Defying a threat of a lawsuit as well as their own planning agency, Chattanooga City Council members on Tuesday adopted zoning conditions that will keep apartments out of a residential neighborhood Reads Lake Road.
The 2.8-acre site off Mountain Creek Road, which held the clubhouse for a former golf course, had been zoned C-2 for 16 years, a designation that would have allowed a restaurant and bar amid a big neighborhood all zoned residential.
It also allowed multifamily housing. When developer James Pratt bought the property and talked of putting apartments there, folks in the mostly single-family home neighborhood objected strongly, and the council started talking about adding conditions to limit the property's use.
Councilman Chip Henderson and Regional Planning Agency staff discovered the 2002 rezoning might have been defective because the city didn't follow its rules for public notice. Even so, the planning agency recommended the council not impose conditions.
Steve Hunt, who lives on Reads Lake Road, said he and 1,700 neighbors all wanted the council to keep apartments out of the neighborhood.
"You have a chance to make it right," Hunt said.
But Pratt and his attorney said for the council to add conditions against the owner's will and 16 years after the property was zoned was offensive and illegal.
Chattanooga lost in court twice after it tried to rezone property on Brainerd Road to get rid of a noisy nightclub, attorney Tom Hayslett said.
He read from the appeals court ruling: "The city had no legal authority when its zoning ordinance has been used on one lot, against the owner's will and wishes, to change the lot's usage."
"And if this resolution passes, we expect to get the same answer from the Chancery Court," Hayslett added.
Pratt said no one in the neighborhood had raised any objections to the C-2 zoning in 16 years, but now, "the opposition has created hysteria because they simply don't want to see this property developed."
Leslie Gower, CEO of the Associated General Contractors, and Barry Bennett, retired executive director of the planning agency, both said they were worried about the council setting a precedent that could hurt future development.
But, questioned by Henderson, City Attorney Phil Noblett said any similar request in the future would have to come with the same unique set of circumstances.
The council also held an unusual roll-call vote when a voice vote was indeterminate.
Anthony Bird, Erskine Oglesby Jr., Russell Gilbert, Henderson, Jerry Mitchell and Chairman Ken Smith voted for limiting the property's use. Carol Berz and Darrin Ledford abstained, and Demetrus Coonrod voted against.
Neighbor Jennifer Peet hailed the decision. She said she has lived in nearby Spring Valley, downstream along Mountain Creek, for nearly six years and was worried what more development would do to the natural environment
"My main concern is really about the watershed," Peet said. "I know a lot of people who are concerned about how it will affect their neighborhoods, but a lot of us are concerned about how it will affect the otters and all the little critters."
In other action Tuesday, the city council:
» Held a lengthy discussion of proposed changes to disposal rules for yard waste, recyclables and garbage downtown.
The Public Works Department wants to change rules for yard waste so city collectors will pick up brush and clippings from residential yards where contractors, rather than occupants, do the yard work. The city doesn't want to subsidize lawn and landscaping businesses by hauling their waste, but it also doesn't want to penalize the elderly or others who hire yard workers.
Another new rule would require recyclables to be placed for pickup in city-owned containers. The city is applying for a $375,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to buy three new recycling trucks and a number of new 96-gallon containers in hopes of expanding the recycling program. The city will put up an equal matching amount.
And the city wants to provide garbage containers for downtown refuse and recycling collections to keep down spills and rodent problems. City garbage trucks run downtown every night, but providing cans would lessen the problem of bagged trash being spilled or ripped open by rats.
» Received a briefing from Finance Administrator Daisy Madison on the city's sale of The Chattanoogan hotel for $27 million. Madison said the sale price will reduce the city's bond debt and put the hotel back on the tax rolls to the tune of about $290,000 a year.
» Voted to give two surplus Chattanooga police cars, stripped of emergency equipment and decals, to the Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Police Department to help its recovery after the hurricane that devastated the island last year.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.