At a special called meeting Thursday afternoon, the Lookout Mountain, Ga. City Council decided to have a request for proposals (RFP) ready by June 1 for a new Town Center.
With a room full of interested citizens present, the conversation about what needs to be done next and the order in which to do it was led by Mayor Bill Glascock. Since City Attorney Bill Pickering was not present to provide legal advice, no binding decisions were made. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about the process that needs to take place. The broad questions that needed answers were how to go about creating a RFP, how to relay the information to the designers, and how much input the city council and planning commission should have.
Mayor Glascock said the first thing that the town needs to create is the RFP. This is a very specific guide, that is given to a developer so their proposal will conform to the needs and vision of the city and so every developer that looks at it will be able to understand the same things. Mayor Glascock was told that the RFP should be very detailed so there is a clear understanding of what is desired. Jimmy Chapin, whose plan was presented to the town planning commission Tuesday night, told Mr. Glascock that “a developer can’t read your mind”. However, he added that if the RFP is “super specific” all the elements of creativity were taken away. He reminded the council that a developer can propose whatever they want, but the council still has to approve it.
The procedure that emerged from the lengthy discussions is that the first element of the RFP should be a statement to define the city’s vision of the project. Another element is what the city wants to accomplish with the development which is the factual information. Once it is available, the town will be required to advertise for a certain amount of time, and offer the RFP to any developer who requests it. After 45-60 days, the developers will present their ideas to the city council. At that point the council will recommend which developers to send to the planning commission. That board will determine if the proposal meets the standards set forth by the city. The planning commission then will make a recommendation back to the city council which can accept or reject it.
The property the city owns and that is to be developed is a total of 1.67 acres. Any plan that is submitted will have to include the clearly specified space and functional requirements for a fire and police department and city hall. These buildings will need to be integrated into any commercial property. The city also plans to enter the RFP process by planning the municipal buildings themselves. However, the council is open to having a developer include these buildings into their master plans.
Bill Chapin, president of Rock City Gardens, was at the meeting and said he has had quite a bit of experience in planning and construction of buildings at his business. Because there seemed to be some confusion about what information was important to provide to the designers, Mr. Chapin told the council members about the systematic procedure that he has used to create his facilities. He said first the architect is given a “program”, which defines what the space will be used for and how much space is needed. The next step is to define the footprint, and after that, the exterior is put around it. He said there are many styles that are made of mountain stone, wood and white painted frame windows, so the council needs to specify exactly which style of a building on the mountain that they want to emulate. He added that it might also be wise to consider changing a zoning ordinance that requires an off-street parking space for each 200 square feet of building. He said that would be “a lot of asphalt”, and probably more parking than would be needed.
Mr. Chapin also had two other thoughts to offer concerning the Town Center project. He suggested to the council that in 2014, Walker County would be able to provide public financing for the building project, through the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) but that would cause a delay in the construction.
Another idea he floated, was that the nearby Methodist church may soon be for sale. That building is large enough and has enough parking to be converted to a new city hall, fire and police department. If that was done, then the entire 1.67 acres owned by the city could be developed as the Town Center commercial area.
The mayor asked each council member to create a paragraph, detailing what they want to put on the site and give it to him by Monday. These will be discussed at the next council meeting.
The issue of how the city will bill for sewer charges now that Tennessee American will no longer provide third-party billing, was also on the agenda. The billing will now most likely be done by the city. Mayor Glascock suggested billing it annually based on volume and attach it to the tax bill. That way the city doesn’t have to deal with monthly billing. It was discussed that a large one-time charge might prove to be a hardship to some people and that it might be better to divide the amount into quarterly bills. The city’s job is to find a balance between the nightmare of paperwork and sticker shock. The matter will be debated at the next council meeting.
Another issue on the agenda was how to re-finance the city’s sewer debt. Mayor Glascock said it is his responsibility to decide how it will be done. He wanted to inform the council that he was able to get a rate of 2.32 percent on a 15-year note. He said, too, that it might be possible to combine that loan with the construction loan for the Town Center.
As an aside, Mayor Glascock addressed Jimmy Campbell who had come to the meeting. Mr. Campbell writes “The City of Lookout Mountain, Ga. Newsletter” which is sent via e-mail. The mayor said it is very opinionated and that it implies it is sanctioned by the city which it is not. He requested that Mr. Campbell make it very clear that the newsletter is not affiliated with the city in any way.