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Site of proposed development at the intersection of E. Brainerd Road and Ooltewah-Ringgold Road.

At last, Sam Issa has something to show for the $70,000 he's spent working, and reworking, and reworking and reworking the site plan for his 51-acre commercial development at the intersection of E. Brainerd Road and Ooltewah-Ringgold Road.

"Our firm has been working on this project now since spring," said Pat Neuhoff, architect on the project.

An application for the rezoning of 54 acres in the southeast corner of the busy east Hamilton County intersection first came before planning commissioners in early June. Issa's first plan called for 29 acres of commercial zoning for 125,000-square-feet of retail space and 25 acres to build up to 250 apartments.

At that time, regional planning agency staffers recommended that the project be denied, citing traffic problems and an incomplete site plan.

Issa pulled the application and committed to adding turn lanes and traffic lights at the E. Brainerd Road and Ooltewah-Ringgold Road intersection. He also committed to meeting with nearby residents, who were irked by the possibility of having apartments in a neighborhood dominated by single-family housing.

A 10-member committee of community members was formed, and Issa hired Derryberry Public Relations to help rework the development into something community members would accept. Issa himself also lives in the area, around a mile from the proposed development.

Over the last five months, the developers and community members have met 16 times, with Issa and Neuhoff retooling the site plan repeatedly.

"So far, I have spent $70,000 on this rezoning, not knowing if I was going to get it or not," Issa said on Monday.

The proposal he brought back to planning commissioners this time was absent of all residential construction and zoning. It consists of 350,000-square-feet of commercial space and acres of parking broken up by green breaks and trees.

The development is to be built over a matter of several years and three phases, as area demographics and demand dictate.

Regional planning staff signed off on the proposal this time, and recommended planning commissioners do the same, but with added conditions. The conditions maintained the original square footage but created significant aesthetic changed to the development.

Planning staff also recommended that planning commissioners only approve the first phase of the development on Monday.

Supporters of Issa's development showed up in numbers on Monday, and they were unhappy with those conclusions and recommendations. Of around 30 audience members present, 12 were present in support of Issa's development.

"What we have at odds here are the views of a staff versus the views of a community," said Mark West, an East Brainerd resident who was chosen to represent neighbors on the development liaison committee.

"Our primary opposition was that it was going to contain a significant number of apartments," he said. "I am now significantly concerned that we have conditions which could kill this project."

Issa added the project's financing hinged on its complete approval, not just approval of one phase.

Planning commissioners ultimately voted to approve the rezoning in its entirety and send it on to Hamilton County commissioners, who now have the final say.

They also voted to drop the five conditions that Issa and community members said most interfered with the site plan they have settled on through their meetings.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

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