Planning effort taking on Hamilton County growth

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp speaks during a news conference on the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse on Tuesday.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp speaks during a news conference on the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse on Tuesday.

Planners and political leaders over the next year will wrestle with growth, traffic, sewers, public education and other knotty issues in the unincorporated parts of Hamilton County in what's called a first-of-its-kind effort.

A year-long planning initiative is starting that will devise a blueprint to guide future growth, officials said Tuesday.

"We want to be thinking along the way about wastewater implications, public education implications, digital infrastructure," County Mayor Weston Wamp said at a news conference. "Certainly, we'll talk about roads a lot."

About $600,000 from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency's reserve fund will go into the planning process dubbed "Our Communities. Our growth," said Dan Reuter, the group's executive director.

"One of the things we've started with is how much growth can we expect -- growth from kids in schools, people moving here over the next 15, 5, 10 years," he said in an interview. "It's not going to stop. We have to get better at guiding it."

The unincorporated county will be split into four separate areas where county commissioners and Wamp will convene meetings and gather feedback from citizens while working with consultant Ragan Smith Associates, officials said.

"What we hope to be is a very transparent and very thorough first-of-its-kind planning exercise that will allow customized and intentional planning," Wamp said.

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County Commissioner Jeff Eversole, R-Ooltewah, said at the news conference that the Ooltewah, Collegedale and Apison area has seen growth of almost 30% over the past decade or so.

"For so long, we've focused on a growth strategy in the incorporated area and kind of left the unincorporated area out," he said.

Wamp said the county as a whole is growing about 2%, similar to the rest of the nation. But, he said, with some schools over capacity and backups on roads, there's the impression Hamilton is a high-growth county.

Still, the county mayor said the lion's share of new single-family residential development is going up in unincorporated areas.

He termed the year-long effort "a generational planning initiative" that also will be mindful of the unique character and qualities of each part of the county. Wamp said Tennessee Department of Transportation officials are to be included in meetings.

Commission Chairman Chip Baker, R-Signal Mountain, said at the news conference that Hamilton County "continues to be an envious place to raise our families to grow and retire."

"Growth planning is critical to this process," he said.

Commissioner Lee Helton, R-East Brainerd, said at the news conference he wants to take a closer, smarter look at development.

"We're not anti-development," he said. "We're the opposite. We want growth that doesn't outpace our infrastructure and our ability to provide services."

Commissioner Mike Chauncey, R-East Ridge, said the process will be transparent with the public. At some point, he said at the news conference, the plan will come before the Regional Planning Commission and the County Commission.

According to the Regional Planning Agency, people interested in the process can sign up on its website and be kept informed.

In the north end of the county, including unincorporated parts of Soddy-Daisy and Sale Creek, Wamp will work with Commissioner Gene-O Shipley, R-Soddy-Daisy, on the initiative.

In the so-called mid-county region, or the unincorporated parts of Signal Mountain and Middle Valley, Commissioners Baker and Ken Smith, R-Hixson, will work together.

Efforts in the southeast area of the county, such as unincorporated parts of Collegedale, East Brainerd and Apison, will be overseen by Commissioners Chauncey and Helton.

The northeast part of the county, unincorporated Birchwood, Ooltewah and Georgetown, will be co-chaired by Eversole and Commissioner Steve Highlander, R-Ooltewah.

Reuter said a similar initiative will take place starting within a few weeks for Chattanooga. He said that effort will cost upwards of $1 million, with money also coming from the Regional Planning Agency's reserve fund.

Reuter said some of the city's area plans were carried out 15 to 20 years ago.

"The planning we have it's very old," he said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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