Chattanooga Village fight advances to City Council

Chattanooga Village fight advances to City Council

December 11th, 2012 by Mike Pare in News

Gregory Vickrey, executive director of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy

Hixson development

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

WHAT'S NEXT

A public meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. today at the Hixson Community Center.

The Chattanooga Village project could come before the City Council as early as Jan. 8.

CHATTANOOGA VILLAGE

Where: Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road

Site: 190 acres

Apartments: Up to 280

Retail: 500,000 square feet

Office: 250,000 square feet

Total scope: 1.1 million square feet

A Chattanooga developer on Monday won a key battle in his bid to build a $100 million Hixson apartment and commercial project, but an opponent claimed that Mayor Ron Littlefield "railroaded the process."

"The mayor was there, and that made a big difference," said Gregory Vickrey, the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy's executive director. "The mayor exerted his political will."

Duane Horton of Scenic Land Co. said he plans to take his Chattanooga Village proposal to the City Council for approval as early as next month after gaining support Monday from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

"We're excited about moving forward," he said about the plan to redevelop the 190-acre wooded tract off state Highway 153 near Boy Scout Road. "We want to do the right thing."

Still, some concerned residents said they don't know enough about the proposal and aren't giving in.

"The City Council must take into account the position of the public," said Vickrey. "We've got 2,500 signatures against this developer and the development. We'll make sure there's resonance with each and every one of [the council members.]"

After about an hour of discussion, the planning commission agreed to rezone the property, rejecting the advice of its own staff to defer action for 30 days.

Littlefield, taking a rare seat with the panel, spoke in favor of moving the project to the City Council, even though about three dozen people showed up to oppose such a move.

The mayor said he didn't see that anything would be gained by deferring the project.

"This would be an unwarranted delay," he said.

Commission member Don Moon also called for pushing the proposal ahead.

"We've got a decent clustered development that has been revised," he said. "It's my opinion we need to vote this up or down."

But another panel member called for deferring a decision for 60 days to allow more community input.

Panelist Adam Veron said it appeared that many residents and others hadn't seen the latest proposal or details of the plan that would build up to 280 apartments along with acres of office and retail space.

Jack Benson, another commission member and a city councilman, said he would like to see Horton's plan come about. But Benson called the effort "a textbook example of how not to reconcile public and private interests."

When Veron's motion for the 60-day deferral failed, he then sought a compromise for 30 days, but that didn't gain traction either.

Fellow Commissioner Y.L. Coker then called for accepting the Regional Planning Agency staff recommendation without any deferral, and Littlefield said he didn't see that delay would accomplish anything.

"When it gets to the City Council, it will be dissected and debated," the mayor said. The project then was approved by the planning panel.

Earlier in the meeting, Horton and his development team squared off with those seeking a delay, including many with a group wearing green shirts with "Don't Chop the Hilltop" emblazoned on them.

Attorney Joe Conner, speaking for the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, said the public hasn't seen the plan presented to the planning commission Monday.

"We still don't know what their whole program is," he said.

Nearby Hixson resident Jerry Jones said the plan is "being crammed down everybody's throat."

"I'll lose a third of my property value," he said.

Ellie Wallis, who lives near the proposed site, said she'll continue to attend future meetings.

"We hope to establish a better dialogue with the developer," she said.

An official for the Minnesota-based land planning firm Hart Howerton, hired by Horton, termed the project "unlike any development in the market" and "a true pedestrian-oriented village" that won't take off the site's hilltop.

RPA staff also read a short letter from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, saying the project's traffic plan has its approval.

Horton said his revised plan has addressed the community's questions about the project.

The developer late last year proposed building the apartments and 763,000 square feet of commercial space. But he withdrew a rezoning request earlier this year amid questions.

Last month, he revised the proposal, including sharply curtailing retail space and offering more offices.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.