Hixson's biggest planned development starts to take shape

Hixson's biggest planned development starts to take shape

Hillocks Farm in valued at well more than $100 million

July 8th, 2016 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Staff photo by Mike Pare / Heavy equipment is clearing part of the site at planned new development off Highway 153 in Hixson. Hillocks Farm is to house 280 new apartments in first phase.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Staff photo by Mike Pare / Trees are harvested to make room at the proposed Hillocks Farm development on Highway 153 in Hixson. New apartments, retail and corporate offices are slated for the project.

Staff photo by Mike Pare / Trees are...

Photo by Mike Pare /Times Free Press.

Hillocks Farm

Planned mixed-use Hixson development off Highway 153 is to hold:

280 apartments

Up to 500,000 square feet of retail

About 250,000 square feet of corporate offices

Source: Development plan

Proposed $100 million Hixson commercial and retail project.

Proposed $100 million Hixson commercial and retail project.

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

One of Chattanooga's biggest commercial and housing developments is starting to take shape. But it's been a long time coming.

In the 1980s, a national developer weighed putting a Hamilton Place mall-sized center on the 190-acre wooded site off Highway 153 in Hixson, but later withdrew it. And the roots of the current plan were first planted about five years ago when it drew scathing opposition from some nearby residents.

Finally, land-clearing has begun for the project, dubbed Hillocks Farm. Now valued at well more than $100 million when built out, work is starting on 280 apartments to open late next year with retail and office space slated to follow.

"It has been a challenging site," said Duane Horton, a Chattanooga builder overseeing development of the tract with landowner Jack Lonas.

Integra Land Co. of Lake Mary, Fla., is developing the garden-style apartments on 20 acres on the north part of the parcel in what Horton estimated is approaching $40 million in work alone.

The site will hold six three-story buildings, five two-story carriage houses and another three-story structure with a clubhouse. One-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans will range from 736 square feet to 1,402 square feet, according to builder LandSouth Construction of Jacksonville, Fla.

Horton said he's continuing to work on both retail and office components of the plan. While there's interest, there's nothing concrete to announce yet, he said.

In all, the tract can hold up to 500,000 square feet of retail — about two-thirds the size of Northgate Mall — and another 250,000 square feet of corporate offices.

In terms of a time frame for development, Horton sees "a lot of critical items and components" going in within five years, but there still will be room over a 10-year period.

City Councilman Chip Henderson said the project now is a better one than when originally envisioned five years ago.

"The final project changed quite a bit. That's one of those in which we strike a balance between development and what the community wants to preserve," he said. "I think it will have a good mix."

The site sits on a slope, going from a hilltop on one of the highest points in Hixson to lower-laying terrain near Boy Scout Road and North Chickamauga Creek.

A lot of single-family housing already sits around the property, and the project originally drew fierce opposition from some residents fearing water runoff and other issues.

However, the final blueprint approved by Chattanooga planners offered some three dozen conditions that need to be followed for development to proceed.

To plan for future structures, Horton said a lot of infrastructure is being put in above and beyond what's required for the apartments.

The main entrance will be wider and a traffic light will be put up, he said. There will be a traffic circle at the entrance which will help when future development occurs, Horton said. Also, he said, construction "sleeves" will be put in under the road to permit larger water and utility lines.

In addition, a bioswale designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water will be installed, and there will be some underground storage, Horton said.

Henderson said he met some nearby residents this week who checked out the site.

"They were anxious and glad to see work finally beginning," he said.

The councilman said he expects to see a lot of economic impact from Hillocks Farm. The term "hillock" is a hill often near a larger range or ridge referenced in the Bible.

"A lot of times development spurs other development," Henderson said.

Slated to bolster the city and county's annual tax base by $2 million, the retail portion of the project is to have a garden-like environment, officials have said. Developers say they don't plan big-box stores such as Wal-Mart.

An anchor restaurant also is being sought for the site, Henderson said.

All of the three zones of development — apartments, retail and office — would be connected by trails. Buffers would separate buildings from existing neighborhoods, project designers have said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.