Planning panel votes OK; residents still mulling lawsuit

Planning panel votes OK; residents still mulling lawsuit

August 11th, 2009 by Cliff Hightower in News

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission voted 9-5 Monday for the city's annexation plan to move forward, despite about 200 people voicing their frustration at the meeting.

Kyle Holden, an opponent of annexation and founder of Hamilton County Residents Against Annexation, said after the meeting that he was not surprised by the outcome. He said residents were not ruling out litigation.

"It's still too early to tell," he said.

Angry residents packed the Hamilton County Courthouse chambers, taking up the floor, a balcony and spilling out into the rotunda. The planning commission considered 10 different zones to be annexed and went over each zone individually, allowing residents of the areas five minutes to speak.

The areas being considered for annexation include Cummings Cove, Ramsgate, areas in Ooltewah around the Summit of Softball complex and Apison Pike and areas east of Morris Hill Road.

The commission voted specifically on the city's plan of services, which discusses how Chattanooga will provide such things as fire and police protection and sewer and garbage services to newly annexed areas.

Jim Chastain, a resident of north Hixson, argued that the plan of services given to the commission lacked details. In several parts of the plan, the city said it would study if more services need to be provided after 90 days, he said.

"To conduct a study is not really a plan," he said. "We would like to see a plan."

Mayor Ron Littlefield countered later in the meeting that the city had presented a reasonable plan under law.

"This plan meets the requirements of the state statute," Mr. Littlefield said. "We do follow up with what steps we would take."

AFFECTED AREAS

* Cummings Cove

* Ramsgate

* Ray Jo Subdivision and areas east of Morris Hill Road

* Swaths of area along Apison Pike and the Ooltewah area

Source: City of Chattanooga

VOTES AGAINST

Five board members voted against the annexation plans presented to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission:

* John Allen Brooks

* Mike Langley

* Tommy McDaniel

Bobby Scott

* Dan Wade

VOTES FOR

Ron Littlefield; Jack Benson; Jon Bell; Mary Eastman; Kenneth Jordan; William Smith; Vance Travis; Y.L. Coker; Don Moon.

NOT Voting

Carolyn Collins

With the planning commission's approval, the annexation now moves to the Chattanooga City Council for a public hearing and then two required votes of approval. City officials have said those votes could happen in October.

A second phase of annexation is also expected to go in front of the planning commission next month.

a split board

During Monday's meeting, five members of the planning commission voiced frustration at the city for what they deemed as an incomplete plan of services.

At the beginning of the meeting, City Attorney Mike McMahan acknowledged that more fire hydrants would be needed in the Ramsgate community and a fire station would need to be built to serve Cummings Cove.

Planning Commissioner Mike Langley asked Chattanooga Fire Chief Randy Parker point blank how many fire hydrants Ramsgate needed.

"We do have a number, I don't have it immediately available," Chief Parker responded.

Pressed further, Chief Parker said that much of the information about fire service had been talked about internally.

Mr. Littlefield countered by saying that the city builds fire stations continuously.

County Commissioner and board member John Allen Brooks, who voted against the plan, said it fell short in several areas, including listing the number of fire stations and hydrants needed and how many police officers would be needed to patrol the streets.

Staff Photo by John Rawlston Every seat of the Hamilton County commission room is filled prior to the start of the Monday afternoon meeting of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency. The agency voted to approve the plan of services submitted by the City of Chattanooga for their first phase of annexation.

Staff Photo by John Rawlston Every seat of the...

"I do believe the plan we've been given is inadequate," he said. "The planning commission can't stop this annexation. We can delay it 90 days, that's about it."

But proponents of the plan said it was about those outside the city "paying their fair share."

Planning Commissioner and City Councilman Jack Benson noted that he opposed annexation in the 1970s when he was living in East Brainerd, but without that annexation there never would have been Hamilton Place or Northgate malls.

"There's people who would say we have a good community now," Mr. Benson said. "I say you wouldn't if the city hadn't expanded."

residents speak out

State Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, attended Monday's meeting, saying he represents the people being annexed in the northern parts of the plan. He said he opposed the annexation and how the city is conducting it.

He said he thinks the city is trying to push annexations through in time for the 2010 census, so that more federal money could be gained by being a larger city.

He said there are two steps the city could use for annexation: ordinance by the City Council or a referendum voted on by local residents.

"Why aren't they doing it by referendum?" he asked.

Allen Lloyd, a resident of Stonewall Farms in north Hixson, said some people may have to move out if they're annexed because of extra city taxes. Stonewall Farms is not being considered in this round of annexations.

"We can't afford the extra hit," he said.

Ken Wilson, who lives in the area of Big Ridge Road, said annexation would be "a hardship" on the many elderly people who now live in the area, which is completely surrounded by Chattanooga.