A proposed 250-unit apartment complex on Hunter Road is a dangerous development. Public safety is being ignored.
Hunter Road is heavily traveled, narrow with no shoulder, and is a 6-8 mile series of hills and curves. It is nothing more than a 1920’s logging road design that has been paved and adapted for modern use.
A 2009 traffic study showed over 12,000 vehicles per day travel this country road lined by hundreds of single-family homes. Hunter Road connects I-75 to Highway 58 and is the route recommended by interstate signs for visitors to Harrison Bay State Park. Consequently, there are numerous travelers unfamiliar with the road, many pulling campers and boats.
The 12,000 drivers would disagree with certain professional engineers who have said the road and the planned apartment entrance/exit is safe. These paid professional engineers have theories and formulas to support their opinion. However, there is at least one “mal-function junction” in every town that was designed by some highly-trained, theoretically-minded professional. So, the realty doesn’t always match the plan.
Hunter Road with a 250-unit apartment complex would only seem safe to those living in an ivory tower, as long as the ivory tower is not on Hunter Road.
Spot zoning is invalid and illegal. (It is very dangerous when the government breaks the law rather than upholds it.)
The Regional Planning Commission, the body established for the purpose of fair and consistent consideration of zoning requests, has denied multi-family housing three times for this location, including two requests in 2010 and a 2003 request for a 96-unit apartment complex.
Several members of the Regional Planning Commission stated publicly during the January 2010 meeting that zoning the proposed site R-3, which is a requirement for the development to move forward, would be invalid and illegal spot zoning. The characteristics of spot zoning are simple:
* Zoning different from surrounding property/neighborhood (surrounding area is R-1 and A-1 for single family dwellings)
* Area small in size (approximately 23 acres)
* Primarily promotes the financial interests of the land owner rather than the general welfare of the community
Any 1 of these characteristics qualify a zoning action as spot zoning. This property has all three characteristics.
If this rezoning is approved, a very dangerous precedent will be established. The owner will be rewarded by a significantly higher price when the sale he already has under contract with an out-of-state developer is consummated. And other land speculators will be encouraged to abuse the process and damage neighborhoods for financial gain.
What happens when the action is challenged in court? The city of Chattanooga will have to defend it at taxpayer expense. The landowner can’t lose. But the taxpayers can. Unfortunately, area residents may have to spend their hard-earned dollars to protect themselves from the government. This is not right.
The Wolftever Creek Area Plan clearly identifies the proposed apartment site as low-density residential. Land use plans are developed for orderly growth, and are useful to provide property buyers with a snap-shot of how the community will look in the future.
The snap-shot is clear to Hunter Road area residents. However, the Regional Planning Agency (RPA), the agency that developed the plan along with area citizens, now claims to be confused.
The plan is clear. This is an R-1 area. The RPA’s claim of confusion is necessary because it has changed its position. During the 2003 request to zone the same parcel R-3, the RPA recommended denial due to traffic/Hunter Road limitations, R-3 being inconsistent with the area, and the land use plan identifying this area as low density (R-1) residential.
The RPA is burdened with its prior recommendation; certainly an unenviable position. Now the best explanation the RPA can provide is that the planning document is unclear and then illogically defends its position based on its own confusion. (Again proving that changing positions when the facts do not change is difficult to explain.)
Seeing the RPA staff tie itself into such a proverbial knot would be comical if this issue wasn’t so serious.
Why is ignoring the land use plan dangerous? Because, if ignored, no property in or bordering the city of Chattanooga has any protection from future RPA “confusion,” and no home or land can be purchased with any assurance of how the community will develop.
The zoning process and public trust are being tested.
The Regional Planning Commission and Hamilton County Commission followed the rules and guidelines to deny R-3 zoning. This should be the end of the story, but unfortunately it is not.
