East Ridge planning panel approves Chattanooga Red Wolves soccer rezoning

East Ridge planning panel approves Chattanooga Red Wolves soccer rezoning

June 3rd, 2019 by Mike Pare in Local Regional News

Attendees of a press conference Thursday, April 25, 2019 at East Ridge City Hall check out the renderings for the proposed professional soccer complex that is in the works for roughly 100 acres along Interstate 75 and Interstate 24 in East Ridge, Tennessee. Restaurants, apartments, hotels, condominiums and stores are expected to be built around the 5,500-seat facility.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

WHAT'S NEXT

The East Ridge City Council is expected to hear the rezoning request for the proposed soccer stadium site on June 13 and June 27.

An East Ridge planning panel on Monday unanimously recommended rezoning 61 acres of land that helps clear the way for a Chattanooga Red Wolves SC soccer stadium and the biggest-ever development in the city.

Despite hearing concerns about potential flooding, traffic, noise and other issues from nearly a dozen people, the East Ridge Planning Commission agreed to pass the proposed $125 million project onto the city council later this month.

"Water and traffic are concerns. I share those concerns," said panel member Casey Tuggle to about 75 people at the meeting. But, he said, the proposal to rezone the vacant property at Interstate 75 and Interstate 24 from residential to commercial is a matter of whether "the land is suitable for which it was intended."

Ron Renegar, another panel member who offered the motion for the zoning change, said the proposal still must go to the city council for approval twice this month — June 13 and June 27.

But Sandra Kurtz, chairwoman of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance, said people in the area with whom her group spoke were wondering "what is the rush?"

"I think we can expect more flooding," she said about the low-lying site. "I don't think taking away wetland ... is going to help."

Bob Martino, owner of Star Community Builders in Park City, Utah, and the USL One soccer team, wants the wooded site for a 5,500-seat facility. The complex is to include an array of restaurants, apartments, hotels, condominiums and stores on nearly 100 acres Martino plans to buy.

Jeff Sikes of ASA Engineering and Consulting told the planning panel that the property is "a challenging site without a doubt," noting one third is in a floodway.

He said meetings are upcoming with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

"There's a long way to go," Sikes said. But, he added, he's hopeful that at the end of the planning process, there will be more wetlands on the site than there is today.

Also, plans are to begin a traffic study when schools resume, and the project is to leave a buffer of trees adjacent to nearby houses to help visually and with noise, Sikes said.

Jane Sharp, who lives near the site, said she's not opposed to the project, but she wondered what has changed that made the tract attractive to a developer after staying vacant.

She also worried about traffic on nearby Spring Creek Road, where a hospital is located.

"I don't want lives to be in danger because of the project," Sharp said.

Tuggle said the East Ridge Border Region Retail Development District state sales tax incentive has helped make the site viable. The incentive allows the city to recapture the growth in sales tax collections within a zone and then plow those funds back into repaying investments in the area, including the planned $6 million soccer stadium.

Dr. Butch Varner said there's a concern among area residents that their houses will be purchased from them for the project.

Planning Commission Chairman Mike Chauncey said no one can buy their houses unless they're willing to sell them.

However, other residents continued to worry about flooding of the parcel, saying their property has been overwhelmed by water several times.

Bob Martino, the owner of the Chattanooga Red Wolves soccer team, discusses the new soccer complex he plans to build in East Ridge .

Bob Martino, the owner of the Chattanooga Red...

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Kurtz said her group wanted a lot more information about engineering and the site as well as an environmental impact statement and possible other alternatives for the stadium.

"I'm against this site," she said. "I'm not against soccer."

City Manager Chris Dorsey has said that, given an assumption of a 50% build-out of the project, property tax revenues at the site would jump from about $2,100 now to $336,933 annually.

Meanwhile, on sales of $20 million annually, the project would receive about $880,000 a year through 2042 due to the incentive, Dorsey said.

Meanwhile, total city revenue could rise to $814,000 a year, he said.

"Those are the sort of dollars we hope the project will bring to East Ridge," Dorsey said.

Martino has said he'd like to start work on the stadium this summer.

Contact staff writer Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.