Neighbors clash over Taft Highway rezoning

Neighbors clash over Taft Highway rezoning

March 28th, 2018 by Myron Madden in Community Signal Mountain

With this home's owners looking to sell, developers are eyeing property at 1403 Taft Highway for a proposed office complex. The property sits adjacent to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Realty Center and Subway. (Staff photo by Myron Madden)

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

For the last 46 years, Signal Mountain resident Ty Adkins has called the property on the corner of Taft Highway and Albert Road home. Now, he says, it's time to move on.

If the Signal Mountain Town Council approves Chattanooga-based Noon Development's request to rezone the 1403 Taft Highway property, it will soon become a 12,000-square-foot office complex.

Developers are eyeing property at the corner of Albert Road and Taft Highway for a proposed office complex. (Staff photo by Myron Madden)

Developers are eyeing property at the corner of...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Adkins said he decided to sell the property to provide more suitable accommodations for his father, who has Parkinson's disease and uses a wheelchair.

The local homeowner said he tried selling the property as residential with no luck, though he indicated that he had turned down offers from other developers who hoped to build a housing complex or storage facility on the lot.

"My mother's lived on this mountain for 82 years and I've lived up here my whole life. We don't want to drive by something we'd be embarrassed about putting on that piece of property," Adkins said during a crowded public hearing at town hall earlier this month. " We felt like this was a good option for this property and for Signal Mountain."

His neighbors, however, feel otherwise.

Since the request became public earlier this year, 170 people have signed an online petition to stop the rezoning, and during the March 12 public hearing, more than a dozen attendees stood up to voice their opposition.

Some, like Susan Edmondson, said they aren't convinced the property couldn't be sold residentially.

"Taft Highway is filled with residential homes," the Albert Road woman said. "I think the owners didn't want to sell this residential because they could get more money commercially."

Though many spoke out about issues like light pollution, increased traffic and a decline in property values, most residents said they feared approval would lead to a precedent that would allow more commercial development to creep into residential areas. Albert Road has traditionally marked the end of the town's commercial district, dissenters said, pointing to Signal Mountain's original land use plan.

"What guarantees are you offering that the corner of Taft and Albert will be the absolute end of commercial rezoning along Taft Highway?" asked Jackie Benkert, who lives nearby on Miles Road. "What guarantees are you offering to the residents on Miles Road that we won't have to come before you in a few months, begging you not to rezone part of our neighborhood from residential to commercial?"

Some residents questioned whether there was a need or a market for more office space on the mountain, pointing to commercial buildings that are currently vacant. Since 2011, more than 25 businesses in the town have closed, according to property tax records, and many, such as Family Diner and Follicle Hair Salon, still sit abandoned.

Bob Elliott, president of Noon Development, said efforts for office space came due to "general feedback and comments from people that had liked something a little newer, a little nicer."

"It's been a while since there's been a first-class office space development up there," said Elliott, who used to live in the town. "There are professionals [who live in Signal Mountain] that would like to work closer to home."

Councilman Robert Spalding said town officials have a responsibility to think about the town's tax base as they make decisions. He alluded specifically to reductions from the Hall tax, which is expected to bring in an estimated $125,000 less each year until it is completely phased out in 2022.

"Everybody who's against this, are they also in favor of raising taxes? Because some of these commercial assets do help meet our obligations as a town," Spalding said.

The council passed the rezoning on first reading 3-1. Councilman Dan Landrum was the dissenting vote, and Councilwoman Amy Speek was not present.

The discussion will resume during a public hearing at the April 12 council meeting, when the ordinance will be brought before the council for its final vote.