City planners on Monday opposed a bid by Motel Sleepers Inc. to build a dormitory and 24-hour restaurant for railroad employees off Ashland Terrace, despite the apparent support of neighbors.
Mike Price, who spoke for the backers of the $3 million to $4 million project, said he will make his case at the Chattanooga City Council meeting in early August.
If built off the 700 block of Ashland Terrace, the railroad motel would have roughly 100 rooms, and the restaurant would seat 53 people.
Norfolk Southern employees would be shuttled from DeButts railroad yard to the motel for their mandatory rest as train operators.
"I don't know why the city of Chattanooga would spend the money and time to send a letter to all the residents to inform them about the zoning changes and, in the end, turn around and not honor residents' request," said property owner Troy Cox.
Members of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, which unanimously voted against the dormitory, did so because of doubts about what would happen if the railroad loses interest in the facility.
Norfolk Southern could abandon the lease after 10 years, commissioners said. That could leave neighbors with what would essentially be a two-story extended-stay motel, panel member Don Moon said.
"I can see an extended-stay hotel" if the railroad decides not to use the site as a dormitory, Moon said. "We already have some two-story extended stays, and there have been some problems."
Neighbors who initially supported the measure could turn on it if the area became a hangout for people who cause trouble for police, said Jack Benson, Chattanooga City Councilman and a board member.
"I think if we do this today, it turns Ashland Terrace into a commercial corridor," Benson said. "I see this as, in effect, spot zoning."
Price disagreed, arguing that alternate plans to construct a 53,000-square-foot mini-warehouse at the site would be worse than his proposal.
"The property is already zoned [for commercial activity]," Price said. "The community supports, by and large, what we're proposing here today."
Price said that in the course of a door-to-door campaign and in a large neighborhood meeting, he had run into no objections.
"If the people are for it, I don't know why you'd turn it down," he said.
Cox said he, too, is "shocked" the panel turned him down, and that he would guarantee the site wouldn't turn into a problem for law enforcement.
"The railroad gives random drug tests, and these are the guys driving the trains," he said. "I don't think we're going to have any pot smoking out in the parking lot. They've only got 12 hours to sleep, eat and shower before they get back, and that doesn't leave a lot of time for misbehavior."