Hamilton County planners OK permit for private airfield, residential development in Hixson

Staff Photo / A pilot lands a plane at Dallas Bay Skypark in 2021 in Chattanooga. The small airport later closed, and a new plan calls for building a private fly-in community at the site.
Staff Photo / A pilot lands a plane at Dallas Bay Skypark in 2021 in Chattanooga. The small airport later closed, and a new plan calls for building a private fly-in community at the site.

A private airstrip in Hixson that largely shut down more than two years ago could take flight again as a fly-in residential community offering a mix of new housing, hangars and clubhouse facilities in Hixson.

Hamilton County planners Monday agreed to issue a special permit for the expansion and upgrade of the Dallas Bay airport and recommended a zoning change to accommodate the private airport.

Chattanooga businessman Craig Fuller, a pilot and owner of Flying magazine, is seeking the permit and zoning change to buy the shuttered Dallas Bay Skypark, reopen the airstrip and build about 80 residential units with private hangars so pilots can park their planes near their homes.

If Hamilton County commissioners approve the requested changes, Fuller plans to build about 30 new townhomes with airplane hangars for planes to be housed at each residence and another 50 or more cottages for other residents. The overall $70 million project would also include a community hangar and updated offices, a conference center and cafe, according to the application from Fuller's company, known as Stolport Villages.

On Monday, the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission approved the special airport permit and rezoned much of the 55-acre site along Crabtree Road and Thrasher Pike in Middle Valley for the new development.

A number of neighbors objected to the reopening of the airstrip and the additional housing planned on a portion of the surrounding property. Several suggested the land should be redeveloped for recreational use for the Middle Valley Youth Association or a city park, while others worried more development will aggravate traffic problems on roads in Hixson and Middle Valley.

"It is an irresponsible use of valuable real estate," Noah Johnson told the planning commission during a public hearing. "Not only will this project negatively affect our housing, it will expose our community to increased lead pollution from these piston, propeller aircraft."

Johnson said Chattanoogans are already struggling to afford homes in Chattanooga and building condos priced at $700,000 and above will only push up home prices even more.

But Bryan Shults, director of the Regional Planning Agency, said the staff review of the project concluded that "neighboring properties would not be adversely affected" due to the limits included in the special permit. The planning commission agreed to restrict the new owners of the airstrip from extending the runway or adding any aircraft traffic control towers, and planners voted to require the airport to remain a private airfield, not open for general or public aviation.

Built on a former dragstrip, the Dallas Bay airstrip has operated since the 1960s and was grandfathered under earlier rules that did not require the special airport permit now triggered by the proposed expansion, Shults said.

Brad Bracket, a landscape architect for RaganSmith who represented the developers, said the buyers of the Dallas Bay Skypark agreed to the proposed conditions for the special permit and zoning change.

There are no plans to expand the runway or accept jet planes, nor reopen a flight school that operated at Dallas Bay, Fuller said. The proposed housing development and airport upgrade will bring new airplanes and investments into Chattanooga without overtaxing existing facilities, Fuller said. He expects many of those buying in will use the townhomes or cottages only some of the time.

"Typically, these could be a second home or a retirement home for folks," Fuller told the Chattanooga Times Free Press earlier this year.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.