The fast-growing Ooltewah area on Monday received approval from a planning panel for about 300 more houses and patio homes as builders try to keep pace with robust demand.
"We're talking about in the next 10 years, the East Hamilton area will see 32% of the county's growth," said City Councilman Darrin Ledford, who also serves on the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.
The panel recommended rezoning a mostly vacant 22-acre parcel for the construction of 161 patio homes for rent at 9012 Raydoe Road near Ooltewah-Ringgold Road.
Also, the commission endorsed another rezoning for a 46-acre tract that is to hold 137 single-family homes at 7210 Snow Hill Road in Ooltewah.
The Hamilton County Commission still needs to give final approval to each project.
Mike Price of MAP Engineers, who represented developers for both projects, said demand for the new housing is "extremely high."
"I've had numerous clients call up and have said, 'Where is property we can develop to do housing?'" Price said.
On Raydoe Road, the Lyons Group wants to put up the rental units on a site just north of Cambridge Square, according to Price and the planning commission staff. The staff had recommended the commission deny rezoning from Agricultural A-1 to Residential R-3.
The Regional Planning Agency (RPA) staff said the rezoning wasn't compatible with an area plan that calls for single-family residences there. The planning staff also said the proposed 7.4 units per acre wasn't compatible with the area plan.
In addition, approval of the new patio home development would set a precedent for future similar requests in the area, the staff said. The staff also received worries from neighbors about traffic, stormwater runoff, sewer capacity and the potential rezoning.
Price said the developers have trimmed the number of units from a planned 170 to 161, slightly decreasing density per acre to 7.1. He said there are plans to improve Ooltewah-Ringgold Road in front of the patio home community, which will be gated. Raydoe Road also is expected to be improved, Price said.
He said the units will be single family, and unlike apartments, the homes have a small backyard patio area. Price said a similar project went up recently on Shallowford Road.
Ledford said he has talked to people who live in those units, which is "a good mix for a lot of different folks who had a lot of different needs."
"It feels like this is a product that's satisfying a high demand for affordable housing," he said.
Jason Farmer, another panel member, said the patio home-type is growing countrywide and more people are choosing such housing as a way to live.
He said the area where the new project would locate is one of the most desirable and expensive in the county.
Price said the units are more affordable because the project is more dense. If infrastructure costs are divided by more units, then rents will be lower, he said.
Marcus Lyons of Lyons Group said there's "a staggering lack of inventory" for first-time homebuyers as well as for seniors and that has created "an enormous need for a nice housing product that is affordable."
"We must continue to evolve and think outside the box to develop a housing product that will help alleviate the immediate growing need for houses," he said. "All families in our community should have the choice to raise their kids and grandkids in a safe neighborhood with new quality houses. More three and four-story apartment buildings aren't the answer."
Rents will go from $1,000 to $2,000 a month for the $21 million project, Lyons said. The one-bedroom units will be townhomes while the two- and three-bedroom units will be freestanding houses, he said.
Planning Commission member Blythe Bailey voted no, saying he thought the panel should follow the area plan's recommendations. He said while he heard the argument about affordability and housing, "in this case the plan should direct our judgment."
The second project on Snow Hill Road by Chattanooga home builder Pratt & Associates won approval for a zoning change from Agricultural A-1 to Residential R-1 after Price agreed to proposed landscaping buffers.
He said the homes are expected to sell for $300,000 and up apiece.
Bailey said he was concerned about that development because all the traffic is to funnel in and out on Snow Hill Road.
"We're missing the opportunity for secondary routes that can really help people," he said.
Price expects work on both developments to start this year.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.