Chattanooga committee focused on steep slope development to hold final meeting

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Construction of this home on Big Ridge is on a steep lot on Capanna Trail in Hixson.

Amid a winter of heavy rains, the city of Chattanooga is preparing to introduce new regulations involving development on steep slopes and floodplains that will affect developers as well as citizens whose property could be impacted by new developments.

A Chattanooga City Council subcommittee dealing with development on steep slopes and floodplains met Feb. 11, but members are still in the process of fact gathering and considering recommendations provided by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency and by the Chattanooga Builders Association, according to District 4 City Councilman Darrin Ledford. He heads up the subcommittee that also includes District 1 Councilman Chip Henderson and District 6 Councilwoman Carol Berz.

"We've unearthed standards and processes we could do better on," Ledford said of the subcommittee's progress so far. "I think this has been a really healthy conversation for us."

He said his subcommittee came about due to citizen complaints about development on steep slopes in North Chattanooga and St. Elmo, and since those conversations began around two years ago the council hasn't seen any similar developments.

Examples of areas the subcommittee identified that the city could improve upon mainly involve construction mediation, including heightened design standards such as requiring an engineer to sign off on stormwater design.

The RPA also recommended the city add more teeth in terms of enforcing regulations, said RPA Executive Director John Bridger.

"We want more trees replanted; we want people to be responsible; we want them to plan ahead," Ledford said, adding that he also understands regulating development is a complex puzzle, and that if regulations are made too stringent it could cause home prices to increase to a point that people can't afford to buy a home.

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Even though a large portion of East Ridge is located in a floodplain, the city has experienced few issues resulting from recent heavy rains, said City Manager Chris Dorsey.Water from South Chickamauga Creek typically backs up in and around Camp Jordan during heavy rains — so often that indoor soccer players who use the facility have an app that informs them if traffic has been diverted to the park’s back entrance due to water blocking the front entrance. Brown Acres Golf Course has similar issues, Dorsey said.Exit 1 businesses such as Bass Pro Shops are still accessible in those instances, because they were built according to National Flood Insurance Program regulations. Any new development or changes to existing structures worth more than 50% of the building’s value must meet current floodplain standards, Assistant City Manager Kenny Custer explained.He said some residents’ yards were flooded, but no structural damage occurred.A landslide caused by the collapse of an old retaining wall behind the Easy Auto on Ringgold Road caused the temporary evacuation of several residents last week, but Custer said that’s a unique incident for East Ridge.

Henderson said the subcommittee is considering creating a planned-unit development tool that would trigger a sequence of best practices for development on slopes of a certain grade.

The group's final meeting is scheduled for March 24 from noon to 1 p.m. in the J.B. Collins Conference Room of the John P. Franklin Sr. City Council Building, 1000 Lindsay St. Vegetation is the topic of the meeting, which is open to the public. Following that meeting Ledford expects the council will take some sort of action.

"I anticipate that some development standards regulating steep slopes will be presented for a resolution," he said.

A landscape architect has been invited to the committee's final meeting to provide clarification on a recommended regulation concerning an increase in the amount of vegetation a developer is required to plant when land is disturbed, said Ledford.

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