Chattanooga: Growth creates issues

Chattanooga: Growth creates issues

May 7th, 2009 by Cliff Hightower in News

A group of planners and environmentalists cautioned Wednesday night that there could be obstacles that inhibit growth in the tri-state area.

"I'm a little bit concerned," said Carlos Rodrigues, a planner for the Regional Planning Association in New Jersey. "You don't have all the tools and mechanisms in place."

Mr. Rodrigues and eight other members of the Sustainable Design Assessment Team toured the Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia region over the last three days. The team, coordinated by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, came to the region to focus on giving feedback on how growth can be sustainable as Volkswagen moves into the area.

The team spoke at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's University Center auditorium in an almost two-hour presentation. Team members focused on their areas of expertise including planning, environmentalism, transportation and education.

Mr. Rodrigues spoke about how the lack of zoning in some communities could put the area at a disadvantage.

In some instances, it could keep growth away if developers, businesses or industries have no sense of what could be placed next to them, he said.

"People want some sense of predictablity about what's going on around them," he said. "You want some level of protection."

Dr. Eileen McGurty, associate chairwoman of the environmental sciences and policy program at Johns Hopkins University, said another area of possible concern could be job training for the new economy. She said not all that focus needs to be on training for jobs at Volkswagen's Enterprise South manufacturing plant.

"A wide range of skills should be part of the process," she said.

Right now, many in the region are looking at the short term, which is VW jobs, but longer-term needs to be considered include professional and other skilled positions that come from the growth, she said.

Another issue of concern could be the effect of growth on natural resources, said Nancy Steele, executive director of the Los Angeles & San Gabriel Watershed.

"It's going to bring increasing pressure on your resources and raise pollution levels," she said.

One way to address that could be to look at creating a regional watershed council that looks at the entire Tennessee Valley, she said. This could help begin a dialogue on how to best protect the Tennessee River and its tributaries, she said.

She said one thing community members would need to do is think of environmental regulations as a "tool" and not a hindrance and use those regulations to help maintain clean air and water quality. She also suggested that more communities in the region adopt the Chattanooga Climate Action Plan, which focuses on 47 key areas that could improve environmental conditions.

"Chattanooga can't go it alone," she said.