The Chattanooga City Council is backing a study that officials believe could help ease tensions between residents and incoming developers.
Last week, city council members green-lit a resolution that commissions the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency to conduct a study that will advise policy recommendations for dealing with three components of concern during rezoning cases: areas with steep slopes, areas that are prone to flooding, and areas with remaining forested land.
Right now, zoning decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, said Councilman Darrin Ledford of District 4, who co-sponsored the resolution along with Council Chairman Jerry Mitchell of District 2. Ledford said the lack of responsible development tools like policy recommendations has led to some of the "huge uprisings" he has seen during planning commission meetings.
"I'm seeing neighbors come forward in huge groups. They're coming and they're voicing opposition against developers who are basically trying to develop the absolute last piece of the land that we have," said Ledford, who also sits on the planning commission. "There's a toxic environment really starting to develop, and I would like to be proactive and try to curtail that and try to head off this 'us versus them' all the time."
Ledford said he hopes the study will foster better communication between developers and residents through education, allowing both parties to "start the conversation off on a good, solid factual foundation."
By referring to the recommendations, he explained, residents will be able to better understand why city planners believe a particular property is eligible for a particular zoning before they are in the meetings, and developers will know before submitting a request what kind of property the city considers off limits.
"That helps everybody. That even helps the developer," Ledford said. "You go look at the land and at some point you say, 'You know, I don't think we're going to be able to get this zoned because it's on whatever percentage slope and the city is not interested in seeing development on this type of property.'"
For residents and developers in District 4, the most pressing issue addressed through the study will be recommendations for dealing with high-water prone areas, Ledford said. Much of the land in District 4, which encompasses East Brainerd, Summit and Concord, is low-lying, he explained. He estimated that flooding and stormwater runoff related issues come into play during 20-30 percent of zoning cases.
The RPA has estimated that the study will take six to nine months to complete, though council members have proposed splitting the process into three phases to address some of the more problematic areas quicker.
During the process, the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the study, Ledford added. He compared the process to the RPA's White Oak Mountain Area study, but on a smaller scale.
"The one thing that we want to make sure people understand is that they have a voice and that they will have input on this study," Ledford said. "We encourage that tremendously."
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