Chattanooga leaders next week will consider "view zoning" to protect the city's iconic views and historic landscapes.
On Monday, a proposed ordinance will come before the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Planning Commission to protect the views of the crests, slopes and bases of Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, Orchard Knob, Stringer's Ridge and Billy Goat Hill.
Sponsored by Chattanooga City Councilman Peter Murphy, the proposed ordinance will require special permits for any building taller than 35 feet within 1,000 feet of the defined base of certain historic and scenic high points around Chattanooga.
"In all the recent polls and surveys we've had, both Chattanoogans and visitors rated scenery as the No. 1 attraction for Chattanooga. And second (in ratings) is the city's history," Murphy said.
"We can't protect every hill or every mountain, and the city doesn't own every mountain that makes this a beautiful area," he said. "So what I asked planners to look at were the most scenic and historic areas."
The ordinance would not ban high structures, but proponents say it would create a safety net to ensure that taller projects in historic and scenic areas go through an in-depth review before approval.
"In other words, nothing would suddenly appear overnight on the landscape, as has happened or nearly happened in the not-so-distant past," said Kay Parish, executive director of Friends of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
The group has been a long-time advocate of preserving Chattanooga's historic views.
Several years ago, a cell tower that endangered the view at Missionary Ridge near the Bragg Reservation was halted only by a paper error in the application process, Murphy said. That was, in part, the catalyst for his interest in seeking view zoning.
Developers see compromise
At least two local developers are complimentary of the proposal.
Jimmy Hudson, who recently sold and donated parts of a Stringer's Ridge easement to the Trust for Public Land, called the proposal a "win-win for everybody."
"It looks like a good ordinance and a good compromise between the development community and the planning committee," he said. "It protects the viewshed, but at the same time it doesn't discourage development. It allows developers to petition for a special review."
Hudson originally was selling the Stringer's Ridge tract to the developers of a planned condo project along the ridge crest. The plan raised a storm of controversy and complaints that the condos would mar the view.
Developer John Wise, who recently built the Hayden Place apartments on Stringer's Ridge off Pineville Road, said he also is encouraged by the wording of the view zoning ordinance, but he hopes landowners and developers will get a grace period.
"I'm not opposed to anything that makes the city a better place, but before they pass it, they need to give landowners one year or something before it takes effect," he said. "At least this lets developers know the standards. It's when you don't know [there will be extra concerns] that upsets me."
Cell tower developer Larry Wells, with Wireless Properties, declined to comment on the proposal, but he noted that specific federal laws come into play if a city or county tries to prohibit communication facilities.
Matthew Nodine, chief of staff for the Federal Communications Commission wireless division, also declined comment on the proposal. But he did say the federal government typically doesn't get involved in tower-sighting decisions or zoning issues, and only towers above 200 feet, in flight paths or within historic districts must be reported to the FCC.
The neighborhoods around the five areas chosen for extra review have been part of several public meetings through CreateHere, Murphy said.
Except for Lookout Valley, all have enthusiastically supported the proposed ordinance, he said.
Dr. Neil Kjos, the leader of the Lookout Valley Neighborhood Association, could not be reached for comment.
Murphy said the proposed ordinance gives local and out-of-town developers "a caution light" about sensitive areas for development, saving them time and money.
"You can't put everything in a bottle, but there are places in our city that should be saved," Murphy said. "We're on the edge of tremendous growth here, and the time to plan is before you boom."
Kelly Martin, senior planner for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, said the planning commission will hear the ordinance Monday and there will be discussion and public input at the meeting.
The commission may recommend the proposal to the City Council or request more information or changes, she said. The council normally takes up recommended ordinances within about a month's time, Murphy said.
"I'm a preservationist, but I'm also a big advocate of development, and most business owners feel the same way about our scenery and history," he said. "I don't expect a lot of opposition."