The City Bond Board, after hearing lengthy presentations from the developer as well as opponents, on Monday voted 5-1 to issue up to $9 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bonds for a major development on Aetna Mountain in Lookout Valley.
Developers Doug Stein and Gary and Bobby Chazen say they are planning "a small town" on top of the mountain that is now wilderness and most frequented by four-wheeler enthusiasts. Ten people have signed up thus far to build homes in the development. As many as 1,400 homes are envisioned.
The motion was passed with the agreement that a legal opinion will be issued that the project qualifies under state requirements for TIFs. Attorney John Konvalinka, representing project foe Helen Burns Sharp, said he has serious doubts that it does qualify. One suggestion was to get an opinion from the state attorney general's office.
Attorney George Masterson of Nashville, bond counsel for the project, said the developers will front the money to build a spine road up the mountain and to the town center along with a sewer line. He said they would make "draws" on an escrow account taken from taxes in the TIF district. The current "base tax" amount is $32,000.
He noted that the taxes going into escrow would not include the school portion, money for normal city or county debt service and a five percent administrative fee.
City Councilwoman Deborah Scott, whose District 1 includes the project area, asked that it be further studied, saying it was "not ready for prime time."
She said TIFs were mainly set up for "blighted" areas. "This is not a blighted area," she said.
Councilwoman Scott also said that there is only one access road to the community. She said Lookout and Signal mountains "both have two."
Bond Board Chairman Ted Mills said the project had already been approved by the County Commission and City Council and the bond board was to just make sure the paperwork was in order. Councilwoman Scott told him, "This board is not a rubber stamp."
Councilwoman Scott also said a development group involved in the project had twice failed to fulfill obligations on projects in other states. Attorney Mike Mallen said that was not the case. He said one newspaper article passed out by Ms. Scott regarding that company and a bankrupty referred to it as being a creditor in the bankruptcy, not the one filing for bankruptcy.
An attorney for a group of Aetna Mountain residents who have been in litigation over the old Aetna Mountain Road said he objects to the developers "changing the name to Black Creek Mountain." He said it is Aetna Mountain and Black Creek "is a creek in the valley."