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Staff file photo / Cameron Harbor off Riverfront Parkway has been a popular site for new home building in Chattanooga.

A Hamilton County planning panel on Monday gave approval to proposed changes to single-family zoning regulations permitting smaller lot sizes, but only after lengthy discussion.

"We're battling major home shortages in the county and the city," said Chris Mabee, a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission. "This is an opportunity on taking a step to correct these issues."

The proposed changes come as more than 600 new home sites won approval from the planning commission on Monday. Developers said they're seeking to meet a demand from buyers.

The changes stem from a proposal raised by the Home Builders Association of Greater Chattanooga. The changes include permitting smaller lot sizes and reduced front and rear setbacks.

Doug Fisher, the association's executive officer, said the aim is to provide for higher density, which he added could help control rising home prices.

"We need desperately in Hamilton County to achieve more property with a zoning classification that provides for higher density," he said.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Martin, also a member of the planning panel, said that while he didn't have a problem with the changes to increase density, he thought that they ought to not be folded into the R-1 residential designation.

"To me, it's about transparency," he said. "Why not create a new zone? My issue is why don't we call it different zoning than R-1?"

Martin said the issue is expected to come before the Hamilton County Commission on July 21 for its consideration.

Ethan Collier, the planning commission's chairman, said he doesn't think the changes will confuse the public.

Also, Collier said he doesn't believe putting more density on newly planned tracts will cause more traffic issues than what has already occurred in parts of the county which are experiencing fast growth.

Chattanooga City Councilman Darrin Ledford, who also serves on the planning commission, asked what the county planned to do to communicate the proposed changes to the public.

"We are kind of changing the rules," he said.

Ledford said studies show that 32% of growth will be in the eastern part of Hamilton County.

"Things are going to change," he said.

John Bridger, who directs the planning commission staff, said the housing of the 1990s is not the housing of the 2020s.

"What you're wrestling with is this the new normal R-1?" he asked.

Fisher said it has been 40 years since there has been a change in such zoning.

"That's a long time," he said. "I'd think waiting 40 years is enough. Let the market dictate how we develop our community."

Fisher said it's not surprising to see a lot of planning for future development.

"We're short. We need to pick it up," he said.

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

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