Hamilton County postpones vote on McDonald Farm rezoning

Staff photo By Matt Hamilton / A portion of McDonald Farm in Sale Creek is shown in January, when residents expressed concern about Hamilton County's plans to rezone nearly half of the property for manufacturing. The rezoning request is being postponed for 90 days for officials to consider alternative zoning options for the county-owned property.
Staff photo By Matt Hamilton / A portion of McDonald Farm in Sale Creek is shown in January, when residents expressed concern about Hamilton County's plans to rezone nearly half of the property for manufacturing. The rezoning request is being postponed for 90 days for officials to consider alternative zoning options for the county-owned property.

Hamilton County is postponing for 90 days a request to rezone parcels of McDonald Farm in order to consider other zoning options, according to a release from Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp's office.

The Hamilton County Commission was originally set to vote this month on the rezoning request, for which the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission voted in January to recommend approval.

Wamp and other county officials spoke at a January town hall in Sale Creek to county residents concerned about what they felt was a rushed effort on the part of the county to rezone 871 acres of the 2,100-acre McDonald Farm property for manufacturing.

Among the concerns expressed by the around 250 residents in attendance was the lack of recreational space included in the rezoning documents, the effect of development on wildlife and the environment, and the potential for development to change the rural quality of the area.

(READ MORE: Industrial development at McDonald Farm not a top priority for Hamilton County mayor)

Hamilton County Commissioner Gene-o Shipley, R-Soddy-Daisy, during the town hall meeting asked Jim Stewart, executive director of the Chattanooga Audubon Society — which owns the Audubon Mountain property neighboring the farm — to organize a resident advisory committee to give input on the county's plans for the property.

"They're going to be putting together their ideas to present to us as we work through the processes we need to work through and give them more information about that farm that we don't really know," Shipley said by phone. "And it's an opportunity to look and see if it would be best suited for something besides industrial development."

The citizen advisory committee held its second meeting Wednesday, Stewart said.

"It's an important issue not just for the (Sale Creek) locals but, we believe, the whole county," Stewart said of the farm's development. "We haven't had enough time to come up with specific plans for what we want to see there, but we want to work with the county staff and elected officials and consultants on those points."

(READ MORE: 'Pork Report' criticizes Hamilton County's McDonald Farm again)

A petition on change.org asking the county to pause its request to rezone a portion of the farm had garnered nearly 2,000 signatures as of Thursday.

"We recognize that some business development may well be appropriate for sections of the property," Stewart said in a statement sent by text. "We also recognize the power of nature and outdoor recreation on the well-being of the public and the potential for responsible tourism to provide economic opportunities that may rival those of business."

The county's postponement of the rezoning request will not affect the $3 million awarded to the county by the state of Tennessee for water infrastructure on the farm property, the release said.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.