Developer Duane Horton on Thursday night faced a large number of critics on his plans to take the controversial "Chattanooga Village" off the shelf to again try for rezoning for the controversial project. He told those at the Hixson Community Center that he has made a number of modifications for the project at a hilly site at Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road.
In April 2012 the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission voted to deny recommendation of a large commercial development at the site. The developer is readying a revised plan which he said incorporates changes in response to concerns about the original proposal. Scenic Land Company represented by Mr. Horton revealed the modifications from the first design and the zoning changes that his company will be seeking.
In addition to Mr. Horton, two advocates of the re-design spoke on behalf of the project.to the large crowd gathered in the gym of the community center. The first was attorney Gary Patrick, a Signal Mountain resident who revealed that he owns five acres adjoining the property in question and has an option on 12 acres more behind that piece of land. Rick Hill, who works for Scenic Land Company, was hired to “create a vision” for the development. He told the audience that he envisions a village-like, pedestrian-friendly place with unique and special businesses.
“I understand there is a lot of negativity,” said Mr. Horton concerning the project. He said the meeting had been planned to address concerns with the 2012 plan and that other discussions could be scheduled if all questions were not answered at the session. In response to many questions, he said the answers could be found in the handouts that were given while exiting the meeting and he encouraged any questions to be sent via email firstname.lastname@example.org. He also told those in the crowd that they would have the opportunity to express their opinions to the Planning Commission and the Chattanooga City Council and he also offered to come to any community meetings if scheduled.
Concerns from the first plan involved traffic, the amount of retail space, buffer zones, bulldozing of over 200 feet off a scenic hill and stormwater control among others. Changes made in response to those issues included reducing the amount of space for C-2 zoning which allows office space as well as retail and could include bowling alleys or malls. Retail space has been reduced by 60 percent in the new plan, which excludes a mall since it would not provide enough room. The area removed from C-2 was changed to R-4 zoning, which could include a “corporate magnet site” and provide a campus where a large business would be able to relocate their headquarters. The revised plan also designates a 100-foot undisturbed buffer from the surroundings.
Mr. Horton went on to say that the new 2012 design conforms to the two growth plans developed for the area - the Hixson North River Plan and the Comprehensive Plan 2030. The land in question is in the outer suburban growth sector where commercial development, trails and playgrounds would be built. In his opinion, this designation would protect the neighborhood better than the other two growth plans. And he thinks that his mixed-used development would create fewer traffic problems because of differing times of traffic use than the current R-1 zoning which would allow 700 homes to be built on the 190-acre site.
Scenic Land Company’s original agenda for the Thursday meeting provided time for Mr. Horton’s presentation with the intention of breaking into smaller neighborhood groups for discussion. The first note of discord came when a citizen commented that format was not acceptable. It was perceived as a “divide and conquer” strategy. “We are a community and want to act like one,” it was said, which drew applause. The meeting then continued as an open forum.
“Why wasn’t the meeting publicized?” was the first question asked of the developer. Mr. Horton responded that he had thought the best way to communicate was through a contact at the neighborhood association. The association, however, was not advised of the meeting until Friday and the secretary was out of town and unavailable to send emails of notice to the residents.
One resident asked for specifics about the type of retail businesses that are planned since it had been repeatedly said they would be unique and special. “Convenient retail and a nice grocery” and “other specialty stores” were given as the answer, although Mr. Horton did say specifically that he would like to attract Trader Joe’s although there had been no contact with that business.
A concerned resident whose property backs up to the proposed development questioned the developer about what modifications had been made to address the stormwater run-off issue. The general answer was given that the water would not leave the site any quicker than it now does. Information in the printed handout says there will be significant area utilized as greenspace and there would also be retention ponds.
Traffic concerns are two-fold - access and volume. Potential access to Boy Scout Road had been addressed by eliminating all access to the road from “Chattanooga Village”. Additional land has been acquired to allow for two access points for Highway 153 outside TDOT’s restricted access area. This would eliminate numerous curb cuts. Volume of traffic is within the TDOT’s guidelines for the next three years, said Mr. Horton. He was unfamiliar with the traffic study done from Middle Valley Road to Highway 153.
Responsible development would mean using existing property that already has commercial zoning but not yet developed, said one resident. In the way of an answer, he was directed to the handout. There are existing problems in Hixson that the city is not taking care of, said another speaker. There are so many empty stores that are eyesores, and the community does not need more. If data supports it, said Mr. Horton, the proposed zoning changes would allow for a phase two of the project in the future, which would further increase the scope of the development.
A question was asked about the type of apartments that have been planned for the R-3 portion of this mixed-used project. Mostly two bedrooms with some three, said Mr. Horton. The target will be temporary housing for people transitioning into the area. There is no low-income or section 8 housing intended, he said.
How much soil will be removed? inquired another citizen who was told that none will be taken off-site. Terraces will be built on the steep slopes. And, what about our beautiful hills, trees and animals? asked another. Mr. Horton told her that he is interested in conservation. He also told her that if he isn’t the one to develop that property that it will be done at some time. The issue, he said, is how to make it the best it can be.
After a City Council meeting in May, Commissioner Pam Ladd told the concerned citizens that a list of community representatives would be given to the developers to collaborate what changes were desired by the neighborhood and to find a common ground on the differences between developer and residents. According to a representative from the Hixson neighborhood association, the three names provided on the list were never contacted. The residents expected to have some input in community meetings which has not happened. “Why should we trust you now?” was asked of Mr. Horton concerning his requests for citizen participation. Executive Director of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy Gregory Vickery spoke up saying that he had made specific dates to talk to the developer, but had not gotten an answer until this past Monday. The assurance that he would be kept informed was ignored. “The people of Hixson deserve better,” he said. Mr. Horton responded by saying that it had taken longer than expected to address his concerns.
One speaker addressing the developer said, “You refer to this as if we want it.” Another told him, “I’m tired of you manipulating this crowd,” referring to the many insinuations that his company has remedied all the concerns that have been expressed. He also said now that the plan is documented he is ready to meet with more individuals.
The meeting ended with the question of why more commercial development is needed with so many existing empty stores. Mr. Horton called them outdated and not suitable for retail development or for re-development. The developer said that if an area is not constantly re-developing then the community loses energy.