Homelessness, housing, development key issues in downtown Chattanooga, citizens say

Staff photo by Mike Pare / Jean Smith, left, who lives in downtown Chattanooga, checks out an information board while listening to Ethan Greene at a Plan Chattanooga meeting at the Bessie Smith Hall on Wednesday.
Staff photo by Mike Pare / Jean Smith, left, who lives in downtown Chattanooga, checks out an information board while listening to Ethan Greene at a Plan Chattanooga meeting at the Bessie Smith Hall on Wednesday.

Homelessness, housing and the quality and location of new development were among issues raised by people who took part in a meeting Wednesday about the future of downtown and North Chattanooga.

Housing is the biggest concern in the M.L. King Boulevard neighborhood, said Jean Smith at the Bessie Smith Hall, where planners sought input about a long-range growth strategy for Chattanooga.

Smith cited a proposal by Chattanooga officials to place a 24/7 low-barrier homeless shelter in a transit building on East 12th Street. Already, there are homeless people frequently walking up and down the street all week long, she said in an interview.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga faces questions for homeless shelter)

William Smith, her husband, said zoning is a worry. He mentioned a request to place tiny homes at a sanctioned homeless camp at 12th and Peeples streets on a temporary basis.

"What plan does that fit into?" he asked.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga officials, groups see need for more supportive housing)

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency is hosting a handful of meetings across the county this week and over the next month as the city and county craft new growth plans for the future. Attendees have a chance to review data, hear from planners, share their feelings and ask questions.

Downtown and North Chattanooga were among the areas within the city that grew most in terms of number of additional residents from 2010 to 2023, planners said. East Brainerd also was a top gainer, according to planners.

Chattanooga's overall 2023 population estimate is 184,103, in line with the 8% increase from 2010 to 2020, planners said.

Stroud Watson said in an interview at the meeting he has lived downtown for 25 years and the quality of new development and where it's located is an issue. There should be a sense of the importance of poor people when decisions are made, he said.

The community meetings underway to craft the city and county plans are key, Watson said.

"It's important for people to have an opportunity to have their voice (heard)," he said.

Sarah Page, an architect who works in the city, said she would like to see a more integrated approach when it comes to issues such as land planning and transportation. Page said in an interview she would like to see more cooperation among people and groups.

Dan Reuter, the planning agency's executive director, said there was a round of meetings about a month ago and more are planned next spring after this set.

The planners' work will wrap up in late spring or early summer, with one blueprint for the city and another for the unincorporated parts of the county.

Planners and political leaders earlier this year announced efforts to create plans to guide future growth.

According to planners, the Chattanooga region has been attracting new residents steadily since the 1990s. Last year, the population of Hamilton County grew more than three times as fast as the national average, placing it as the fifth fastest-growing county among Tennessee's 95 counties, figures show.

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

  photo  Staff file photo / An apartment complex on Broad and 17th streets is one of the new housing developments in downtown Chattanooga. It sits next to the Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant at Broad and Main streets.
 
 

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