Planning Commission Recommends M-1 Zoning For Tubman Site Despite Some Community Opposition

Monday, December 10, 2018
Sherman Matthews addresses the Planning Commission
Sherman Matthews addresses the Planning Commission

The Planning Commission on Monday afternoon unanimously recommended M-1 zoning for most of the 44-acre Harriet Tubman site in East Chattanooga. A section by Roanoke Avenue would be left R-3, allowing single-family homes, apartments and townhomes.

The vote came despite some community opposition along with the Unity Group, that favored a mixed-use approach and input from residents.

The final decision on the city-owned property where a public housing project once stood will be made by the City Council.

Cherita Adams, of city economic development, said the city had applied for a site development grant for the project.

She said the city agrees with Regional Planning Agency staff recommendations that certain manufacturing types not be considered due to it being in a residential neighborhood and that the property include buffers.

Ms. Adams said, "All would not be a good fit. We recognize that."

Charles Wood of the Chamber of Commerce said the unemployment rate of the Avondale neighborhood within a mile is 10 percent  - more than twice the rate of other communities. He said the mean household income is $23,000.

Mr. Wood said, "The goal is to bring jobs to the community. On the idea of a mixed-use development, he said those making $23,000 a job "would not be going to a brew pub."

Sherman Matthews, Unity Group president, said the city has no manufacturing prospects in sight. He said manufacturing "is not the best and only way to produce jobs."

He said citizens want to see a mix of housing, commercial and light industry at the site, including possibly a grocery store and drug store.

He said members of the community had been left out of the process, but were anxious to take part.

Nicole Lewis, of the Glass House Collective, said the neighborhood has ideas of using the property for townhomes, multi-family, live/work and open space.

Another speaker, who was among those wearing "Support Tubman" stickers, said an industrial plant near another community "would never have gotten this far."

He said residents believe that "those who are influential" would benefit from the plant idea.

Frances Adams, who said she has ties to Avondale dating to 1961, said, "We can do wonderful things with that property with all of us participating."

Ken Smith, president of the Avondale Neighborhood Association, spoke in support. He said nothing had developed at the site in five years and residents want action. He said the manufacturing option was the best chance to produce jobs.

Here are the full remarks of the Unity Group:

"There is much to say about the history of the Harriet Tubman site, but today we want to focus on the items relevant to the Planning Commission. We have copies of our public statement for each commissioner along with a copy of an Op-Ed from David Cook of the Times Free Press.

"In 2013, the Chattanooga Housing Authority placed the much deteriorated Tubman property on the market. Neighbors were concerned that the property might be bought by a “slumlord” who would allow the conditions to grow even worse. With resident advocacy, the City of Chattanooga purchased the property from the Housing Authority in 2014 and later demolished the public housing units. Many residents were displaced in this process.

"While we are very grateful for the city’s agreement to purchase the land and are excited by their interest in providing new job opportunities, we are concerned about the limitations of the proposed M-1 Industrial zoning. In June of 2018, the city launched a planning process to gain input from residents of Area 3 (which includes the Tubman site). Residents listed local services like grocery stores, hardware stores and banks as well as affordable housing, walkable commercial and retail jobs as the biggest needs for new development.

"City leaders and community members are in full agreement that the Tubman site should be used to help produce jobs. However, industrial development in a residential community is not the best or only way to produce jobs. The proposed M1 zoning would risk precluding all kinds of development that may be a better a fit for our community. Instead, mixed-use zoning could allow living wage jobs through small business development, retail and commercial while also addressing other community needs like affordable housing. We want to work with the city and other community stakeholders to make sure we’re bringing good jobs that fit in our community and that employ the people in our community.

"We have seen many development projects that promise jobs and access to opportunity that have instead ushered in gentrification and jobs only for folks moving in from outside. We don’t just need jobs, we need living wage jobs. We don’t just need housing, we need housing that we can afford. We don’t just need revitalization, we need a real seat at the table in development decisions. This 44 acres of public land is a rare opportunity for the city and the community to work together to bring development that is held accountable to providing real benefits to East Chattanoogans. There is much work to be done to gain input from residents and other community stakeholders. The decisions made regarding the Tubman site will have a major impact on East Chattanooga residents for decades to come and this process deserves all due time and attention.

"Finally, we believe that one of the only ways to ensure that development is held accountable to the community is for us to work together to create an enforceable Community Benefits Agreement between community stakeholders and developers. While we recognize that a CBA is not in the purview of the Planning Commission, we believe that zoning this property M1 today would set us on the wrong path. We know that creating a truly community-informed development is a long process with a lot of work, planning, compromise and partnership. But this is what our community needs and deserves. We hope that the city is open to working with community stakeholders in a collaborative and cooperative spirit.

"We ask that the Planning Commission not recommend the rezoning of the Tubman site to M1.

"Respectfully, Unity Group Chattanooga"



Cherita Adams and Charles Wood speak on Tubman issue
Cherita Adams and Charles Wood speak on Tubman issue

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