To be or not to be like Atlanta?
That was a question for Hamilton County Commissioner Fred Skillern and Mayor Jim Coppinger during a discussion Wednesday about a proposed 40-year regional growth plan.
"I've heard this 'Oh, we don't want to be Atlanta.' ... My God, I wish we'd been Atlanta 30 years ago. ... They've had phenomenal growth," Skillern said during the commission meeting.
"We don't want to be that. We just want to tell everybody how to develop their property," he added sarcastically.
The proposed study would cover 16 counties in three states. Coppinger asked commissioners to vote before Sept. 30 to allow him to enter a partnership agreement with the other participants necessary to compete for a $2.5 million grant to fund the study.
After discussion, commissioners deferred their vote to Sept. 29.
During discussion of the growth plan, Coppinger circled back to Skillern's invocation of Atlanta.
"The city of Atlanta suffers some severe issues with water. ... One might argue that Atlanta did a poor job planning," Coppinger said. "They've grown, but they've grown to the point that now they're dependent on others."
The study would not mean commissioners would give up their ability to govern land use, Coppinger said. The initiative would bring in a contractor to examine the pressures current and future growth might place on infrastructure, resources and schools and recommend the best way to prepare for those, he said.
Commissioners could appoint a representative to an oversight body, he said.
The commission and Chattanooga City Council each have committed $500,000 to conduct the study. Area foundations are kicking in $1 million, and the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce is raising another $1 million in private funds.
As much as $500,000 total also is expected from 15 other counties in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
The Southeast Tennessee Development District is taking the lead on the application for the $2.5 million federal challenge grant.
Skillern said his push to protect the commission's oversight power isn't personally motivated.
"I don't want to tell you what to do with your property, and I certainly don't want you to tell me," Skillern said. "What I see here is creep. ... Now we're involving the federal government in some bureaucratic system that is going to tell the people of Bakewell how to develop Bakewell 20 years from now."
Commissioner Jim Fields recommended they amend the agreement's language to protect the commission's power.
Hamilton County Democratic Party Treasurer Stephen Harper opposed the study and asked commissioners to defer a decision on it for 90 days.
Commissioner Greg Beck, a Democrat, responded that the issue wasn't partisan and he planned to support the study.
Commissioner Warren Mackey also signaled his general support for planning, but neither commissioner moved to approve Coppinger entering the partnership agreement.
No one spoke up when Chairman Larry Henry called for a motion.
"I'm getting a lot of deaf silence," Henry said.