Refusing to accept the legitimate decisions made during the ordinary process, the landowner, with the support of his project engineer and the potential developer, have pursued and achieved annexation into the city of Chattanooga. After the annexation, with other facts remaining essentially the same, some city representatives on the Regional Planning Commission changed positions and now support the R-3 zoning. In January 2010, the Regional Planning Commission voted 12-0 to deny R-3. In June 2010, the Regional Planning Commission denied the same request, but the margin declined to 7-4.
Why would support for the project suddenly materialize? The only conclusion is the property owner, who is not a city resident, and the project engineer have better connections at City Hall than at the Hamilton County Courthouse. This maneuver is at best venue-shopping, and is clearly an attempt to circumvent the process.
Since Hunter Road residents live in the county, the property owner has been able to take an important decision affecting thousands of people away from their properly elected representatives (County Commission) and place it before a body (City Council) that is not accountable to residents impacted every day by the decision. This destroys the integrity of the process and places county residents in the awkward position of appealing to the City Council for help.
Now the decision belongs to the Chattanooga City Council. If the City Council overrules the Regional Planning Commission by approving R-3 zoning, confidence in our local political process will reach a new low. I am hopeful and confident that the City Council will give us reason to trust the process when this issue is considered on July 13. City and County boundaries and loyalties are political realities, but should not impact any council member’s vote.
There is much disagreement today about the role of government. But I believe most citizens and elected officials would agree that promoting public safety and the public trust are valid governmental functions. The Chattanooga City Council has the opportunity to do both.
Please let the Chattanooga City Council know that you stand with the citizens of Ooltewah in their effort to maintain a community of single-family dwellings and the integrity of the zoning process.
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I am writing in response to the article as a resident who lives in a subdivision off of Hunter Road. My wife and I moved to this community 14 years ago after our oldest son was born in order to raise our family in a small/close community rather then the city limits from which we had moved. Our three son's, ages 9/11/14, travel Hunter Road with us daily going to work, school, church, and any recreational activities they can be involved in - we just finished our summer baseball league.
The traffic on Hunter Road has continued to grow over the past 14 years, and unfortunately the road hasn't been widened/straightened or improved in any way during that time. When entering traffic from my subdivision there is a blind spot to oncoming traffic and the driver entering Hunter Road has to be fully committed to their decision to enter the road or run the risk of being "T-boned" by an on coming vehicle. With this in mind many drivers enter Hunter Road and have to accelerate just to stay in the flow of traffic and reduce the chance of getting hit.
This type of driving also comes with risks of having an accident by rushing into traffic - something I learned first hand this past November (2009). While taking my kids into school I quickly entered traffic to avoid being hit by the on-coming (blindspot) traffic. Before I could even get up to the speed limit traffic in front of me was abruptly coming to a stop due to a day care on Hunter Road. I tried to respond quickly by applying my brakes, but slid into the car in front of me. Fortunately there were no fatalities. My children were very happy I always insist on them wearing their seat belts.
With traffic already a risky proposition on Hunter Road (I'm sure mine is not the only accident of this sort) I am amazed that anyone would feel that increasing the amount of traffic by adding these apartments is a good idea. It doesn't seem like they are keeping the safety in mind when doing this.
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Excellent op-ed of the issues surrounding the spot zoning of this property. This rezoning is a dangerous bad idea.
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Thank you very much for the article on the Hunter road Apartment proposal. If you travel Hunter Road daily like I do you realize the safety Issue involved here. This is a very bad proposal in lots of ways.
Again thanks very much.
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I also live in the Hunter Road area, and I am deeply concerned about this issue. Mr. Burton has clearly defined my concerns and the circumstances in which we, and all the other residents, have found ourselves. As a Hamilton County home owner I have joined with my neighbors in the past and voiced our concerns about this piece of property to our government. We have gone through this process twice just in recent memory. And to the Hamilton County Commission's credit they listened and then judged fairly on the merits of the argument. Well, apparently using a bit of legal wrangling is all it takes, and in just 15 days the Chattanooga City Council will decide our fate. So Stan, the rest of my neighbors, and I have no real representation, and all we can really do is try to make the rest of the entire community aware of our plight and hope that the Council members will listen to our voices and those of our Chattanooga residence friends who would like to help us by lending their voices to our cause.
