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Contributed rendering / New apartments, townhouses and commercial space is proposed for a parcel that formerly held East Brainerd Elementary School.

A high-profile tract in East Brainerd that for many years held an elementary school and later was prepped for a shopping center is now pegged for a multimillion-dollar apartment and townhouse project.

"We've made a decision to shift gears," said Chattanooga developer Clint Wolford, about a 9-acre parcel at East Brainerd and North Joiner roads that formerly was the site of East Brainerd Elementary School.

Wolford said the majority of the tract is to hold about 210 apartments and 26 townhouses.

He said the property still will boast some commercial space along busy East Brainerd Road if it receives rezoning from C-2 Commercial to Urban General Commercial from a Chattanooga planning panel on Monday.

"We were trying to do complete retail for a while," said Wolford, who is developing the site with Chattanooga Lookouts co-owner John Woods. "It's a great piece of property. We're going to do something more mixed-use."

He said there's still a lot of interest in apartment construction in Chattanooga, even as many builders are focusing on single-family houses.

"There are a lot of people coming into the market to develop apartments from outside Chattanooga," said Wolford, who has traditionally built commercial space. "I think the market is hot enough for the apartment complex."

The planned project comes as some East Brainerd residents last week complained about too much development, clogged roads and schools that are filling up with students.

Some 300 people showed up at a community meeting with public officials expressing worries, though their complaints mostly centered on new subdivisions further out in the East Brainerd Road area.

Hamilton County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, R-Ooltewah, cited the intersection of East Brainerd and Ooltewah-Ringgold roads. She noted there are four schools that figure into that intersection.

"When school starts back up, we'll be locked up again," Smedley said.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency staff has recommended approval of the proposed zoning change with conditions to the Planning Commission, which meets Monday. The staff report said that building heights should be limited to two-and-a-half stories or 35 feet fronting North Joiner Road.

The report said that while the proposal isn't compatible with the existing land use plan, the City Council already set a precedent by approving the C-2 zone in 2016. The report said the area is a diverse one with a mix of low-density and multi-family residential along with convenience commercial space.

The staff also recommended approving a proposed change to the limit of 12,000 square feet, as the project is 80,000 square feet. The report said the former elementary school, which closed in 2015 and later was torn down, was 57,000 square feet.

Wolford said he likes the location of the mixed-use project, which is close to Gunbarrel Road and the Hamilton Place area.

"It's close to the mall and other amenities," he said.

Wolford said construction could start before year's end, though that timetable could slide to early 2022. People could start moving in about a year later, he said.

Wolford said the cost of the project is a moving target because of changing prices for lumber and other construction materials.

"Costs are high to build anything," he said.

The developer also couldn't say what apartment rental rates will look like due to rising costs. He said rents will be market-driven.

Woods, who lives in Atlanta but operates the headquarters for his investment management firm Southport Capital in Chattanooga, has said he likes the business environment in the Scenic City.

"I think there's lots of opportunity there," said the Chattanooga native.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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