Growth, traffic worries target of Hamilton County planning efforts

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Finished homes sit next to homes under construction on Highborne Lane in Ooltewah on Wednesday, June 30, 2021.
Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Finished homes sit next to homes under construction on Highborne Lane in Ooltewah on Wednesday, June 30, 2021.

Amid stepped up concerns over growth and traffic, officials are crafting up-to-date planning and zoning efforts tailored to the different areas of Chattanooga and Hamilton County.

"This isn't about stopping growth or controlling growth," County Commissioner Jeff Eversole, R-Ooltewah, said. "It's about sensible growth."

Eversole, who oversaw a meeting of more than 150 people in the fast-growing Collegedale-Ooltewah area on Thursday at the Collegedale Commons, said during the last 25 years he has seen his commute into Chattanooga go from 10 minutes to sometimes more than an hour.

"We've been reactionary," he told the group about the issue of growth. "We're going to look at things differently as a county."

Dan Reuter, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, said at the meeting that outside consultants are to be brought on to help his team update the area plans for different parts of the county. Such plans serve as a guide for growth for different communities in the city and county.

Reuter said the agency will work on a comprehensive plan for the unincorporated parts of the county.

"There are areas of Hamilton County that have never had any thoughtful planning on growth," he said.

Reuter said that some plans for areas of the city are 15 to 20 years old.

"We shouldn't wait that long," he said.

Also, the agency intends to examine zoning codes and regulations, Reuter said. In addition, the group will review infrastructure needs such as roads and sewers, he said.

"There's a need to modernize our planning," Reuter said.

In a recent Chattanooga Times Free Press survey, more than one-third of Hamilton County voters thought the Chattanooga area was growing too fast.

Among 311 voters sampled at the polls during the Nov. 8 election, nearly 52% said the city and county are growing at the right pace, but nearly 36% of respondents said local growth was too fast. Fewer than 7% of those sampled said they thought Hamilton County was growing too slow.

Voters in the faster-growing suburban areas of the county were generally more likely to think the county is growing too fast, the poll showed.

Eversole said the planning agency will separate its focus internally between the city and the unincorporated areas of the county, noting there will be two different groups.

"That alone is a whole new look," he said.

The newly elected commissioner said the idea of updating area plans is needed.

"In some unincorporated areas, we have no plan," he said. "When you have no plan, it's chaos."

Eversole said some zoning regulations go back to the 1950s, and it's time for a different approach.

"There may be zoning for incorporated and unincorporated areas," he said. "As we think about zoning ... each community is unique. Ooltewah will be Ooltewah and not downtown Chattanooga."

Asked about citizen input, Eversole and Reuter said people will have their chances to express opinions before the plans are put together.

"We'll have many meetings to talk about growth," Reuter said. "Please don't think you're going to be left out."

Stan Burton, who lives in the county and attended the meeting, said in an interview that traffic, school crowding and water runoff are issues with which he's concerned.

"All of these we need to be informed about," he said.

Janice Robertson, who lives in the Collegedale area and also attended the meeting, said in an interview that she's active in serving local schools and concerned about that issue.

Also, she raised the question of how to handle the placement of sewers and septic tanks in the area as growth continues.

Hamilton County has grown faster than the nation as a whole over the past decade, but the county's population growth has remained below 1% a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Census population estimates.

In 2021, the county's population was 369,135, or 9.5% more than in the 2010 census. The annual growth of the county has been about 30% faster than the U.S. as a whole, but the population of Hamilton County is still growing at less than 0.9% a year.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.

Upcoming Events