The Hamilton County Commission will consider a proposal today to build an ethanol pipeline on the last undeveloped tract in the Bonny Oaks Industrial and Office Park.
Several county commissioners, at least one neighborhood group and one of the park's property owners oppose the project, which would require a zoning change or special-use permit to pipe ethanol from rail tanker cars to fuel distribution terminals on Jersey Pike.
Opponents say a zoning change will violate a decades-old agreement between the county and park property owners.
Sue Powell, a resident of Lake Hills, a nearby neighborhood, likened the agreement to an Old Testament covenant between God and Abraham when she addressed commissioners last week.
The park, which was created by the county on county land, now is inside Chattanooga city limits so the City Council must approve any zoning change. Council members have said they will not move forward until county commissioners give the project the green light.
Controversy about the park's zoning isn't new.
When the county developed the park in the mid-1980s, then-County Executive Dalton Roberts asked the city to zone the entire park for light industrial.
About 600 residents of neighborhoods bordering the property signed petitions opposing the plan, according to news reports.
"I do remember the residents being concerned about the park," Roberts said Tuesday. "We gave them assurances that we would act responsibly."
In February 1985, the city passed a plan requiring residential use in the 50-acre section of the park bordering residential areas and allowing light industrial in the remainder of the park.
At the same time, the County Commission voted to place a set of covenants and restrictions on the park's properties.
Now, more than 20 years later, the commission must consider whether the ethanol facility would conform to those rules and, if not, whether those rules should be changed.
Kevin Condra, whose Englewood Enterprises would build and operate the pipeline, said the only reason his pipeline needs a zoning change or exception is that ethanol pipelines didn't exist when the city's zoning rules were written. He said his proposed site is on the opposite side of the park from any neighborhood and would not be visible from the road.
"I don't know how much danger there is related to it, but I do know that we gave assurances that we were not going to do anything in there that would threaten the neighbors," Roberts said. "If it doesn't have any danger, I think [commissioners] should look at it on its merits."