Despite a slew of community comments against a proposal to allow developers to build multi-family townhomes off of South Wooten Road, the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 on March 16 to approve rezoning four parcels that make up about 22 acres of land, taking them from A-1 agricultural and R-1 single-family residential to R-T/Z, a residential townhouse/zero lot line district.
During the meeting, around 10 community members offered public comments about the new development, which is slated to hold around 90 units. While one resident said she thought the new housing would look nice on the property, the majority of speakers expressed concerns about the additional traffic new families might bring to what was described as an already crowded and sometimes dangerous road.
A 100-plus-signature petition against the development was also presented.
"We barely can get out of our driveways in the morning time to go anywhere. If we had an emergency, we'd be up the creek [without] a paddle," said nearby resident Terry Bowling. "Now you need to come bring somebody and let him sit in my driveway in the morning and see what really the traffic flow is through South Wooten."
Representatives for the development said that because of the nature of the construction and design, they expect that most people who move into the new housing will be older, active adults who drive less, as opposed to younger, growing families. The development is a project of Ooltewah-based Frostwood Properties.
The representatives also said they did a traffic study in the area and found that it took about three seconds to pull out onto the road during "peak hours," although residents at the meeting said that was rarely the case for them.
"It's easy to say 'a study.' The study is not there; we're there — the citizens that put you all (the commissioners) in office because they trusted your judgment to protect us from things like this happening," said resident Glenda Johnson.
The same proposal was also presented to the board in previous years, but was unanimously voted down.
Earlier this year, Frostwood Properties resubmitted the plans with a few tweaks to the county's planning commission, which voted 3-2 against recommending the development because of traffic concerns on Wooten Road, Highway 41 and South Wooten Road.
The decision, however, ultimately lies with the County Commission.
Before voting to approve the rezoning, Commissioner Chuck Harris said that most of the residents were describing issues in a different area of the road, rather than where the houses are planned to be. Commissioners also discussed other traffic mitigation measures that could be looked at to help address concerns, such as widening the road and providing an extra turning lane.
A clause was added to the approval that will require those who move in to sign that they are aware that they live near agricultural areas and understand the reality of what normally comes with neighbors who raise livestock and grow food, such as smells or sounds, since some residents also felt the demographic being targeted for the townhomes may lead to issues in the future.
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The Catoosa County Board of Commissioners also approved rezonings for two more projects during the March 16 meeting.
The first approval clears the way for Jim Chapman Communities to build age-targeted rental cottages on Battlefield Parkway in what is likely to be a gated community. The 3.6 acres were rezoned from C-1 commercial to PUD for a planned unit development.
The property will target active adults ages 50-plus, with rental prices from around $1,500 to $2,000 a month for the 180 two- and three-bedroom homes. The Atlanta-based developer has built several similar communities in that area.
The second approval rezoned land on Alabama Highway from A-1 agriculture to I-2 light industrial to allow for the building of a rope-rescue and training facility.
The Chattanooga company behind the development, PMI Rope — founded and run by rescuers, cavers, climbers and rope access technicians — also has plans to eventually expand operations to include a production and distribution center for rope equipment.
Both rezonings were approved and recommended by the planning commission on Feb. 23.