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Proposed form-based codes for downtown Chattanooga would move building to streets, create walkable and bike-friendly streets and sidewalks with ample green space.

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Contact the Regional Planning Agency with thoughts on form-based code or with requests in regards to downtown properties at 423-643-5948, or email rezoning@chattanooga.gov.

It took nearly three hours to get through a special form-based code session and workshop with planning commissioners Thursday evening, but some things were clearer coming out than going in.

Among them, the form-based code regulations — which are more concerned with how buildings and streets look and feel downtown and less with how they're used — are generally liked, but not loved.

And there's angst on behalf of builders, designers and Realtors about how fast these new rules may be implemented.

Also, what happened to the parking regulations?

Parking maximum and minimum standards present in the first draft of the proposed downtown code disappeared in the second draft, to the chagrin of some downtown residents.

"I went to all the meetings," said local activist and Southside resident Franklin McCallie. "I never heard anything about this."

McCallie was irate at the lack of minimum parking requirements for downtown builders and projects. He said it's already hard to find parking near his home, and that he walks guests for blocks back to their cars at night after hosting events at his home.

John Bridger, executive director of the Regional Planning Agency, said at the previous meeting, stark opponents of parking standards lobbied for the removal of parking requirements, and that Nashville went the way of no parking limits when it adopted updated downtown zones.

Garnet Chapin, a local architect, called the removal of parking requirements "a grievous mistake."

"What's going on? Who's got a rationale for that?" he asked. "I'm flabbergasted. I've never heard of such a thing."

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Franklin McCallie, a former teacher and the first white assistant principal of Howard High School, speaks during the panel discussion for the Times Free Press story "Speak No Evil"in 2013 at the Bethlehem Center in Chattanooga, Tenn. McCallie also spoke during a special form-based code session and workshop with planning commissioners Thursday evening.
Planners said having heard the spirited feedback over parking Thursday evening (for both automobiles and bicycles, provisions which were present for both in the first form-based draft but gone from the second), they will likely implement tweaks before May's meeting.

Thursday's public workshop was the last in a series meant to provide city residents a forum to address planning commissioners and planners about the form-based code, prior to planning commissioners taking up the proposed regulations in May.

At the earliest, the City Council will either approve or reject form-based codes in June.

The writing of new, form-based downtown codes dates back around 18 months.

City planners have said the existing code structure is cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive. The proposed new code will affect roughly 2,900 downtown properties.

Though touted as simpler and easier, form-based codes still proved complex for many downtown residents, and some showed up Thursday evening to take turns asking planners and commissioners for clarification or to be added or removed from the zoning area.

A man who lives on East Main Street also wondered why his land is divided.

"It may not make a difference, and I may just not understand," he said. "I was just curious."

Bill Matthews, a property owner on the edge of form-based territory in north Chattanooga, is especially frustrated with the changes.

"It really appears to me that sometimes the property rights of the owner are getting swept under the table, and I don't think it was meant to be that way," he said.

Matthews was asked if he wants to be considered to drop out of form-based territory.

"I can't do anything about whether I'm in or out," he said. "To tell you the truth, I'm probably better off out."

Overall, the majority of feedback from Thursday indicated many property owners are OK with the changes, they're just working through how it will actually affect them, and when.

For developers and Realtors, the when was a recurring issue.

John Clark, a Chattanooga developer, said the time table right now — a draft published last Friday, a final draft to come out soon, planning commission to take action in May and City Council to consider adoption in June — is too aggressive for his comfort.

"It's only fair to give people time to look at the document and see what's there," he said.

Right now, developers and property would have 60 days from the adoption of form-based codes to decide whether a new project in the works will be governed by existing, use-based codes or new, form-based codes.

"Raise your hand if you find an architect who can design a building in 60 days," said Clark. "You can't."

Bridger didn't comment on the timeline following Thursday's meeting, and said as with any item brought before planning commission, a decision whether to move forward will be in the hands of planning commissioners next month.

See complete proposed regulations and a map of the form-based code area online at www.cha-fbc.com.

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

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