Rezoning Denied For Entrance To Planned New Major Red Bank Apartment Complex

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - by Gail Perry

The owner of a large parcel of property that has been zoned for apartments since 1984 came to the Red Bank Commission meeting and public hearing Tuesday night accompanied by a developer, two engineers, an attorney and a court reporter. His proposal to rezone two lots on Ashmore Terrace from R-1 to R-3 for use as an entrance to a planned apartment complex, met an overflow crowd of residents that were opposed to the change.

Jay Bell said when his father bought the Ridgemont Apartments he also bought 15 adjacent acres already zoned R-3 for future development.

He has now hired Marcus Lyons with Blue Star Properties to develop a 300-unit complex of high-end apartments on the site. Currently, the only access to that property is on the Ridgemont Apartment Road which neither he nor the developer considers a proper approach to upscale apartments. Mr. Bell has an option to buy two lots, 1918 and 1924 Ashmore Terrace, in order to build a wide driveway and entrance into the newly proposed complex.

The problem is that Ashmore Terrace and the surrounding area is considered to be a quiet, old established neighborhood with an abundance of people who walk dogs, push baby strollers and use the road for running and cycling. An engineer hired by the group of residents formed to preserve Ashmore Terrace, found that the new apartments would generate 1,600-2,000 vehicle trips daily along the road.

Attorney for Mr. Bell, Michael Stewart, said that four issues surfaced at a preliminary meeting in January concerning these apartments, water runoff, sewer capacity, traffic and the effect on the neighborhood and property values. He told the commissioners that the developer brought people to the meeting to address each of these concerns.

One engineer, Mike Price, said the project would not increase stormwater runoff onto Ashmore Avenue, or have an effect on the water quality.

A second engineer, Rocky Chambers, evaluated the traffic impact assuming just 300 additional cars. He was mainly interested in four intersections closest to the proposed driveway and said that traffic would “still flow pretty well.” Citizens who live in the area and currently use the road said he failed to address conditions about Ashmore Terrace itself,or other intersections that are commonly used leaving that area.

Mr. Chambers said the sewer plan he assessed was based on water usage of 100 gallons per day per person, and he said he believes that the county Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA) will accept and can handle that amount of sewage without additional infrastructure. The development would be dependent on the WWTA issuing a permit.

In regard to the effect a driveway onto Ashmore would have on the neighborhood and property values, he said that people who moved into the neighborhood knew there was a possibility apartments would be built. He also said that an appraiser from the Haisten Group found that similar developments had not had a negative impact on surrounding properties. One resident who spoke later in the meeting said he did know that the property was zoned R-3 but he did not know that a “grand entrance” would be put in the middle of Ashmore Avenue.

The developer, Marcus Lyons, told the commissioners that the main thing that would be hurt if the rezoning was not approved would be the quality of the development. He said if the proposed entryway was not approved, that the apartments would be completed as a “C-class” property, with lower quality construction, finishes and amenities than the “A-class” development that he would prefer to build. The reason, he said, is a matter of perception that a nice driveway would present. Adding the two lots would also add two acres to the development. This would allow more buildings and for them to be spread out.

The location of the proposed driveway would empty onto Ashmore Avenue where the road is just 18 feet wide with barely enough room for two trucks to pass each other safely, residents said. Becky Browder told the commissioners that the existing road into Ridgemont Apartments is 26 feet wide and could accommodate the additional traffic that new apartments would create. Another speaker suggested that if the developer did not like the appearance of the driveway approach to an “A-class” development going by Ridgemont Apartments which they consider to be “C-class”, then they should  “fix it.”

Mack Henry, whose father was a former Red Bank police chief, said he had lived on Midvale Avenue all his life and he wanted the commission to realize the community that exists in the neighborhood in question. He also told the commissioners, “I hate for someone to threaten me or you,” referring to Mr. Lyons’ comments of reducing quality of the apartments.  Jill Guest asked why a developer would be forced to build a “C” development instead of an “A” just because he did not have access with a driveway. She along with others who spoke said they perceived the comments by Mr. Lyons as a threat.

Speakers ranged from those who had lived there all their lives to those who had lived there just one year. Reasons given by the new residents who choose that area to buy into ranged from the recreational aspects, the proximity to downtown Chattanooga and to the old-fashioned neighborhood feel. They all expressed the fear that their quality of life would decline with an increase of so many more vehicles. Jon Baker said the traffic will destroy the existing identity that the Ashmore and Midvale Avenue community experiences. One speaker said that he would be able to see the new apartments from his house and that he would prefer having a “C” development than to forfeit safety.

Another said promises can be made showing pretty pictures, but at the end of the day there is no guarantee that those promises will happen. She suggested that the developer obtain some of the 38 declining apartment communities in Red Bank and bring them up to code and to full capacity before building more new ones.

One resident that spoke later in the meeting, said he did know that the property was zoned R-3 but that he did not know that a “grand entrance” would be put in the middle of Ashmore Avenue.

Melinda Roddy told the commissioners that homeowners should be considered more than renters. The permanent residents are the ones who pay taxes and have pride of ownership. Earl Clark, who lives on the other end of Red Bank, spoke said, “I want them to know that they are not here by themselves. What benefits those living on Ashmore Avenue also benefits me."

The public hearing ended after hearing citizens’ comments for one hour and 40 minutes. With Commissioner Rick Causer absent from the meeting, Commissioner Floy Pierce made a motion to postpone the vote for the zoning change until he could be present, but the motion died from failure to get a second. Commissioner Eddie Pierce made a motion to deny the rezoning request. Rezoning was denied by a roll call vote with Mr. Pierce and Mayor John Roberts voting for the motion and Commissioner Floy Pierce voting no. There will be a second reading and vote at the commission meeting April 1.

In other business Tuesday night, the commissioners acting as the Red Bank Beer Board approved a manufacturing and distribution beer permit for Rick C. Wexler, president of Big Frog Brewing Company. This will be a craft beer brewery located at 2122 Dayton Blvd. There will be no on-site sales from the premises.

County Commissioner Joe Graham presented Red Bank with a check for $7,975 from his discretionary fund to be used for sod and a sprinkler system at the city’s baseball fields and park.

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