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Staff photo by Mike Pare / A sign sits in front of a tract of land at North Hickory Valley Road and Highway 58 on Thursday, June 16, 2022. Townhomes are planned for the parcel while apartments are slated to go on another site just behind it, according to proposals.

One of the largest apartment projects in Hamilton County in years is slated for land off Highway 58 as builders continue to see a need for more housing despite higher inflation and interest rates.

More than 700 apartment units are planned for a vacant parcel measuring about 54 acres at 8699 N. Hickory Valley Road, said MAP Engineers owner Mike Price, who is working on the project for developer RM Investment LLC.

Also, an adjacent tract where Walmart planned and then backed off a superstore at North Hickory Valley Road and Highway 58 is slated to hold nearly 150 townhomes by a company affiliated with the apartment developer, Price said.

All of the planned units will be for rent, he said in a telephone interview.

"Even with rising inflation and conditions we're all experiencing, and there are some economic headwinds out there, the need for housing still remains," Price said.

Just last month, a review of U.S. Census Bureau data between July 2020 and July 2021 showed that among the 10 largest cities in Tennessee and Georgia, only Chattanooga, Knoxville and Murfreesboro experienced population gains.

Chattanooga posted a population gain of 489 people in the period, while bigger cities such as Memphis, Nashville and Atlanta recorded decreases, the data showed.

The Chattanooga area has had an average annual population increase of 4.25% since 2019 and job growth of 6.7% in 2021, said Nathan Etheridge of Greenleaf Capital of Atlanta, which last month paid $22 million for much of the Midtown Office Park in Brainerd.

"The Midtown Office Park is Greenleaf's 11th asset acquired in the Chattanooga area with the intention of acquiring more in the future," he said in an email.

Price said the townhouse project off Highway 58 already has the required zoning and plans are for work to start there in August. He estimated that development at more than $30 million.

For the planned nearby apartments, RM Investment LLC of Chattanooga is seeking a rezoning of the 54-acre tract from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission next month.

Price said 708 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments are proposed for the site in 34 buildings. Most of the buildings will be three stories in height, though there will be some that are "three-four splits," he said.

"This is one of the most significant (apartment complexes) to come into the Chattanooga-Hamilton County area, to be certain," Price said. He didn't have a cost estimate for the development.

About 13 of the buildings on the parcel will be two- and four-unit structures, so garages will be available underneath them, Price said.

He said the proposed site will have a lot of large sections left either in a natural state or for stormwater management. Price said the planned density "is not as high as for a lot of apartment developments."

If the apartment project receives rezoning from the Planning Commission and Hamilton County Commission, work likely won't start until 2023, with the first units opening in 2024, he said.

Price said plans are to look at developing the apartments in a manner tied to the townhome project and to use the same access points.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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