The Lookout Mountain Planning Commission has introduced a new zoning district that would accommodate the $3 million renovation of the town center and surrounding business area.
The move was the latest in the local government's effort to renovate the space that would include a new city hall, fire station and police station close to where the current buildings stand. The city also hopes to sell property in front of city hall to one or two private companies interested in developing shops and restaurants.
On Tuesday, the planning commission agreed to create a new zoning district — officially named Town Center District — that would "promote the development of a Town Center on property in the center of the city that is largely vacant and unused," the commission wrote to the city council in a letter dated Oct. 8.
It's the latest step in an 11-year process to enliven the area around 1214 Lula Lake Road.
The ordinance — which will be voted on Wednesday by the Lookout Mountain City Council — would specify what types of businesses and uses could be permitted on the property, establish regulations for buildings and structures in the new district and other regulations.
The planning commission has outlined several businesses and uses that the new district will allow. Those include grocery stores, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, banks, retail liquor stores and more.
Uses that won't be allowed are pawn shops, tattoo parlors, cigar and smoke shops, vape shops or game and amusement arcades.
HOW WE GOT HERE
The city council first considered building a town center after a fire destroyed the Mountain Market in August 2007. The market sat in front of the current city hall. Former Mayor Tommy Gifford said the council and the business's owner, Scott Maclellan, planned to work with an architect to build out the new project, giving all the buildings the same look.
When the recession hit, Gifford said, the project fell apart. Lenders were less enthusiastic to hand out low-interest loans, and the council would have needed to raise property taxes.
"It would have been unconscionable to people," Gifford, a supporter of the new proposal, said at a council meeting in April. "They're struggling, losing their jobs and looking for work. What are we doing spending millions of dollars on a new town center?"
Even so, the council took steps toward building a new town center. In January 2008, at the suggestion of consultant Phil Walker, the city decided to move its public works department. Bennett said Walker advised officials that shoppers and diners would not want to look at garbage trucks and trailers.
The city bought property in the south end of the city for $222,000 from Michael Willingham, the brother of city councilman Arch Willingham. They later moved the public works department to that location.
Later, Maclellan decided to drop out of the town center plans, and the city purchased his plot of land for $270,000 in March 2012. Around that time, the city issued requests for proposals for submissions for a town center plan. Leaders received a couple of different competing ideas, some of which included property tax hikes. But, Bennett said, city leaders did not prioritize the development. The plan dwindled for several years.
WHAT THE PLANS CONSIST OF
According to the architectural renderings, Lookout Mountain will rebuild its city hall in its current location. The fire and police departments, which sit behind city hall, will move to a location directly to the west, where the public works department used to operate. The retail spaces would sit in two buildings in front of the city hall.
Bob Franklin, the architect on the project, said the outside of the buildings will consist of stucco, stone and painted brick.
The city would build a road that loops around the development — including the space where the police and fire departments now stand. The road would include parking spaces.
In the new zoning district, buildings will be permitted to be only two stories high, sidewalks will be required if a building is located within 35 feet of a public street and there are other specific building requirements for future development.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The city of Lookout Mountain has sent out requests for proposals to developers to build the new city hall and the fire and police stations.
Planning Commission Chairman Keith Sanford said RFPs have not been sent out for the private businesses, but informally he knows of one person who is interested in developing on the site.
Sanford also sits on Lookout Mountain's Finance Committee. He said funding for new city hall is still in the planning stages.
Sanford said they are looking at two or three state and federal loan programs that could give Lookout Mountain a low-interest loan for the project.
In April, Vice Mayor Jim Sabourin said city officials were considering issuing a bond or requesting a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said the city has $1.5 million in reserve funds, which the council may be willing to draw on.
Mayor David Bennett said Tuesday that the USDA option is still on the table, which could open up the potential for Lookout Mountain to get grants in the process to help pay for the project.
Beyond that, Bennett said the city council would pay back the debt through the city's sales taxes, which could include the 3% hotel-motel tax or the 1% Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
If all goes according to plan, construction for the new city hall could begin as early as December, Bennett said.
Contact Patrick Filbin at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.