Staff file photo by Robin Rudd/ River Point condomiums, on Whitehall Road, are some of the more visible Chattanooga homes build on a slope. Chattanooga planners are proposing an array of new regulations to limit land erosion and property damage amid growing development.

Chattanooga City Council members have pumped the brakes on potential steep slope development legislation and are calling for more time to study the planning agency's recent report before the issue is put to a vote.

At Tuesday's strategic planning meeting, representatives from the Regional Planning Agency presented a recently released report on potential regulation of flood plane and steep slope development.

The 112-page plan, published last week, aims to help limit land erosion and damage as the Chattanooga area experiences new growth. Planners said the report showed the city's existing regulations are outdated and lacking.

"We're going to see more development in the future happening, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I think the question is how do we establish standards for the right amount," Regional Planning Agency Executive Director John Bridger told the council.

Bridger said the public hearing on the report is scheduled for November and the council is set to hear the matter and provide a recommendation at a Nov. 12 committee meeting.

Immediately, District 1 Councilman Chip Henderson said he felt uncomfortable moving forward with any recommendation that soon, a qualm echoed by several other council members.

"I'm not going to vote on any rules until I'm able to see what each ordinance or each recommendation looks like," Henderson said. "Whatever we need to do to get a field trip worked out, we need to get done before we talk about voting."

Henderson also called for a "field trip" to see sites in other Southeastern cities with similar rules and get more information on their impact on development, asking the city attorney to arrange the trip in accordance with public meeting laws.

District 6 Councilwoman Carol Berz said the city should focus on more "consistent" enforcement of existing rules before creating new restrictions.

District 2 Councilman Jerry Mitchell also implored his colleagues to consider the potential impact of new regulations on affordable housing developments before voting on the proposed rules.

Ultimately, the council decided to put off making any recommendations until further study.

A public hearing on the report and proposed rules is scheduled for Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers. Residents will be given a maximum of 45 minutes to speak, with individuals limited to three minutes.


Earlier in the meeting

Council members continued to debate public comment restrictions, butting heads on whether or not citizens should be allowed to address agenda items at council business meetings.

The debate was spurred earlier this month when a regular public commenter was disallowed to speak under current public comment rules, which bar any member of the public from speaking at meetings more than twice in 30 days. Marie Mott, the activist at the center of the controversy, continued to speak from the crowd, despite rules, leading Chairman Erskine Oglesby to engage police and abruptly adjourn the meeting.

Since the incident, the council, lead by District 6 Councilwoman Carol Berz, seems to have reached a consensus to lift the twice-in-30-days restriction.

However, the second proposed comment change, which would allow commenters to address agenda items between first and second readings of an ordinance, has not been as universally popular.

"By the time we're [at business meetings], we've already done a lot of discussion," District 4 Councilman Darrin Ledford said, advocating against changing the current rule that does not allow comment on agenda items. " The full picture is not available just by going to [business meetings]."

Berz said the fact many people are not available to attend agenda meetings that take place during business hours and they are not allowed to comment at strategic planning meetings means they should be able to comment on agenda items at 6 p.m. business meetings.

The council will vote on a resolution with both of the proposed changes at next week's 6 p.m. meeting.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416, or on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.