Black Creek critic 'hopeful' over new Chattanooga TIF rules

photo New houses are in the middle of being constructed in the Black Creek Mountain community.

A woman who's suing Chattanooga's development board over a $9 million tax abatement deal for a development on Aetna Mountain says she's thrilled to hear the City Council is drafting rules for future tax agreements.

"That's good. That's something I've been hoping they would do," Helen Burns Sharp said Wednesday.

Sharp is a retired city planner who sued the city's Industrial Development Board twice over the approval of a Tax Increment Financing agreement for a road connecting a high-end golf course community called Black Creek Mountain to the top of Aetna Mountain.

Her lawsuits claim the board met secretly in 2012 -- and again in 2014 after Sharp won her first lawsuit -- before they approved and reapproved the TIF agreement for Black Creek Mountain.

The first lawsuit is now in appeals court. Her second lawsuit is currently in Chancery Court.

She said TIF agreements can be a valuable tool for communities seeking to spur economic growth, and she wished the city had made rules sooner.

"I was hoping they would take this opportunity to develop the policy and procedures and I had hoped that Black Creek Mountain would be re-evaluated under them," Burns said.

photo Aetna Mountain

City Council Chairman Chip Henderson said Wednesday it was Burns' lawsuits that brought his attention to the lack of guidelines for TIFs in the city, and he just wanted to finish what a previous council started.

In 2012, after approving the Black Creek Mountain TIF, the City Council put a 90-day moratorium on TIFs in order to draft rules. But the moratorium lapsed and the rules were never made.

"I think the Black Creek TIF, they just came to the IDB and said we want a TIF. I don't think there was an application process or anything like that. I just want to get some procedures in place moving forward, if we decide a TIF is a good way to go," Henderson said.

During a presentation from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce on how other cities have used TIFs for redeveloping urban areas Tuesday Henderson asked about using a TIF agreement to spur growth at the city's Harriet Tubman site. But Wednesday Henderson said that was just an example. He had no plans in mind.

After the presentation, Henderson asked City Attorney Wade Hinton to start researching possible guidelines for the City Council to consider.

Hinton said Tuesday his office would work with the city's Economic and Community Development department and "at some point we will come back with some suggestions."

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com, @glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.