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Chattanooga City Council defers vote on heated Hixson rezoning request

The Chattanooga City Council has deferred its decision on the rezoning request for a 190-acre parcel of land near the intersection of Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road. Developer Duane Horton of the Scenic Land Company has proposed building a mixed-use development referred to as Chattanooga Village there that would include retail, commercial and residential space.

The City Council is now scheduled to take its first vote on the rezoning issue Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 6 p.m.

Before the decision was made to defer, Councilman Manny Rico made a motion to deny the request, which was seconded by Councilman Andrae McGary.

“There are just so many unanswered questions,” said Rico in a phone conversation after that Jan. 8 vote, adding that his concern about stormwater runoff continues, and he is also not satisfied that the development will not increase traffic problems in the area.

He said he has received dozens of emails from constituents who oppose the project and only one email in support.

“I just couldn’t support it,” said Rico, the sole council member to vote against deferring the rezoning decision.

“There were a lot of developments regarding conditions,” McGary said in a phone conversation following the Jan. 8 meeting in which the ultimate decision was deferred, referring to a list of conditions the community wants to see incorporated into the project’s plans that was given to the developer two days before the Jan. 8 council meeting. “I thought the best thing to do to honor their [the community members who set forth the conditions] time is to give the developer time to consider.”

Hixson resident Nathalie Strickland, a spokesperson for a community group opposing the development that refers to itself as Don’t Chop the Hilltop, said the community provided its conditions to Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency Executive Director John Bridger Friday, Jan. 4. A copy was also hand-delivered to each member of the City Council that same day, according to an email sent to group members.

The conditions included modifications and additions to the ones recommended by the RPA and already agreed to by the developer, such as requiring that all buildings, structured parking and loading areas not be visible from the adjacent residential area (modified from the RPA’s recommendation that buildings be limited to four stories or 60 feet). A four-foot paved bicycle path constructed at the same time as the proposed development’s streets is also included among the community’s wishes.

“The community has no insurance from the developer that they don’t intend to [shave off the top of the hilltop] because they haven’t provided a grading plan,” said Strickland. “Our requests for more information about a grading plan have gone unaddressed.”

McGary said he hopes the community and developer reach a compromise.

“I believe the developer believes he has something of value to offer the community,” he said. “I have good faith in both sides; my hope is there will be a mutually satisfying solution.”

North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, located near the proposed development and considered among the project’s opponents, plans to release information regarding the project’s environmental infeasibility in the time prior to the Council’s deferred vote Jan. 22, said Executive Director Gregory Vickery.

“I think organizationally we’re a bit ambivalent,” he said when asked to comment on the Council’s decision to defer. “We felt we provided enough information to the Council to go ahead and make a decision.”

Information to be released by NCCC will include data provided to the organization last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from a study it conducted in February 2012, he said. Vickery said the study found that the type of soil covering the majority of the land where the development has been proposed make conditions for developing the property commercially “very limited.” The USDA’s definition of “very limited” is that the soil has one or more features unfavorable for the specified use.

The USDA soil study covers a range of factors from swelling and shrinkage to saturation and flooding, said Vickery. The study states that limitations caused by soil that falls under this category generally cannot be overcome without major soil reclamation or expensive installation procedures, and poor performance and high maintenance can be expected, he said.

Horton could not be reached prior to press time.

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