Developer eyes hill in Hixson for apartments, retail center

Developer eyes hill in Hixson for apartments, retail center

October 6th, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in News

Scenic Land Co. wants to rezone 190 acres for apartments, stores and offices on this property adjacent to state Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Village

A Chattanooga development group plans to build what would be the largest Hixson residential and commercial project of its kind, installing hundreds of apartments and a retail center rivaling Northgate Mall.

Scenic Land Co. hopes to build a 280-unit apartment complex and 763,320 square feet of commercial space, including a movie theater, retail center and grocery store, according to preliminary plans. The 190-acre area sits undeveloped about two miles north of Northgate Mall near the intersection of state Highway 153 and U.S. Highway 27.

Duane Horton, president of Scenic Land Co., said he has letters of intent from apartment developers and a joint venture agreement with commercial developers for the project dubbed "Chattanooga Village." Though the acreage of the project rivals Hamilton Place mall, he said the proposed mix of retail, residential and office spaces would limit the scale.

But community concerns could stop the project from taking off. The land must be rezoned before any development can take place, meaning a potentially long period of study and citizen input.

"It's a pretty scenic area and it would screw up the area for sure," said Mike High, who lives in nearby Fairington Forest. "They'll probably get some opposition to it."

On top of that, the site is hilly and would be costly to flatten.

Tom DuPre, a developer who considered building a shopping center on the land in 2002, said the steep terrain will be a challenge.

"There truly are a lot of different users who want to get into the Hixson market and there's just very, very little sites to do that," he said. "There's not a flat site anywhere. They were gone a long time ago."

But the site's location makes it worth the difficulty, he said, and would open the center to Soddy-Daisy, Signal Mountain and counties north of Hamilton.

"There's always been demand," he said. "People living north of the river would perform a lot of their activities there if those services were available."

Despite potential hurdles, Horton said he's already talking with businesses interested in the site, but he wouldn't name them.

Plans indicate a large retail center will sit north of a plaza hosting three anchor businesses and 12 smaller storefronts. The proposed commercial area is only about 60,000 square feet smaller than Northgate, but Horton said its tenant mix will be substantially different.

CBL, which owns Hamilton Place, bought Northgate less than a month ago. CBL spokeswoman Katie Reinsmidt said the proposed development wouldn't affect plans to redesign the Northgate property.

"We'll just continue to do the best we can," she said. "Competition's a part of everyday business."

REZONING REQUIRED

The rezoning request will be made Monday at the monthly meeting of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

Before that rezoning can go through, a traffic study must be completed to determine whether the development would clog up the nearby roads. As the plan stands now, the center would have four entry points, three along Highway 153.

Horton said most traffic would stay away from the Dayton Boulevard and Boy Scout Road areas, but some nearby residents worry the development could slow down their streets.

When a similar commercial center was proposed for the site back in 2002, more than 40 area residents signed a petition against the project, largely citing traffic concerns.

Since 1991, the land has been looked at for at least three other projects.

Crown American Corp. proposed building a shopping center on the scale of Hamilton Place in 1991 and, in 2002, DuPre proposed a smaller commercial site. Around 2007, Hixson Methodist Church optioned the land for a possible church and community-oriented development, but decided against the move.

Jack and Carolyn Lonas own almost all of the property, which is now assessed at $2.5 million. They could not be reached Wednesday.

Gary Patrick, president of Sundown Properties, which owns a portion of the land, said there's a lot of potential for the site.

"That whole corridor is being developed," he said. "The whole community needs jobs and needs development, so hopefully it'll be approved."