Mixed-use development proposed for Lupton City riverfront property

Aerial view of the Lupton property. (Contributed photo)

The developers of what could become the largest new residential and commercial project in the city of Chattanooga in decades say they want to build more than 400 homes around a 45,000-square-feet town village with neighborhood restaurants, stores and medical offices.

Plans for the 155-acre development near the former Dixie Yarns mill in Lupton City will be presented to the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission next month. But the preliminary plan for a town center, recreation trails and community gathering spaces in a "New Urbanism" design is already earning praise from local residents.

Lupton City at a Glance

› Chattanooga businessman John T. Lupton in the 1920s bought 1,000 acres of farm land on the Tennessee River to develop a manufacturing community called Lupton City for the yarn and thread maker then known as Dixie Mercerizing Co. As business grew, houses, a post office, church, gym, movie theater, swimming pool and golf course were built.› R.L. Stowe Mills acquires Dixie Yarns in 1998 and operates the mill until it shuts down in 2009.› BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee bought 210 acres near the mill in 2001 for a new corporate campus, but abandoned those plans in favor of building its headquarters downtown on Cameron Hill.› Lupton City LLC, a real estate partnership connected to the Dockery Group in Peachtree City, Ga., buys the 12-acre mill site in 2012 and tears down the mill to recycle usable bricks, metal and wood. But the reclamation effort stops after several months before the mill site is cleaned up and after wood planks treated with creosote are exposed, leaving the mill as a Brownfield site.› In 2017, the city acquires the mill site after Lupton City LLC fails to pay property taxes. Chattanooga budgets $1.5 million for cleanup.› Riverton Development Group bought 210 acres in Lupton City in January 2018 for $8.1 million and began preparing plans for housing, commercial and recreational complex

Known as "Riverton" for the riverfront site in Lupton City, the proposed $200 million-plus development is expected to be built out over the next five or six years if the layout and zoning is approved by the planning commission and City Council. The first phase will include the Village Center at the entrance to Riverton on part of the current 9-hole Lupton City Golf Course. The town center off of Lupton Drive is being designed to include retail, dining, recreation and office space options with space for 70 residential units on the top floors above the new storefronts.

About 58 townhomes will surround the village center, and about 355 single-family homes are planned throughout the entire Riverton neighborhood, extending to the banks of the Tennessee River.

"It was really important to us to receive input from the surrounding neighborhoods, and we're excited for them to see how we incorporated the feedback into the master plan for Riverton," said Becky Cope English, a Chattanooga Realtor and partner in the development. "The result is a community that's planned with people in mind and a life they want to enjoy."

Mark Mullins, president of the Fairfax Heights/Bagwell City Neighborhood Association, said Lupton City residents are generally supportive of the Riverton proposal.

"We recognized that ultimately this site was going to be developed and we're very pleased to see a plan that should improve our community and is so welcoming to neighboring development," Mullins said. "I think this will enhance the value of our homes and help this entire area of town."

Lawton Haygood, who recently opened the Side Track restaurant on Hixson Pike near Lupton Drive, also welcomed the project, even if it might bring another restaurant competitor or two.

"We think we have something unique so we're not worried about another competitor and we think this should be another great asset to this part of town," Haygood said.

As outlined in the Riverton Master Plan, more than a fourth of the total site will remain undeveloped to offer natural community spaces. Riverton will also preserve existing wetlands and streams that crisscross the property.

English said the developers were inspired to design the village center and residences from successful communities like Serenbe, Hammonds Ferry and Vickery in Georgia, Mt. Laurel near Birmingham, Ala., Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina and Westhaven near Franklin, Tenn.

"The main thread throughout all of these communities is that they were planned for how people want to live," English said. "We are building upon the style of those vibrant neighborhoods and creating a happy, healthy and active environment, where people of all generations and backgrounds will live, work and play together."

As people enter the neighborhood, English said they will travel on tree-lined streets with sidewalks and parallel parking bordering the roadway. A wide, tree-lined median and walking path will divide the main road cutting through the center of the neighborhood.

At its terminus, a pedestrian pathway will lead residents to the Tennessee River. Beyond the village center, neighborhood amenities will include recreation and gathering areas as well as river access for paddleboarding and kayaking.

The development group planning Riverton, organized as a limited partnership, bought 210 acres in January from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which acquired the land a decade ago with plans to locate its corporate campus on the site. At the urging of then Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, BlueCross ultimately changed its plans and instead erected its $300 million headquarters complex atop Cameron Hill in downtown Chattanooga.

The Lupton City site - the largest undeveloped riverfront site in the city of Chattanooga - is part of nearly 1,000 acres the late John T. Lupton acquired a century ago to create the Lupton City mill and surrounding mill town for Dixie Mercerizing Co., when the company began in 1920.

The Dixie mill, which was sold to R.L. Stowe Co., in 1998, ultimately shut down in 2009 and the mill was later toppled by a real estate group that failed to clean up the site.

The 12-acre mill site along Mercer Road, which has been left largely as a pile of brick rubble for the past four years, was ultimately acquired by the city of Chattanooga after the previous owners failed to pay overdue property taxes. The city budgeted $1.5 million to clean up to site and plans to try to sell it for redevelopment by next year.

The city's plans for the cleanup last year were delayed while city officials worked to gain state regulatory approval for the clean up of the creosote wood contamination exposed during the demolition by the former owners.

Donna Williams, director of the city's Department of Economic and Community Development, told the local neighborhood group last month that the city will open bids for the clean up in May and she hopes to have contractors working on the site to clear the mill debris by this summer.

Cleaning up the unsightly mill rubble "will go a long way to help our community," Mullins said.

photo Becky Cope English, a partner with Riverton Development Group, talks about plans for 155 acres of land in Lupton City on the Tennessee River. (Staff photo by Tim Barber)

Find out more

› Call (423) 498-150o› Online information at www.DiscoverRiverton.com.

Adjacent to the mill site on Mercer Road, Greentech Homes also is planning to build 30 new single-family, detached homes on the site and nearby property of the former Lupton City Post Office and community gym.

Former Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson, director of development and government relations for Greentech, said the home building company expects to submit a rezoning petition and development plans to city planners in time for the June meeting of the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

The Greentech site is now zoned M-1 manufacturing because it was once part of the former textile mill. But Anderson said Greentech will likely request an RTZ (urban overlay) zoning with the condition that the company will only build single-family detached homes on the property.

"We are still in the planning stages, but we anticipate the houses will be in the 1,800- to 2,000-square-foot range in size and we're shooting to price the new homes in the $250,000 to $275,000 range," Anderson said last week. "There is really strong neighborhood in Lupton City and we want to be good partners with them as we add to all that is coming in this part of town as the city cleans up the mill site. We want to take what has been a blighted piece of property and make it a beautiful addition to this neighborhood."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.