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Staff photo by Mike Pare / A large tract of land for sale at East Brainerd and Bill Jones roads shown here sits across the street from an smaller parcel where Dollar General wants to put up a store in Apison. Some neighbors fear the larger piece of land also could be developed into commercial space.

A divided Hamilton County planning panel Monday denied rezoning a tract for a proposed Dollar General store in Apison after a long debate over what the fast-growing area's future may look like.

"The [Chattanooga] City Council has heard a lot from the community in the last two or three months. I think it's important we listen," said City Councilman Darrin Ledford, who's also a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

Nearly half a dozen Apison area residents spoke to the panel against the proposed Dollar General at 11156 E. Brainerd Road. The body voted 7 to 3 to recommend to the Hamilton County Commission denying rezoning the 1.7-acre vacant parcel from A-1 agricultural to C-2 commercial.

Some residents said they moved to rural Apison to get away from commercial development and traffic problems. Area resident Jason Price said most people moved to Apison to not be around commercial properties.

"People live next door," he said about the residential homes on each side of the proposed store. "The livability and value of those houses will surely suffer with the building of a Dollar General store."

Michelle Snow said traffic would be "even more significant if there's a Dollar General there. It will take us even longer to get through this area."

But Planning Commission member Jason Farmer said he isn't "necessarily sold that this is a rural area."

"It's probably the hottest area of new subdivisions we've had," said Farmer, who voted for the rezoning. "When you put all these rooftops in, commercial is going to follow."

Todd Leamon, another panel member, said change in Apison will be "very difficult when it initially happens."

"It does take some type of initial action to start that transition," said Leamon, who also voted for the rezoning.

Ledford, however, said many residents appear to oppose a vision of Apison that included the proposed Dollar General as "a first test in the area."

Ledford, who voted against the rezoning request, said that Apison deserved "a better vision" and more discussion.

"In this day and age, we needed to listen more and more to our constituents..." he said.

Thomas Palmer, another commissioner, said commercial development is coming to Apison. But, he said, panel members often lament how it has occurred in other parts of the city.

"This has an opportunity to be something more than that," said Palmer, who voted 'no' on rezoning. "I just want to note that this area is relatively untouched and the first move is critical."

The Regional Planning Agency's (RPA) blueprint for future development in the Apison area identified a site near the proposed Dollar General as holding small offices and gift shops when infrastructure such as sewers are extended to the area. The proposed Dollar General parcel is included in RPA's envisioned commercial development site when sewers are extended.

Another area resident talked about welcoming a Cambridge Square-type development, referring to the large housing and commercial town square in nearby Ooltewah.

"That's what we want to see out there," he said, adding that a Dollar General doesn't fit in that type of project.

Angela Petkovic, a Dollar General spokeswoman, said in an email that the company strives to be "a positive business partner and good community neighbor."

"We believe the addition of each new Dollar General store represents positive economic growth for the communities we proudly serve through the creation of local jobs and opportunities for employee development and career advancement..." she wrote.

Petkovic said Dollar General hasn't committed to building a store yet and is doing due diligence with a decision to be made by this fall.

Planning Commission Chairman Ethan Collier said RPA growth plans show images of what parcels may look like in the future.

"That isn't the reality of Walden, Fairyland or East Brainerd or Ooltewah," he said. " The reality is that there aren't many examples of successful developments that look like Cambridge Square. It's a unicorn."

Ben Berry of Berry Engineers, who represented the Dollar General development, said he disagreed with an RPA staff recommendation that there wasn't adequate infrastructure for the Dollar General because sewers aren't in that area.

The Dollar General would only have two bathrooms, which could easily run off a septic system even smaller than a home's, he said.

"This area will continue to grow, creating demand for a more convenient location to purchase consumer goods," he said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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