Wearing blue hats and business suits, Chattanooga Housing Authority, city and federal officials stand next to a bulldozer, digging shovels into hard red dirt of North Chattanooga.
The group gathered Thursday for a groundbreaking at the $4.5 million Fairmount Avenue Apartments site, whose 18 "green" townhomes are expected to be complete March 2012.
Fairmount Avenue Development partners
Developer: Chattanooga Housing Authority
Funding partners: U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, City of Chattanooga, Chattanooga Housing Authority
Architect and construction management: Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects
Engineer: March Adams & Associates, Inc.
General contractor: Lee Adcock Construction Co., Inc.
Landscape architect: Headstrom Design
Source: Chattanooga Housing Authority
"I'm just so pleased to be here today," said Charles Barnett from the HUD office in Knoxville. "This grant was awarded about a year ago and, quite frankly, with a lot of community concerns. ... I'm sort of surprised that we're standing here today."
It was only months ago when CHA was under fire from Mayor Ron Littlefield and Fairmount Avenue homeowners for plans to tear down the existing CHA complex, which had 28 units, and build 48 new units on the site. The mayor and the residents accused the housing authority of trying to cram too many people into the area.
CHA officials argued that more affordable housing was needed. Authority officials also were concerned that HUD wouldn't approve changes in its grant proposal and might take back the funding.
Finally in February 2010, all parties agreed to 18 townhouse units. HUD decreased funding for the project from $4.8 million to $3.9 million and the city and CHA agreed to contribute money and labor needed to complete the new $4.5 million complex.
"As I look at the faces in the audience, I know we've traveled this journey together through design, redesign and re-redesign to arrive today at a first major milestone," said Elizabeth F. McCright, CHA's executive director.
Mayor Ron Littlefield said the sometimes contentious process came to "a happy ending."
"It's been one of those projects that followed a path that was sometimes painful," he said.
On Sept. 18, 2009, HUD notified CHA that it was chosen as one of 36 housing authorities nationwide to receive stimulus money through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, McCright said.
The money was needed because the nearly 40-year-old Fairmount Avenue development had fallen into "pretty serious disrepair," she said.
Contractors are currently completing asbestos abatement on the site and demolition is expected to begin within two weeks, CHA officials said.
When it is complete, CHA officials promise energy-efficient, two- and three-bedroom townhomes that will meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design criteria, built with solar roofs that provide 10 percent of the energy needed for the apartments.
The townhomes also will be landscaped with trees and native plants to create shade and include walkways that connect the site to the North Chattanooga community.
"This is a sweet moment to arrive at this groundbreaking," said HUD's Field Officer Keith Richardson. "We look forward to an even sweeter day when the new residents will be moving into the site."
Contact Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.