Roads and sewers were the main concerns expressed during a recent meeting to discuss future development atop Walden's Ridge. Held Feb. 4, the meeting drew several dozen Signal Mountain residents, as well as government representatives from the town of Signal Mountain and Hamilton and Sequatchie counties.
Signal Mountain Mayor Dan Landrum said he chose the topic for the town's monthly community forum because development was the issue residents brought up most often while he was running for re-election to the Signal Mountain Town Council this past November.
"People were concerned about development, not necessarily just commercial or just residential. It's just the fact that our infrastructure is overburdened as it is," Landrum said, adding that with the loss of the state Hall income tax — which in recent years brought in roughly $750,000 annually — the town's funds will be even more limited. "People aren't asking for less in services; they're asking for more in services. And the coffers are not getting bigger."
That raised the prospect of working together with the town of Walden and unincorporated areas of the mountain to create a comprehensive plan for growth across the entire mountaintop.
At a meeting with local officials and planning staff in December, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency suggested establishing a commercial corridor on the mountain through an intergovernmental agreement. During the February meeting, Landrum said that scenario doesn't address the main problems the town of Signal Mountain faces, including the stress on services that's already occurring due to residential growth.
Landrum noted that the town of Signal Mountain's police and fire officials are often the first to arrive on the scene when responding to courtesy calls in Walden or unincorporated areas of Hamilton County on the mountain. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office provides police service for Walden and the unincorporated areas of the county; and Waldens Ridge Emergency Services, a volunteer department that receives funds from Walden and Hamilton County, provides fire service in those areas.
"We have this infrastructure that basically is the safety net for the mountain, and we need the county to know that we can't service the entire mountain," Landrum said.
While those infrastructure issues may be addressed, there is at least one that most likely won't be. State Highway 127, the main route up and down the mountain, was most residents' main concern relating to roads. The Tennessee Department of Transportation's plan for the mainly three-lane thoroughfare is only to fix the roadway to keep it from falling down the mountain. It does not include adding lanes, said Landrum.
Development in the portion of the mountain located in Sequatchie County, which has more available land, could cause even more traffic on mountain roads. Sequatchie County Commissioner Tommy Johnson pointed out that most Sequatchie residents on the mountain work in Hamilton County and use those same roads on a daily basis.
Another concern related to residential development is the fact that Signal Mountain's public schools are nearly full, said Landrum.
The biggest new residential development proposed on the mountain in the past five years, Flipper Bend is set to bring up to 200 homes to the unincorporated area near the top of Roberts Mill Road — and potentially hundreds of students to the mountain's schools.
Hamilton County Commissioner Chip Baker, who represents the area, pointed out that the Signal Mountain Middle/High School building was designed to be expanded.
Still, Landrum said he is concerned that Flipper Bend could experience sewage issues similar to those that occur in the town, since in many areas the mountain's topsoil isn't deep enough to absorb waste from septic systems. This has led to mountain streams filled with E. coli every time it rains, and that bacteria eventually drains into the Tennessee River.
No solutions were reached during the forum, though Landrum emphasized that its purpose was not to find answers immediately, but to hear from citizens on what issues need to be addressed, as well as to educate citizens and officials on regulations and options pertaining to those issues.
One citizen in attendance pointed out that it seems like the main problem is the lack of communication and coordination between the various governments and agencies serving the mountain. He pointed to the two new multimillion-dollar fire stations recently built by the town of Signal Mountain and Hamilton County within about a mile of each other as an instance in which coordination would have been beneficial.
The next Signal Mountain Community Forum is Monday, March 4. The topic and location have yet to be determined. Landrum said he had asked state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood to attend, but had not received a response.
Email Emily Crisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.