Chattanooga, CHA strike deal on East Brainerd site

Chattanooga, CHA strike deal on East Brainerd site

June 9th, 2012 by Ansley Haman in News

East Brainerd Elementary School

Photo by Margaret Fenton

A hurdle has been removed from a proposed three-way land swap among Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools and the Chattanooga Housing Authority.

CHA has agreed to sell rather than develop low-income senior housing on 2.9 acres of the East Brainerd Elementary School site it would receive if the deal is completed.

The city would get the rest of the nine-acre tract, which appraised for $2.34 million in January. Chattanooga and CHA will sell their properties as one tract and divide the profits according to the percentage owned, said Dan Thornton, head of the city's General Services Administration.

The new commitment means it's likely the City Council will vote in favor of the swap at its Tuesday meeting. The county school board also must decide whether to support it.

The council delayed a vote last week after Councilman Jack Benson, whose district includes East Brainerd Elementary, described a "firestorm of resistance" from residents who didn't want a CHA complex in their neighborhood.

Now, Benson said Friday, "I don't think there will be any problem with it going forward."

"It's in the best interest of all the taxpayers that we make the best use of this land. It's easier to sell a larger piece of land than to subdivide it up, usually," he said.

The complicated property deal stems from the city's request for proposals to sell Dogwood Manor Apartments.

The Westside property appraised at $1.7 million, but the city owes $2.4 million on it from upgrades it made in 2001-02, Thornton said.

On March 28, School Superintendent Rick Smith and CHA officials proposed a deal in which the city would trade Dogwood to CHA and end up with 6.25 acres of the East Brainerd Elementary site.

The school system would get about $420,000 to pay for demolition of the elementary school and also receive CHA's former Poss Homes site, located near Howard School of Academics and Technology. A 2011 appraisal said the 20 acres of Poss are worth $1.87 million, and the school system plans to use the site for a new track and football stadium for Howard.

CHA would get Dogwood Manor and 2.8 acres at the East Brainerd Elementary site.

"If a sale occurs, there's a good chance we will not get all of the Dogwood debt paid off," Thornton said. "The long-term plan would be just to put it out on a request for proposal for a good development."

The winning bidder might not pay the most money, as long as the project would fit the zoning overlay of Westside and yield the "best downstream property tax revenues for the county and the city," Thornton said.

The school board hasn't taken up the matter.

School board members have said they didn't know the swap was a possibility until board Chairman Mike Evatt sent a memo saying they would vote on it at the June 21 meeting.

Board member Greg Martin said he's waiting to see documents about the proposed deal so he can ask questions and make a decision.

Board members Linda Mosley and David Testerman said they are concerned about the school system trading away a property that is still being used as a school.

As part of the proposal, the schools would lease back the East Brainerd Elementary property until December 2014.

A new East Brainerd Elementary originally was slated to be finished by then on the site of the former David Brainerd School, but county commissioners voted 7-2 Wednesday to put a hold on architect selection.

Some commissioners said they want the schools to give them more information about future projects and plans for disposing of property.

Some also think the board should sell the East Brainerd site at market value and use the proceeds to build other schools.

"Whether it was said or whether it was implied or whether I just assumed, I thought we were going to offset the costs of the David Brainerd School with the East Brainerd School," board member Rhonda Thurman said. "Just put the property up for sale and see what kind of bids we can get on it."