After hearing six citizens express both support and concerns in a required public hearing, the East Ridge City Council unanimously approved rezoning for the 61 acres needed for a $125 million mixed-use development planned by Utah businessman Bob Martino.
Martino, owner of Star Community Builders in Park City, Utah, and the USL One soccer team in Chattanooga, said he expects to close on the property in the next few weeks with groundbreaking 30-60 days later.
The proposed project is the largest in East Ridge history and will include a 5,500-seat stadium for the Red Wolves. Plans for the wooded, vacant parcel near the junction of Interstate 75 and Interstate 24 include 400 apartment and condominium units, 375 hotel rooms, 475,000 square feet of commercial space including the stadium, and a network of walking and nature trails that could connect under I-75 with Camp Jordan.
Citizens expressed the same concerns regarding the project's impact on flooding, traffic, noise and designated wetlands that council heard at the first reading of the rezoning ordinance on June 13.
Jeff Sikes of ASA Engineering and Consulting, representing Martino and the project, addressed the concerns following the final speaker and acknowledged that the project created "difficult challenges." He told a full council chamber that the company was aware of the concerns of residents in Landsdale Park, an old East Ridge neighborhood that backs up to the property.
"You heard them say how tough this project is going to be," said Sandra Kurtz, chairwoman of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance, said after the meeting. "I believe they are committed to taking all the right steps, but I believe in trust, but verify. Even if they follow all the regulations, some of those regulations are not tough enough."
Crissie Champion, owners of Champy's Chicken, said the Red Wolves development was the primary reason the business selected East Ridge over another location in the county.
"We were debating two good locations, but the new development was the deciding fact," said Champion.
Martino said he is confident the project will meet the requirements of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"We are going to follow the law and regulations," said Martino. "It's not like we are going to just flood somebody's property. We have a great team that is looking at all the requirements, and we will work through all the issues. Our engineers have been down this road before."
The project falls within the Border Region Tax zone, which allows cities located on the Tennessee border, such as East Ridge and Bristol/Kingsport, to receive a larger share of sales tax revenue that is used to for infrastructure and community assets. East Ridge projects new revenue stream for the city between $814,000 and $1.6 million annually from Martino's development.
In other action, the council unanimously approved the fiscal 2019-20 budget on final reading. The general revenue budget of nearly $13.9 million is $1.9 million less than last year's budget due to overestimating revenues in 2019 and unforeseen expense items over the course of the year. The budget does not raise property taxes, gives all employees a 3 percent raise and finances four new police cars for the city.