East Ridge City Council votes to dissolve Housing and Redevelopment Authority

East Ridge residents stand and applaud the vote at Monday morning's special City Council meeting where the council voted to abolish the development plan instituted by Mayor Brent Lambert.

After heavy backlash from residents, the East Ridge City Council voted to discontinue the committee at the center of a controversial redevelopment plan.

The council reversed its creation of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority during the Monday special called meeting.

photo More than 200 East Ridge residents attend Monday morning's special City Council meeting where the council voted to abolish the development plan instituted by Mayor Brent Lambert.

All four council members voted to discontinue the committee. East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert, who appointed the five-member housing authority, voted "present."

Lambert was given the go-ahead to form the board in April 2017 by a 3-1 vote to come up with a plan to relieve the city's blight, according to meeting minutes. Councilman Jacky Cagle abstained from voting after his motion to table the discussion was denied.

By February, the authority had a redevelopment plan that was submitted and reviewed by the Hamilton County-Chattanooga Regional Planning Agency. The authority then adopted that plan in March, and in early April letters were sent to many residents informing them their property was within a zone to redevelop blighted properties.

The letters almost immediately sparked confusion and frustration expressed on social media and directly to council members by phone or in person. By the end of April, the Housing and Redevelopment Authority announced it would redraft the plan.

The authority and city officials held a meeting last week to "further collaborate with citizens to solicit input about redevelopment needs," but citizens left with more questions than answers and perhaps more frustration than before.

photo East Ridge resident Kelly Kroll presents a signed petition to Mayor Brent Lambert Monday morning during a special City Council meeting where the council voted to abolish the development plan.

At that meeting and the one Monday, many residents pointed out that there are already building codes and regulations set in place to "provide a safe and healthy neighborhood environment" without implementing zones that blanket large portions of the city.

In a May 2017 meeting, Cagle also made that point, saying the city already has a rental inspection program.

At the time, Lambert responded saying he thought the rental inspection program was a good tool, "but the Housing and Redevelopment Authority would have the authority to condemn property and clear blight."

He said multiple times he didn't want another "Superior Creek Lodge disaster." Nearly 1,500 people were displaced in 2015 after all four buildings of the extended-stay motel were shut down because structural deficiencies were a "danger to human life or safety."

At Monday's meeting, Lambert said he wanted to make a few things clear before the vote was made.

"It was my idea to start the Housing and Redevelopment Authority. It was," he said. "I had no intention of impacting residents who were living in well-kept homes. Really, [no intention of] impacting residents at all. My desire was to help with the commercial corridor more than anything else."

He asked citizens not to harbor bad feelings toward the people he appointed to the board.

photo East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert explained that it was his idea for a development plan, and that the blame is on him during Monday morning's special City Council meeting.

"If you don't like their actions, don't blame them. Blame me," Lambert said.

After the vote, the entire room erupted in a standing ovation.

"I am overjoyed that the citizens stood up and four elected officials listened," said resident Frances Pope after the vote.

Cagle said he thought the council voted for what the residents wanted.

"Citizens came out, and it was our time to listen to them," he said.

Before the vote, about five residents addressed the city council. One woman, Kelly Kroll, presented the council with a petition to dissolve the authority. It had already gained dozens of signatures.

After the vote, residents continued signing the petition to "make sure they understand" that residents are against the redevelopment plan.

"I agree with getting rid of the houses with busted windows and [that are] dilapidated," said longtime resident Deborah Arnold. "But to put everything on a blank sheet, no."

Arnold and resident Shirley Robinson said they haven't regularly attended city council meetings, but they plan to be more involved going forward.

"This has really been an eye opener to be more involved and be the voice for those who can't be here," Robinson said. "We need to be careful and make sure that our representatives hear our voice."

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.