The developer of the proposed Chattanooga Village project at Highway 153 and U.S. 27 said Monday he will ask the City Council for a withdrawal "to allow more time to consult with community leaders, neighboring property owners and to address conflicting information."
Duane Horton of the Scenic Land Company said, ”We are withdrawing to discuss how the property should be best used for development.”
The project, which would involve taking down a 90-foot hill, has drawn significant opposition, including from the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy.
The City Council had been slated to rule on the rezoning request for the 190-acre site on Tuesday night. The Planning Commission and the Regional Planning Agency staff earlier both receommended denial.
Mr. Horton said he made his intentions for withdrawal known to Chattanooga City Council Chair Pam Ladd late last week. She said she will support the withdrawal.
She said he will submit to Mr. Horton a list of names for a potential neighborhood advisory panel, according to a news release from the developer.
Despite asking for the withdrawal, Mr. Horton said he maintains that the current plan, which he has agreed to refine, "is confluent with the Regional Planning Association’s goals."
He said, “We reviewed the Hixson Community Plan and noted that our proposed project is directly meeting five of the seven goals for commercial properties and is indirectly assisting with the other two.”
Jack Lonas, who with his wife Carolyn owns the property, said he feels the plan "is excellent and he stands behind the developer."
“I’ve been involved in one of the largest developments in our area – Windstone – and my wife and I decided a development would be the best use of our property,” Mr. Lonas said. “We looked for good developers and we came up with Duane and Scenic Land. We think the plan will be good for Hixson and the city of Chattanooga and bring additional revenues to the city and the county."
Jack and Mack Lonas, twin brothers, were part of the original developers of the 500-acre Windstone. He and Mack, also developed Stonehenge, a 115-acre high-end property located in Hamilton County.
“We are not asking for any public money to finance this project, though our city and county have certainly aided other projects in our community,” Mr. Lonas said.
Mr. Horton said the current plan "exceeds federal, state, county and city regulations and the amended plan will as well. The proposed plan also adheres to the Comprehesive Plan 2030."
“Even the Comprehensive Plan states we are located on a major commercial corridor, in an outer suburban growth sector that encourages both infill and outward growth and although it is not mandatory, we are respecting alterations to the natural conditions,” he said.
Tom DuPre, a broker for Results Realty, LLC, who has been working on the project, claimed there had been "conflicting and inaccurate information in the media, especially concerning traffic flow."
He said, "They keep comparing us to the Hamilton Place retail area which has four million square feet, whereas we would only have 500,000 square feet of retail. And we have documented evidence that the traffic flow on 153 has actually decreased since 2005, so it will not reach or exceed capacity in the next three years.”
Mr. Horton said that the reworked project is likely to concentrate on residential and reduce the retail.
He said, "This is a plan that Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield applauds."
The press release from the developer quoted Mayor Littlefield as saying, “This project is going to go forward. It is going to be developed one way or another. Those opposed are wasting their time. We still have a high demand for apartments in the city, though I feel they should hold the commercial in abeyance, at least for the time being.”
Mr. DuPre said the model the project wanted to use for commercial and retail development would be similar to The Summit in Birmingham, described as a premier shopping and dining destination.
“We have heard from several retailers and restaurants not currently in the Chattanooga area and they are interested in locating here, but it has to be in a specific demographic,” he said. “Chattanooga Village fulfills that demographic.”
Mr. Horton said he was anxious to meet with the panel that will be organized.
“Our battle is how the land should be used,” he said. “We are withdrawing to discuss that issue, how it can best be developed.”
Gregory Vickrey of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy said, "Mr. Horton’s request to withdrawal is a clear sign that Hixson residents have been heard loud and clear by the developer, the land owner and the City Council. That said, this is only a request. City Council must still hear the request on Tuesday, May 8, at 6 p.m., and we encourage the opposition effort to show up in force, as we will continue to speak out and make sure the correct path is taken.
"We are disappointed that the mayor's quote in the withdrawal statement dismisses the voice of the people who live in the affected area and helped elect him. The mayor claiming people in opposition 'are wasting their time' is a reckless account of what has taken place to date; with the Planning Commission's and Regional Planning Agency's strong recommendations to deny this re-zone request, it is the Hixson community in opposition to the current proposal that has it right.
"We are pleased that Councilwoman Ladd is helping organize a community advisory group to discuss this issue with the developer. It is unfortunate the developer did not attempt to do that on his own, as we suggested early in the process. Regardless, we are glad to have a seat at the table and look forward to Ms. Ladd’s inclusion of all affected parties.
"As this case proceeds, any attempts to rezone the property will come under close scrutiny by RPA, NCCC, and the Hixson community.
"In closing, an 11th hour withdrawal and continued insistence that a development outside of the current zoning will go through - regardless of the position of the Regional Planning Agency and the citizens - remains troubling. Moving forward, let there be no doubt the Hixson community will remain vigilant in its effort to support revitalization and re-development, rather than pie-in-the-sky concepts that will never morph into reality."