Chattanooga City Council unanimously approves extra floor for North Shore development

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Workers construct apartment buildings as traffic moves along Manufacturers Road on Friday.

The Chattanooga City Council unanimously approved Tuesday a seven-floor apartment complex on Manufacturers Road, one floor above the maximum allowed on the North Shore under the zoning regulation that governs the city's downtown.

At a meeting in June, a planning committee allowed the development at 418 Manufacturers Road to go past the six-floor maximum. Joseph Wingfield, the owner of the land, also requested to decrease the minimum space from the Tennessee River from 100 feet to 80 feet. The committee denied that request.

Under the downtown code, the committee is given the discretion to make modifications on a case-by-case basis for developments.

According to plans submitted to the city by Southeastern Development, the South Carolina-based firm managing Wingfield's development, the extra floor does not exceed the 85-foot maximum and does not affect, regardless of the City Council's decision, the density of the complex that could house up to 300 units.

Mill River Operating Co., a developer constructing a 271-unit apartment complex immediately north of Wingfield's property, appealed the planning committee's decision in August, requesting a hearing on the issue.

"Mill River is an adjoining property owner and is aggrieved by the decision, which will lead to an increase in density of apartments, traffic congestion and will limit the scenic views along the river," said a letter requesting the appeal hearing.

A public hearing, after which the City Council unanimously approved the committee's decision, was set for Tuesday.

Jeremy Cothern, an attorney representing Wingfield, said during Tuesday's hearing that the extra floor is to make room for more parking underneath the complex.

"The seventh story changes nothing about the dimensions," Cothern said. "The width remains the same. The depth remains the same. The height remains the same, and the density remains the same."

(READ MORE: Traffic study was skipped for development on Chattanooga's North Shore)

Harry Cash, an attorney representing Mill River, cited during the hearing guidelines for code modifications downtown. One of the principles under the code modifications is that the committee is intended to balance development opportunity and conversation along the riverfront by promoting development that maintains public access to the river and considers the benefits of the river's scenic views.

"This is not going to provide scenic views of the river," Cash said. "In fact, it's going to prohibit."

The development will seek to preserve the public appeal of North Shore, said Donna Shepherd, a project manager for the Wingfield development.

"Obviously, we want to preserve the area behind One North Shore," Shepherd said. "We have had regular meetings with the city, the various departments, about connectivity, about preservation."

When pressed by Council Member Chip Henderson, of Lookout Valley, Liz Palmer, Tennessee director of development for the Mill River subsidiary Middle Street Partners, conceded the Wingfield development, under its proposal for seven floors, does not negatively affect the Mill River complex under construction.

"When I think about the best use for riverfront property, it's not for a surface parking lot," Henderson said, supporting the motion to approve the committee decision. "We've got to keep that in mind when we consider this decision. We've already heard from Mill River that they testified that it did not negatively impact their development."

(READ MORE: Required 'Complete Streets' reports are not being produced for Chattanooga)

'Dropped the ball'

Helen Burns Sharp, president of the Downtown Owners' Collective, spoke in opposition at the hearing over vehicle traffic concerns due to the proposed development. More than a dozen residents at One North Shore, a condominium complex immediately next to the Mill River development, attended the hearing in support of Sharp.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Monday that, due to a city mistake, Mill River was not required to conduct a transportation impact study during the approval process for its 271-unit complex. A development of that size is required to conduct such a study.

In a document submitted to the city by the Downtown Owners' Collective, the collective requested the City Council require the two developers to conduct a combined transportation impact study to determine the impact of both complexes. The collective also requested that the public hearing on the maximum floor appeal continue until the transportation impact study is conducted.

"This is not a 'No growth. We don't want apartments there,'" Sharp said. "The real concern is — and I think we're all familiar with that area — is the transportation system, the traffic."

The City Council ultimately did not adopt these resolutions.

Ben Taylor, deputy administrator for the Chattanooga Division of Transportation, acknowledged the city's mistake during the hearing.

"The city will require the development to buy the traffic impact study," Taylor said.

These studies must account for surrounding development, including the 271-unit Mill River complex, Taylor said.

Council member Henderson pressed Taylor on assuring such a study would happen, given the city's mistake previously.

"Apparently, we dropped the ball," Henderson said. "Give me some kind of assurance that we're going to do it this time."

"I assure it," Taylor said in response, adding that Sharp had brought the mistake to his attention. "I did not realize that one had been missed. My staff has been fully briefed on the fact that I'm here today having to explain that we missed something. And they're not going to miss it again."

The Wingfield development will work to ensure other modes of travel, such as walking and cycling, will be accommodated with the complex, Shepherd said.

"We're trying to develop a neighborhood where people can walk," Shepherd said. "We are exploring all of those options to provide different modes of transportation through this area to help with the traffic."

(READ MORE: With streets built mostly for cars, some want Chattanooga to make way for pedestrians)

Contact Ben Sessoms at or 423-757-6354.