Mustard Tree Ministries has dropped plans to build controversial low income housing at Ooltewah.
The plan had faced an outpouring of opposition from Ooltewah residents, and the Planning Commission denied a request for a planned unit development.
Barry Kidwell, executive director of Mustard Tree Ministries, said he and the MTM board had met and voted to withdraw the application the ministry had submitted for a planned unit development on the 16.7-acre site owned by the United Methodist Church on Snow Hill Road.
"Although the application received a recommendation of approval from the RPA planning staff, it was subsequently denied by the Planning Commission on May 9, when members of the Ooltewah community voiced opposition because of the type of residents they feared it would bring to their community," said Mr. Kidwell. "The next step in the process would have been the County Commission on June 8 and 15.
"The vision is to use the land owned by the church to build a safe community of 32 affordable homes, and it includes significant greenspaces as well as a working farm. The houses are made affordable by being high quality yet smaller in size. Each of the attractive 300-sq-ft micro-homes was to be site-built on a foundation, and would feature kitchen, bathroom, and living rooms for one or possibly two people each with a number of the homes being handicapped accessible to support the needs of individuals with disabilities."
In terms of future residences of the community, Mr. Kidwell maintains that since the organization rents the homes, it has control over the occupants, each of which would be thoroughly vetted. "So far, we have received interest from individuals that include a number of veterans; formerly homeless individuals; college students, some whom want to serve as missionaries; and others living below the poverty level in Hamilton County," said Mr. Kidwell. "A key point, however, is that each prospective resident would undergo a background check and have their income verified to ensure they would be able to pay their rent.
"It is interesting, says Mr. Kidwell, "that in Chattanooga, where some 4,000 new apartments are slated to be developed, none are really properties that many would consider affordable. As an example, the housing PILOT (Payment in lieu of Taxes) program, which offers tax relief to some developers in exchange for a percentage of affordable housing units, considers $700 per month as affordable housing. In contrast, our (MTM’s) plan for the houses at the Harrison farm was to rent for $250-$300 per month, which we believe actually fulfills a dire need in our community for more affordable housing.
"While we were disappointed by the planning commission’s decision, we also recognize that we have more work to do to help our neighbors understand our plans for this development. Therefore, we have submitted a request that our application for the PUD be withdrawn before it goes to the county commission."
Mr. Kidwell adds that, "At the end of the day, we have received a significant amount of encouragement and support from across the region for this concept and I am hopeful that the dialogue we have begun for providing affordable housing and supporting some of Chattanooga’s less affluent citizens will continue."
Mustard Tree Ministries is a 501(c)(3) ministry organization which receives support from a number of area churches and individuals as well as the Holston Conference of United Methodist Church. For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.