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People gather to listen as the Hamilton County Commission discusses Resolution Number 1018-14, which was a proposal to set aside $3 million in bond money to purchase land off of Mahan Gap Road for a wastewater treatment plant, at the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A property tax break for the redevelopment of a low-income housing complex passed the Hamilton County Commission on Wednesday only because of a moment's inattention.

Seattle-based Vitus proposed to buy the 198-unit Ridgeway Apartments near College Hill Courts and put in $8 million worth of improvements.

The company sought a 10-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with Chattanooga and Hamilton County. The Chattanooga City Council approved the city tax break last week.

The company's development director, Scott Langan, told commissioners last week Vitus has promised to maintain the apartments for low-income residents with the help of federal tax credits.

He said some of the county tax savings could be used for tenant services such as school and summer programs for children, along with vocational and career development for adults.

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Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Martin

Commissioner Greg Martin was skeptical, pointing out that the Westside Youth and Family Development Center is within walking distance and provides the same services. He noted the tax break would be worth about $1 million to Vitus over the 10-year PILOT.

When the time came to vote Wednesday, Martin voted for the tax break along with Chester Bankston, Randy Fairbanks, Katherlyn Geter and David Sharpe. Chairman Sabrena Smedley voted no, and Chip Baker, Warren Mackey and Tim Boyd weren't present.

But Martin then asked to change his vote. He said he'd been distracted and meant to vote no, which would have caused the resolution to fail.

Smedley was willing to let him change, but Fairbanks objected and the other commissioners voted against allowing him to reconsider.

Martin apologized for his inattention and added, "we all make mistakes. Life moves on."

Commissioners also were told by their attorney Wednesday they will have to reconsider their August vote to deny a permit for a cellphone tower on Jennifer Lane above the Hurricane Creek neighborhood.

Vogue Tower Partners applied to build the 150-foot tower for Verizon Wireless and said other telecommunications companies would use it as well. Vogue said the tower was needed to fill a coverage gap and improve service.

Although the county planning commission staff said the application met all the requirements, angry homeowners protested that the tower would lower their property values and might pose a danger to health and safety.

Members of the planning commission voted to deny the permit before it came to the County Commission on Aug. 15.

Smedley, who was then vice chairman and who said she lives in Hurricane Creek, lobbied from the dais against the tower, and her colleagues voted against the permit.

In September, Vogue Tower Partners filed a lawsuit against Hamilton County, the County Commission and the Planning Commission.

The suit claims the denial violates the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, as well as Tennessee law, and asks the court to order the county to grant its application.

The county commission will reconsider its vote on Oct. 10 at 9:30 a.m. The commission meeting room is on the fourth floor of the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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