Lookout Mountain, Ga., Opening The Door To More Commercial Uses

Friday, January 14, 2022 - by Gail Perry

Changes are coming to the town of Lookout Mountain, Ga. In addition to multiple new parks and trails, the council is opening the door to more commercial uses throughout the city. Additionally, a new comprehensive plan that has been worked on for two years will be the vision statement of the city that will guide future development. The comprehensive plan will be presented at a public hearing on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the sanctuary at the Lookout Mountain Methodist Church.


The new city hall building and fire station, that will  receive a certificate of occupancy by the end of January, will anchor the space known as Town Center on Lula Lake Road. At the council meeting Thursday night, the bid from DBS Corporation to build and manage commercial  space in front of the new municipal buildings was unanimously accepted. The single bid resulted in a proposal that matched what the council was looking for, said Mayor David Bennett. DBS was the contractor which built the two new buildings.


At the December council meeting Rock City requested a change to the city’s zoning for a log cabin it owns at 1402 Patten Road so it could be used for office space. That request has since been withdrawn for the time being and, although the application is not active at this time, the planning commission recognized the need for a new zone resulting in the newly created Office Residential District. The new zone is not tied to any particular property, it is just an available zone and could be used anywhere in the town, officials said. If an application is made to use that designation, the location would be required to go through the rezoning process and to comply with all regulations before being approved. The proposal of adding a new zone has resulted in a lot of comments and concern from town residents, said Councilmember Taylor Watson.


Charlie Schlenberg, a resident of Chickamauga Trail, one of the nearby homeowners to the Rock City property, said there is a lot of resistance from residents to change the zoning that has always been Single Family and that 140 homeowners had signed a petition and sent it to the council, opposing the encroachment of commercial development. Mr. Schlenberg said that the reason a lot of neighbors did not come to the council meeting was because Rock City had withdrawn its application for now. The zone is being added on a general basis and not tied to any single location, he said, so that the new Office Residential District could be used for property throughout the city. He asked the council to consider opposition to additional commercial space coming from the city residents.


City Attorney Bill Pickering has written a proposal for requirements meant to lessen the impact to property surrounding that zone including buffers created with berms and plantings, lighting limitations to reduce light pollution, and parking restrictions, among other things.


A motion to add the new zoning designation was approved unanimously by the council on the first reading after the planning commission recommended approval and two public hearings were held. The second and final reading to create the new zone will take place at the Feb. 10 council meeting.


Three years ago, Lookout Mountain passed a home sharing ordinance that allows a homeowner to rent space in their house for short-term use such as vacation rentals on Airbnb. The number allowed in the city was capped at 15. Michelle Warren, owner of 1509 Chickamauga Trail, has been in the program and has drawn opposition from neighbors during the past year on complaints of bringing strangers, speeding traffic and noise from the pool into the neighborhood.


A patio and carport separate the main house from a room that Ms. Warren said she uses as a bedroom for herself. She rents the main house for vacation rentals. The single bedroom, carport and the  house share a roof, leaving the question of whether the set-up is a separate building.


“This doesn’t seem to meet the spirit of the ordinance,” which says that an “accessory space” cannot be rented, said Mark Jones who lives next door. If you lived next door to a commercial business, you would be opposed, he told the council members. Charlie Schlenberg, another neighbor, commented that it has had an impact on the neighborhood and it is a matter of concern.


In the past, inspections have not been made for home sharing, however the council requested for an inspection of this property to ensure that the house meets the qualifications in the ordinance. In the meantime, the application was provisionally approved.


Jimmy Campbell, community volunteer, has guided the development of all the new parks and trails that are being established throughout the town. A master plan for trails has been created by some of the leading trail planners in the Southeast, said Mr. Campbell. Building the network of trails is estimated to cost $100,000-$115,000.  Plans are to use a state grant to fund 70 percent with the city being responsible for 30 percent of the cost.


At the end of January, the Lookout Mountain Conservancy will close on the purchase of the Sims property, said Mayor David Bennett. The four and a half to five acres once held several houses and a mid-century style motel. When the property was offered to the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, it visualized a park there. Additionally, the area at the top of Red Riding Hood Trail where it intersects Lula Lake leading to the Town Center is also being designed as a green space that will mark the introduction into the city.


Councilman Kevin Leckenby reported that some of the sidewalks along Lula Lake Road have settled causing tripping hazards. They have been marked with cones and other markings and he asks for walkers to report other spots that might need attention. Residents will be kept informed of where the public works crews will be at the beginning of each week on the city’s website, or with a phone call to the department. Removing leaf and brush piles continues and the gas line replacement is now at the Lookout Mountain Golf Club. The next dumpster day is Saturday, Feb. 5. Councilman Leckenby gave a special thanks to the public works crews for their efforts to keep the streets safe when there is a threat of ice or snow.


Caroline Williams, council liaison with the school, said that COVID has been running rampant at Fairyland School, at the highest rate since the pandemic began. She said the teachers have not been the ones to get it, and the school has managed to stay open. But because of virus threat, visitors are not being allowed in the building, and she said appointments should be made in to get inside. In the last month a huge landscaping project that has been years in the making was completed and a new fence has been built around the playground.


The monthly report from Fire and Police Commissioner Taylor Watson showed officers patrolled 3,995 miles, made 29 traffic stops, gave 11 citations, 29 warnings and there were six auto accidents in the last month. Police checked 11 burglar alarms, assisted 11 citizens, three motorists and the Lookout Mountain, Tn. police five times. Police received four open door calls, three to check suspicious persons and five for suspicious vehicles. There were no burglaries or thefts during the month. There were six fire calls and 15 medical calls. “I don’t know how many times we need to say it, but lock your cars and doors. Leaving them unlocked is an open invitation," said Councilwoman Watson.


Replacement of the city’s sewer pump is now being worked on by the engineers. The original estimate for the new pump was $950,000. That has now increased to $1,300,000, said Mr. Campbell representing the sewer board. The money can be borrowed from the state at the rate of .15 percent. A final cost will be known in February so arrangements can be made to make the funds available on June 1 when the work should begin.


The next meeting of the Lookout Mountain, Ga., City Council will be Feb. 10 at 6 p.m.

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