My thanks to all the people in the area who are working so tirelessly to keep our community single family residences.
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The opinion piece by Stan Burton did an excellent job of presenting the argument against the proposed Hunter Road apartment complex. His points are coherent and factual. Relating to safety concerns, it explains the already hazardous conditions that exist on this road traveled daily by locals and school buses as well as visitors to Harrison Bay State Park.
I would like to point out that completion of the expansion of I-75 exit 11 is likely to boost traffic on Hunter Road. The proposed project will add drivers from another 250 units to the mix. Most households, single-family or otherwise, have more than one vehicle and driver. There will not be just 250 more drivers, but multiples of that number.
Having previously lived in another state for many years, I witnessed the consequences of local government giving developers nearly any variances or other advantages they wanted because of the anticipated increased tax income from more property owners. It was deemed good to "encourage growth" so that the area would not be too dependent on a single type of industry or seasonal business. Attempts to require fees from developers to mitigate impact on education and infrastructure were weak to nonexistent.
An example of just one result was that traffic ballooned on existing roads which could not support the congestion. Major upgrading and expansion was necessary. I think you can guess who paid for these improvements. The developers were really good at cultivating favor within government circles at the expense of taxpayers and residents. After an area is "built out," these developers exit with their huge profits and leave the impact problems behind.
The warning to residents and taxpayers is do not let this scenario repeat itself here, because if you do, you ain't seen nothing yet. Let your local and state governing bodies know that you, the taxpayers, expect nothing less than their support of your common voice.
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We have lived in the subdivision across Hunter Road from this proposed development for 20 years. The site sits on a hilltop between a blind curve and limited sight distance on the other side. We have seen many accidents at the intersection of Hunter Road and Hunter Woods Drive
specifically and also in the general vicinity.
The traffic engineer that did the road study states a merge time of 5.7 seconds is needed to safely enter Hunter Road from the proposed development site. How long does it take to travel 500 feet at 45 miles per hour? In addition there will probably be a school bus stop located at the entrance to the development placing our children at risk.
Consider the fact that in the winter our kids are out there before sunup. There are no sidewalks or even a shoulder on this road. This is a prescription for disaster.
And incidentally, isn't the spot zoning illegal? Then why is this even an issue? Our elected officials should stand up for this obvious flaunting of the law. We strongly believe this area should remain single family homes.
Bill and Julia Westerfield
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I want to thanks to Stan Burton for the excellent article. He could not be more accurate in his description of the situation on Hunter Road.
I live in Hunter Woods and can tell you it is a very dangerous road and if this complex goes in there will be many, many more accidents. I ask everyone on the city council to vote against building this complex.
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This was an excellent article on the danger of having an apartment complex developed on this road. My husband and I have lived on the corner of Hunter Woods Drive and Hunter Road since 1981 and have seen numerous accidents on this small winding country road. Many of said accidents have actually landed in our yard and most have resulted in some injuries.
There is nowhere to go if someone stops in front of you because there are no shoulders on this road and since the last repaving the drop off on each side of the road is dangerous. If there is a bad accident the traffic back up also hinders responders getting to the accident in a timely manner.
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I agree completely with Mr. Burton. How can the county planning commission turn down a request on three separate occasions and then the property be suddenly spot annexed by the city? It's simple.....greed. The city is looking for the tax revenue and the property owner/developer are looking to line their pockets.
As a Hunter Road resident and driver this development is an unnecessary dangerous addition to my family's daily life and any other driver trying to navigate the twist, turns and blind hills that make up Hunter Road.
If the city council does not want to listen to the concerns of residents who live and travel the road everyday, I invite them to come out and take a look for themselves.
I do not support this development and ask the Chattanooga City Council to do the right thing. Follow what was in the Wolftever Creek Area Plan and keep this property zoned as an R-1 parcel.
