Editor's note: This story first appeared in Community News.
In response to concerns from residents, local planners have readjusted their timetable for the completion of the Chattanooga area's comprehensive growth plan.
While presenting the first draft of their proposed growth plan earlier this month, community members voiced concerns about the document's "quick turnaround" from first draft to final draft. Officials from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency had initially intended to present the proposal to the Planning Commission for adoption in March.
"It's a short time for us to be able to digest this," one resident told RPA representatives during the Feb. 15 meeting.
Based on the feedback, planners have pushed the process back one month to give residents a chance to review the final draft.
Residents in the plan's designated White Oak Mountain Area (East Brainerd, Collegedale, Ooltewah, Apison and Summit) will now be able to examine the final version during an open house tentatively scheduled for March 22. RPA officials hope to pass the document on to the Planning Commission by April 9.
The RPA has been collecting resident feedback to help design the plan for the fast-growing area since early 2017. The plan is expected to balance the incoming growth with needed services, such as road infrastructure, utilities, schools and other resources.
"There's a lot of land here that hasn't been developed," RPA Principal Planner Pam Glaser said. "You can say that [the White Oak area] has a significant amount of land that would accommodate the projected demand for the area, however, without appropriate policy guidance, that development could negatively impact sensitive natural areas."
Throughout the process, Glaser said the top issues residents have expressed interest in are retaining the area's rural character, the quality of incoming commercial development, and traffic congestion on primary roadways.
During the unveiling meeting, attendees were asked to give their feedback on which policy recommendations listed in the draft should be considered priorities.
Attendees overwhelmingly voted for large "green" buffers to be required for new residential development along major corridors such as Ooltewah-Ringgold Road and East Brainerd Road. They also voted for recommendations that would call for new commercial development to include "walkable" and attractive elements, such as sidewalks and shade trees; parking to the rear or side of buildings; and pedestrian amenities, such as benches and streetlights.
Other priorities identified were regulations that limit the size of signs and billboards to avoid clutter, and synchronized student arrival and departure times for two area schools to minimize traffic at the intersection of Ooltewah-Ringgold and East Brainerd roads.
Once the plan is revised, completed and implemented, the policy recommendations will serve as a much-needed guide for the Planning Commission and county commissioners each time they look at zoning cases, RPA Executive Director John Bridger said.
"The worst thing is trying to figure out a zoning case when there's a fight and we don't know what we're going to do about this case. That's not a way to do business," Bridger said. "This [plan] will give us a little consensus of what your vision is for your community."
The current version of the draft is available for review online at chcrpa.org.
Contact Myron Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org.