The Hamilton County Commission voted in favor of growth over caution Wednesday morning, approving a controversial development on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, after hours of debate last week.
A residential development comprised of 108 single-family homes and 120 villas designed to attract retirees was granted appropriate rezoning and planned unit development status with 7-2 votes at Wednesday's commission voting meeting.
The potential uptick in traffic and school-aged residents caused trepidation from some commissioners, including District 7 Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, who represents the affected area.
"I am not against growth. It's what I do for a living," Smedley, a real estate agent, said after more than two heated hours trying to fight or postpone the rezoning last week. "My concern is with it all happening on a 2-mile stretch of Ooltewah-Ringgold Road."
Despite Smedley's pleas for her colleagues to "take a breath" and hold off on the vote until a traffic impact study is completed and approved by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the commission, with the exception of District 1 Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, voted to allow the development, citing tax revenue.
"You know it was mentioned last week that Bradley County is sitting on the edge eating our lunch," District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey said, arguing that strenuous rezoning debates in Hamilton County was driving potential developers to neighboring counties. "They are taking our tax dollars, and part of what this new project will do is help keep other residents' property taxes down."
Still, Smedley worries that impact of the added growth was lost on her colleagues.
"I think it's unfortunate. I don't think the other commissioners have a full grasp of what's going on out there," Smedley said after the meeting. "Like I said, I'm not even focused on today, it's about the future and the here and now, what's already been approved."
According to Smedley, numbers she has from the county and the city of Collegedale suggest that roughly 1,000 lots are being developed in the immediate vicinity of the intersection in question on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, which she fears could result in an additional 3-4,000 residents worsening traffic in the area over the next 3-5 years.
"[The Hamilton County Department of Education] has staggered start times and they've talked to [the state department of transportation] and changed traffic signal times, but there's only so much you can do with that kind of growth," Smedley said, adding that traffic was just one of her growth concerns. "The department of education doesn't have any immediate plan to expand existing elementary schools or build any new ones. So, where are these kids supposed to go to school?"
While Smedley doesn't know of any current plans for more development in the area, she hopes that her colleagues will consider future growth more carefully.
"I hope that everyone serving [on the commission] will pay attention to this conversation and that just because we want growth in revenue, we won't keep blindly approving development," she said. "I just wanted us to get the answers before we vote, so maybe that got their attention and we will do better going forward."
Smedley's position on the development was in line with her recent concerns about responsible growth in District 7.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @_sarahgtaylor.