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I am a resident of the Hunter Road area and I completely agree with Mr. Burton. The road is already over-burdened with traffic and adding a thousand more cars a day is just not responsible. I also do not understand how this development was not suitable for the area in 2003 but now is even though now there are more residential neighborhoods than in 2003. Your observation that the situation is dangerous is correct.
I was visiting the website of Ooltewah Citizens for Responsible Growth and they have a lot of great information about the problem, including maps, photos and videos. I have already joined many of my neighbors in signing the online petition on OCRG's website asking the city of Chattanooga to vote "no" to rezoning the property from R1 to R3.
It is clear to anyone who watches the website's video of that blind curve that people are going to get killed. I encourage everyone to get involved to help stop this poorly thought out apartment complex.
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Thank you Stan Burton for an excellent point of view regarding the issue of the proposed apartment complex.
Citizens of the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, please take notice of the developments in respect of these issues. It could be your neighborhood next. The issues of spot-zoning, annexation, and our community having no government representation are all important to your neighborhood. Citizens beware, your street may be next.
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I completely agree with Mr. Burton's assessment of this proposed development. Common sense should prevail here, not politics.
I enter Hunter Road daily from Hunter Woods Drive and it is always an adventure. Sometimes I am pulling a boat trailer. In this case, if a vehicle traveling south on Hunter Road appears after I have committed, they always have to brake to avoid an accident. I have been lucky in that these cars have not been speeding and these drivers reacted quickly.
The Ooltewah Citizens for Responsible Growth website video and pictures clearly show this danger.
I too am appalled that this rezoning issue is again being considered. It is undeniably spot zoning. All residences in this area are single family.
Why would this landowner and his developer want the city of Chattanooga to annex them? The answer is greed. They have no interest in our community and believe that the Chattanooga City Council will not stand with our community like our county commissioners have. I try not to be naive. Common sense tells me that this landowner and/or representatives of this developer have contacted some city officials and have received a response favorable to them.
May integrity and common sense prevail.
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Thanks, Mr. Burton, for a clear and concise summary of the problem. As a resident of Hunter Woods subdivision, I cannot count the number of "close calls" my family and I have had while trying to safely enter and exit our subdivision. There is already way too much traffic for this country road to safely accommodate. Adding another 1,000-1,500 car trips daily from this one complex would be disastrous, and I hope the City Council ultimately figures that out.
Ninety percent of the cars leaving this complex in the morning will be heading toward I-75, which means they will have to cross the northbound lane to head south, doubling the potential for a collision.
As you stated in your article, the Planning Commission and the county commissioners (who represent the majority of the surrounding residents) have soundly voted against an apartment complex in this location every time it has been proposed. The civil engineer that was hired by the property owner/developer to push this zoning change through the City Council actually voted against rezoning this property to R3 in 2003 when he was a member of the Planning Commission. Since his no vote in 2003, traffic on Hunter Road has increased 38%, and no improvements have been made to the road. If it wasn't suitable in 2003, it sure isn't now.
Like Mr. Burton, I hold hope that the City Council acts responsibly and adheres to the Wolftever Creek Area Plan that they jointly approved with the County Commission in 1989 and 2007. This is clearly an R1 residential area, and it should remain that way as the Area Plan stipulates.
In case the Council has plans to trash the Wolftever Area Plan and succumb to the wishes of the wealthy property owner and out of state developer in anticipation of a huge tax revenue windfall, I hope you will join with the Ooltewah Citizens for Responsible Growth in calling each and every member of the Council and voicing your opposition to rezoning this property for apartments. Once the precedent has been set, traditional R1 neighborhoods will be "open season" for this type of abuse from a money hungry city government.
I encourage everyone (city and/or county residents) to visit the Voice For Ooltewah website, read about the issue, sign the petition, and support their effort to stop the city from making an illegal and irresponsible decision to spot zone this residential property R3.
