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Nickie Schoonover makes her way up a snaking section of the Tennessee Riverwalk during her daily lunch run on Feb. 9, 2015.

Hard to spot from Broad Street because of the Southern Saddlery Co. building, there's an empty, 7.5-acre piece of land tucked into the depressed area between St. Elmo Avenue and Chattanooga Creek.

The property is part old concrete infrastructure and part grassy field, another left-for-dead reminder of the Southside's industrial past.

A tenant from the Southern Saddlery Co. office building walked her dog on the property Wednesday afternoon. It's a useful puppy potty now, she said, but she'll be happy when some kind of development starts going up -- the twisted trees and brown winter grass are not much to look at.

It may not be long before she gets her wish.

Collier Construction plans to develop a neighborhood of 29 single-family detached homes, 20 three-story townhouses and a three-story mixed-use building on the property. All told, the land, infrastructure and buildings will represent a $20 million investment when finished.

The development is intended to directly tie into the Tennessee Riverwalk and will preserve about 2 acres for green space and feature a small community park.

The property is currently zoned for light industrial use, but Collier officials are asking to have the property rezoned to UGC Urban General Commercial and R-T/Z Residential Townhouse Zero Lot Line Zoning. The project will appear before planning commissioners at Monday's regular meeting.

Ethan Collier, founder and owner of Collier Construction, said this week that if the project gets through the Planning Commission this month and through the City Council for final approval in April, construction could start as early as September or October.

Collier is chairman of the Planning Commission.

He said when construction starts, the first things to go up will be the residential homes and townhouses.

The townhouses will range between 1,200 and 2,400 square feet. And the detached homes will range between 1,800 and 3,000 square feet. Pricing will be comparable to the Jefferson Heights neighborhood, said Collier. The mixed-use building is, right now, intended for retail and commercial use.

Apartments are not out of the question, said Collier, but they aren't Plan A for the mixed-use space. He hopes to see a gym, a hair salon or coffee shop-type retail on the first floor and offices on the second and third floors.

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The addition of the Collier Construction neighborhood comes somewhere between 20 and 40 years since any structure last stood on the St. Elmo Avenue property. According to Collier, the saddlery company's tanning facilities were the last buildings to occupy the land.

He said the developers don't want to totally wipe away the memory of the facility and will leave some of the old foundation infrastructure, where it doesn't interfere with new construction.

"The whole site was covered with buildings, and it's really pretty cool to walk the site because you can see the old relics of the old foundation and those sorts of things," said Collier. "You get a sense of what it once was, in terms of where people worked."

Neighbors said this week that it will be nice to finally see the property put to use again.

In recent years, homeless camps have popped up in the woods along Chattanooga Creek, and the property attracts groups of homeless people still, say some Southern Saddlery building tenants.

Kevin Stophel, principal at wealth management firm KumQuat, said he has seen up to 40 homeless people on the property at one time.

Wednesday afternoon, a small homeless camp was set up on the rear of the property.

Stophel was optimistic about the development and said that his primary concerns revolve around traffic.

"We do worry a little bit about parking and congestion," he said.

St. Elmo Avenue is not heavily traveled near the Southern Saddlery building and isn't striped.

And the owners of the different parts of the Southern Saddlery building complex went in together years ago to purchase the parking lot beside their building to make sure there's plenty of parking space.

Stophel said he hopes the new development doesn't take away from Southern Saddlery tenants' and customers' parking, but he's optimistic about the upcoming changes.

"We're hopeful that we'll see a change of that space in the near future, and we hope that it's a positive thing," he said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com.

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