A group of Hixson residents said Wednesday they are again launching a "Don't Chop the Hilltop" campaign after getting word that developer Duane Horton plans to resubmit to the Planning Commission his application for a major development at Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road.
They held a press conference outside the Development Resource Center, saying Mr. Horton was inside meeting with officials of TDOT and the Regional Planning Agency on the future of the hilly, 190-acre tract near North Chickamauga Creek.
The group said the developer has set a meeting for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Hixson Community Center (old Hixson Middle School) with "a hand-picked group." They urged all who are interested to pack the meeting in opposition to the retail, office and apartment project.
Mr. Horton said the public is invited to the Thursday night meeting.
He said, “We are excited to be able to share what we have done to accommodate some of the concerns about the project. We will have a document ready for those interested that addresses some of the requests and we continue to look for public input about the project.”
While the meeting is open to the public, Mr. Horton said he is hoping many of the residents in the area in proximity to the project will attend. “We want to hear from those people close to the development and let them know what we have done to revise the plan,” he said.
He did not go into specifics, but said that would be addressed at the meeting with the document and several people involved in the project would be there to meet with citizens in small groups.
“We think we can get better input by doing it that way.”
Mr. Horton said he has received support from Mayor Ron Littlefield.
His group quoted the mayor as saying, “The development of this site goes back many years and it has been discussed and studied. The plans have been modified and massaged. I think it’s time to move it forward. Both the developers and the community deserve the decision and direction from the government on this project.”
Campaign leaders said they were told they could not attend the meeting at the DRC. They said, "The private session is one of several the group says Horton has called with planners and elected officials in his effort to secretly pave the way for the rezone."
In April, the Planning Commission recommended against the rezoning request before sending it on to Chattanooga City Council for a vote. The developer then withdrew his proposal at the May City Council meeting.
The opponents said, "After his proposal was rejected, Horton promised to meet with the community and revise his plans. Chattanooga City Councilwoman Pam Ladd suggested Horton form a committee of citizens to discuss their concerns and ways the company could consider adjusting the proposal, and she offered to help. The group was never formed.
"Horton has met with North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy (NCCC) Executive Director and Don’t Chop the Hilltop leader Gregory Vickrey on two occasions but has not been forthcoming with information about proposed adjustments to the development. Horton has twice missed deadlines for providing more information to NCCC. Meanwhile, Horton has made time for closed-door meetings like the one with TDOT and the RPA – two taxpayer-funded organizations – in an attempt to line up support for his next proposal."
“Mr. Horton’s attempts to address the concerns of the Conservancy and the residents have been disingenuous at best,” said Mr. Vickrey. “He promised to collaborate with the community, but in more than five months he has not met with the residents and has failed to keep his commitments to me.”
He said the project would involve taking down a hillside over 200 feet high, and he said it would result in more than a million gallons of water per hour going into North Chickamauga Creek. He said that would affect landowners along the creek all the way to the Tennessee River.
He said a nearby Horton development, The Fountains, "remains unfinished and has gotten a number of stormwater citations."
Scenic Land Company’s proposal includes rezoning the large tract from R-2 residential zoning to a combination of R-4 and C-2, which would allow for an office, apartment and retail development.
The opponents said, "Hixson residents’ concerns echo those outlined by the RPA’s staff report to the RPC. The agency’s staff said the proposal is not in keeping with the Hixson-North River Community Plan in that it does not ensure responsible community development, would negatively affect property values of nearby residents, and would put development ahead of the road improvements and other infrastructure necessary to accommodate it.
"The planned development also threatens to strip and level a hillside that is one of Hixson’s last scenic vistas. Still, simply removing 100,000 tons of earth and scalping vegetation from the 190-acre parcel would have a much greater impact than just flooding and diminished beauty."
“Our thoroughfares are littered with empty storefronts,” said Linden Stricker, a Hixson resident, retired banker, and member of the Don’t Chop the Hilltop campaign. “We have done the math. There are more than 625,000 square feet of empty retail structures and more than 80 acres of appropriately-zoned land available for redevelopment in the core of Hixson. That’s nearly enough to create another Northgate Mall.
”It makes no economic sense that community leaders would rezone a residential parcel to add to that surplus, when they could be encouraging developers to revitalize, reinvest in and re-energize Hixson. We don't want Hixson Pike/Highway 153 to be the next Rossville Boulevard or Ringgold Road, where every other storefront is vacant."
He said CBL & Associates, owner of Northgate Mall, is redeveloping the T.J. Maxx outparcel to accommodate two new retailers and next year will invest in a complete renovation of Northgate Mall to make it more attractive to major market retailers.
“Our city leaders need to take a deeper look at the needs of Hixson and take a page from the CBL playbook on re-invigorating retail in Hixson before adding more space that will stall revitalization and add a whole host of other problems,” said Mr. Stricker.