William H. Wilson
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Stan Burton's information concerning the situation on Hunter Road in Ooltewah should make people sit up and listen. If our so-called representative form of government is really responsive to the concerns of the people it governs, then it should be listening closely in this instance. The residents in the affected area know best when it comes to their safety and well-being.
The community's voice should be heeded and be the determining factor in the city's decision.
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Stan Burton did an excellent job stating why the proposed Hunter Road apartment complex is a dangerous proposal.
Stan mentioned the Wolftever Creek Area Plan. According to the WCAP and the TN Code Annotated Title 13, Section 302: "The regional plan shall be made with the general purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted, efficient and economic development of the region which will, in accordance with present and future needs and resources, best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and welfare of the inhabitants...to create conditions favorable to transportation, health safety, civic activities, and educational and cultural opportunities, reduce the wastes of financial and human resources which result from either excessive congestion or excessive scattering of population..."
Also according to the plan: "A substantial portion of the land area within the study boundary is appropriate for Low Intensity Residential utilization. Although conventional R-1 zoning with a PUD may allow up to 5.0 units per acre, this density is not appropriate for the Transitional Growth sector. A threshold of 3.0 units per acre has found general acceptance from the local residents as well as from the Hamilton County Commission. In this sector the following is recommended: Single family detached housing is recommended for this class. Townhouses and other attached housing types are acceptable with the Planned Unit Development PUD as long as the PUD consists primarily of single family detached housing with an overall density of 3.0 units per acre or less.
Why do we pay to have these studies done and then totally disregard them? The commissioners that once agreed on these plans are now ready to ignore their own advice and throw out the plan?
The land owner and the developer are not Ooltewah residents and will not have to deal with all the problems this apartment complex will bring to our area. It is apparent that their only interest in this area if for financial gain, and the wishes, welfare and safety of those living on or near Hunter Road are of no concern to them.
I'm concerned about the impact a 230 apartment complex will have on our sheriff's department, volunteer fire department and the medical first responders. If this parcel of land is part of the city of Chattanooga will the Chattanooga fire, police and medical respond to their needs?
The fact that this annexation all took place behind closed doors and with absolutely no consideration of the wishes of the local population is devious and shameful. I think that Mayor Littlefield, the property owner and the developer should all be held accountable for their actions and be embarrassed by them.
Everyone, regardless of where they reside, should take an interest in this issue. If a government can run roughshod over even one small community, it can do so to all.
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The attempt by the owner of the property at 5336 Hunter Road (Dr. Tim Ballard of Lighthouse Enterprises) to get his recently annexed property rezoned to R3 by the city of Chattanooga is not only potentially dangerous for the people who travel Hunter Road but is also not legal according to the Tennessee Attorney General. The people of the community do not want apartments on this location in Ooltewah. For various reasons: the hazardous road conditions that already exist that adding 400-500 additional cars will exacerbate, the damage to property values to those surrounding community, and the fact that “spot zoning” by city councils has been ruled invalid by the courts and so stated by the Tennessee Attorney General.
In 2004, the Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion on the validity of “Spot Zoning” by cities in Tennessee. In Opinion No. 04-137, the Attorney General reports that “Spot Zoning” has been defined by the courts as the process of singling out a small parcel of land for use classification totally different from the surrounding (in this case those living in the community surrounding the Hunter Road area). According to the Tennessee Attorney General “the law is well settled that ‘spot zoning’, as properly known and understood, and “spot zoning area, for the benefit of the owner of such property (in this case Dr. Tim Ballard, owner of Lighthouse Enterpises), and to the detriment of the other owners” ordinances, as properly identified, are invalid on the general ground that they do not bear a substantial relationship to the public health, morals, and general welfare and are out of harmony and in conflict with the comprehensive zoning ordinance of the particular municipality (in this case Chattanooga). I would hope that the citizens of Chattanooga would join with the Ooltewah Citizens for Responsible Growth and let the members of the Chattanooga City Council know that rezoning the Hunter Road property would be a bad idea.