect a plaque in honor of a leader in the women's suffrage movement in Tennessee.

Van Deusen has asked for permission to install the plaque across from the Hamilton County Courthouse in honor of Abby Crawford Milton.

"This is way overdue," said Van Deusen, who is the first cousin of Milton. "She was such an important figure in Chattanooga. This was the best way we could figure out how to honor her."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.