Hamilton County commissioners have cleared the way for developers to construct 800 houses on 321 acres straddling 3120 Bill Jones Road.
In an 8-1 vote, the County Commission approved a request to rezone the land, in Apison, from agricultural to residential during its regular meeting Wednesday.
One of the developers, Jason Farmer of River Stone Construction, told commissioners his team has self-imposed a maximum density of 800 houses on the land, which equates to 2.5 per acre. It will take 10 years to complete the project.
In addition to a 10-acre park, there will be a 100-foot buffer along Bill Jones Road, which Farmer said represents 17 acres of extra greenspace. The project will also add an acceleration and deceleration lane on the roadway.
Because the nearby public sewer system is under a moratorium, the project will have a self-contained, decentralized system, which Farmer said will ultimately be managed by the Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Authority.
The fully built-out development will generate $2.5 million in annual tax revenue for the county, Farmer said, and the project will also help alleviate a housing shortage in Hamilton County.
When he looked at listings Tuesday, Farmer said, there were 538 single-family homes for sale, which equates to about 23 or 24 days of inventory.
"I've been told that 3,000 is what is considered a normal market," he said.
Farmer said the developers intend for the project to be a "workforce housing type development."
"We see that if a Hamilton County teacher and a Volkswagen employee have a dual income that they'll be able to afford houses in this development," he said.
Three residents addressed the commission Wednesday to express opposition to the project, stating that increased traffic would burden existing streets. They specifically cited the narrow width of Bill Jones Road.
Congestion on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road and East Brainerd Road, which are heavily trafficked arteries in that area, has also been a top concern.
Commissioner Tim Boyd, R-East Brainerd, voted in favor of the rezoning and said the commission's purview is to consider the merits of the rezoning request.
"Volkswagen just announced they need 1,000 more employees," he said. "I want a significant number of those employees buying homes in Hamilton County, and by significant I mean I want more than 50% of them buying homes in Hamilton County. Right now, we don't even have an inventory that would provide 500 homes to 500 employees."
Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley, R-Ooltewah, cast the lone vote against the rezoning request. The owner of a real estate company, Smedley acknowledged the need for housing has been tremendous, and it has become more and more difficult for first-time homebuyers to find an affordable place to stay.
"But for me, I live out here, I commute on these roads every day," she said. "I have watched how this community has transformed over eight years, and I'm going to have to stand with the community on my vote today."
A recent candidate for Hamilton County mayor who lost to Weston Wamp in the Republican primary, Smedley will be stepping down at the end of her term.
"I'll be out of office in a couple months," she continued. "But I leave a legacy because I have represented this district for eight years, and I know as I vote today that every single elementary school is over capacity."
To her knowledge, there's also no immediate plans to widen a nearby section of East Brainerd Road.
"I hope that the next commission and the next mayor will understand the needs of this community and will make it a priority to make sure that there is an elementary school built and there will be plans to widen this section of East Brainerd Road," Smedley said. "It would be very negligent for me to vote yes today."