City-backed community planning process for East Chattanooga, long delayed, back on track

City-backed community planning process for East Chattanooga, long delayed, back on track

January 27th, 2019 by Joan McClane in Local Regional News
Contributed map by Regional Planning Agency

Document: Meeting Results

Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency Public Input Meeting Results

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Area 3 includes the following Neighborhood Associations:

  • Avondale
  • Battery Heights
  • Boyce Station
  • Bushtown
  • Churchville
  • Ferger Place
  • Gaylan Heights
  • Glass Farms
  • Glenwood
  • Highland Park
  • Oak Grove
  • Orchard Knob
  • Park Central
  • Ridgedale
  • Riverside
  • Waterhaven
  • Wheeler

Source: Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency

Nearly 100 people gathered Saturday morning at the Kingdom Center downtown to envision the future of East Chattanooga, from the Tennessee River to Missionary Ridge.

It was the second public meeting hosted by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency to collect community input before agency staff draft a plan for Area 3, which includes neighborhoods such as Avondale, Orchard Knob and Highland Park. The plan will be completed by May, said John Bridger, head of the RPA, who spoke Saturday morning.

"If the community likes the draft, then we are good to go," he told the crowd. "Some may say they don't like it, and then we have to work through that feedback."

People were assigned tables and spent much of the time discussing preferences for development, housing, transportation and parks. The discussions around each table — covered with large, detailed maps of Area 3 — were summarized and shared at the end of the meeting. Planners will use that feedback, the feedback from the first community meeting last June and the results of a lengthy survey that was handed out Saturday and will be published on the RPA website, to draft an Area 3 plan. A steering committee, with neighborhood leaders, developers and politicians, has been working with planners behind the scenes.

"This is a process to get peoples' visions on record that then are made into policy ideas that get legislated," said Jonathan Butler, manager of neighborhood services and development for the city of Chattanooga. Developers "will want to come in based on this plan."

If a developer "makes recommendations to the RPA they can vote to deny those things based on this planning process," said Butler, who spoke for the table at which he sat. "We will step in and ensure that we have the right contractual relationship with the people who want to come into your community That is how we decide where people live and work."

One of the community members sitting at a table that discussed housing in East Chattanooga asked Bridger during the public question-and-answer time about how planners were going to address the need for truly affordable housing.

"The median income is $35,000 for Area 3. That is a problem. There are so many pockets where the income isn't close to that We can't ever have a conversation about affordable housing unless we figure out what that is neighborhood by neighborhood. How do we look at opportunities to help?"

Bridger encouraged the man, and others who might be concerned about affordable housing, to get involved in the Economic and Community Development or ECD task force, which plans to publish a set of recommendations by March 25.

"It is not just about creating affordable housing, it is about protecting it," Bridger said, in response to the man's question. "Affordable housing is a citywide issue. I encourage you to be involved It is huge, and it affects everyone in this room. I don't care how much you make. We can't pass this on. It has to be dealt with. If you look at statistics, we are behind."

Saturday's meeting lacked the diversity and energy of the June kickoff. Many were mourning the recent death of Cora Lanier, the Boyce Station neighborhood leader who had been working, with some success, to build a coalition of community members and organizations that could push back on the forces of urban renewal, now moving toward East Chattanooga. At the beginning of the meeting, RPA staff asked for a moment of silence in her honor.

Lanier and other neighborhood leaders had expressed frustration as the city kept delaying the Area 3 planning process. Many also were said to see the city push for the rezoning of the former Harriet Tubman site before the completion of the East Chattanooga planning process. When neighbors told Lanier and other neighborhood leaders that they were too skeptical of government to attend meetings, Lanier asked them to believe the planning process had been launched in good faith. The rush to rezone the Tubman site confirmed the fears of those who believed that a planning process would do little to stymie the market forces threatening to reshape the working-class neighborhoods of East Chattanooga.

"This is an important conversation to have with residents," said Emerson Burch, past president of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association. "One of the biggest challenges in a planning process is how to rebuild resident trust, and I do have a concern about that. I would like to see the city honor and respect the process of planning. Especially the RPA; That it would defend resident preference and resident voice at this time. This can be an important nexus for that, if we do it right."

Contact Joan Garrett McClane at