W.C. Bud Helton delays 21st Century Academy zoning change bid

W.C. Bud Helton delays 21st Century Academy zoning change bid

May 4th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

21st Century Academy in Chattanooga

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Businessman W.C. Bud Helton wanted to submit a zoning change application for the old 21st Century Academy this month and then purchase the building that has been vacant since 2009.

But he ran into so many questions from Brainerd residents and elected officials at a community meeting Thursday night that he will wait for at least another month before starting the zoning change process, leaving the building vacant even longer.

In the past three years windows have been shot at and walls ripped out to remove copper. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, but it has become a community eyesore, residents said.

Brainerd Unity Group leaders ended the meeting on Thursday after talking with Helton for more than 90 minutes and agreed to schedule another meeting to discuss concerns and any restrictions they want to see with Helton's zoning change.

Helton wants to purchase the building, make it a business incubator and change the zoning from R-1 residential to C-2 commercial.

The problem is that the community is concerned that the broad C-2 commercial zoning will open residents up to unwanted traffic, nightclubs and alcohol sales.

Helton said he didn't want any nightclubs or alcohol in his building either and told residents they could add as many restrictions to the C-2 zoning as they wanted.

He said he needed the broader C-2 zoning because he wasn't sure what businesses would fill his incubator. He talked about a possible fitness center and some environmental training, but he had no specifics.

Lack of specifics

It's the lack of specifics that bothers City Council members Carol Berz and Russell Gilbert.

Both pushed for Helton to consider a more restrictive C-5 zoning that would exclude adult-oriented establishments and alcohol without any written-in restrictions.

Richard Hutsell, the city's land use development assistant director, also cautioned residents that even though Helton, a former school administrator, may have the best intentions for the neighborhood, that if the property changed owners, the C-2 zoning would give the new owner more options concerning the property and the new owner may not be as considerate.

Sale depends on C-2

Helton said a C-5 zoning was not an option. He said residents could write in as many restrictions to the C-2 zoning as they wanted, but if he couldn't get the broader C-2 commercial zoning, he would not purchase the property.

Brainerd resident Alan Richelson cautioned the audience to consider all possibilities when forming their opinions.

"I'm not a proponent or opposed," Richelson said. "But there is another side of the coin. The other side is that the building remains vacant."

The Hamilton County Board of Education already has approved selling the building to Helton for $110,000. The only other bidder, Emerson Russell Management Corp., eventually withdrew its offer.