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Change is brewing in Red Bank

Land use plan revealed

A movie theater, library, progressive restaurants and high-end gift shops are some of the things envisioned for the former Red Bank Middle School property.

And the plans don’t stop there.

Red Bank officials are aiming to bring more high-quality development to the city through changes to its antiquated zoning ordinance.

The Red Bank City Commission got its first look at the city’s proposed new zoning ordinance at a public work session Aug. 14. A public hearing and possibly another work session will be held before the ordinance is voted on.

“We want it [the development of the former middle school] to be a draw for the people of Red Bank and outside Red Bank as well,” said Barry Bennett, a consultant who along with Jenny Shugart was contracted by the city in March to analyze and update the zoning ordinance.

Bennett said the goal of the new regulations is to revitalize the somewhat sleepy community, which he sees as following in the footsteps of North Chattanooga as the area’s next big residential area.

“It is intended to help protect the character of the residential neighborhoods in Red Bank,” he said of the proposed zoning changes. “It should help stabilize or increase property values.”

The most impactful change would likely be the reduction in the minimum size of single-family residential lots to 7,500 square feet, said City Manager Randall Smith. Currently, lot sizes for these properties must be a minimum of 12,000-20,000 square feet, which is substantially larger than what is currently required throughout Hamilton County and the other municipalities within it.

“This should help to attract residential developers back to Red Bank and increase residential investment,” he said. “Currently, if a developer can build more houses on the same size piece of property elsewhere in Hamilton County, then the developer will build in that community instead of Red Bank.”

Smith said the larger lot size minimums were put into place when Red Bank owned and maintained its own sewer system.

“That system was close to or at capacity and the existing sewer system could not accommodate many more additional buildings being constructed, so the larger lot size was used to slow residential growth,” he explained. “That issue is now resolved, so a smaller minimum lot size is viable.”

Bennett said the new R-3 multi-family zone would be unlike any other R-3 zone in the country.

“It directly addresses issues that have plagued Red Bank,” he said.

Standalone apartments would no longer be permitted by right under R-3 and R-4 zoning. If the ordinance passes as is, standalone apartments could only go in R-4 zones and the developer would have to have a special exceptions permit.

Apartments would be allowed by right as part of a mixed-use residential development in which at least 50 percent of the developed land is single-family housing.

“This will assure that developer builds a high-end multi-family component to be able to sell the single-family housing,” Bennett said.

The main alteration to the aesthetics of Red Bank would likely take place in the city’s commercial areas where new developments would have to meet the new standards, said Smith.

“This allows one property owner to feel more confident that if he or she puts money into the property to construct a higher-quality development, then the other property owners will be held to the same standards,” Smith said. “This protection will encourage more high-quality development in the commercial areas, which will bring more people into the community to shop and spend at the local businesses.”

The land use plan calls for a strong commercial core, as well as a public building, as part of the former RBMS property redesign.

A C-2 zone would contain the city’s central business district, which is located on both sides of Dayton Boulevard between Kingston Street North and Morrison Springs Road/Ashland Terrace.

“It will allow only those uses consistent with the development that’s already there,” said Bennett, adding there is a very long list of prohibitive uses. “It will encourage new development coming in to make an effort to be of higher quality.”

A new landscape ordinance would require new commercial developments to create a natural screen between the development and residential zones.

“The more control you have over aesthetics, the more the design review process kicks in,” Bennett said.

The new ordinance would also prohibit access to high-density residential zones through low-density residential zones. It would require landscaping and screening when the type of use for a property changes. The ability of neighboring property owners to petition for zoning changes is not included in the new ordinance.

Under the existing zoning ordinance, if a nonconforming property remains vacant or unused for 100 days, the property loses its nonconforming status. The new ordinance would provide the property owner the opportunity to reinstate the property’s nonconforming status by going before the commission. No time limitations are built in.

“Consistence is what we’re after here,” said Bennett. “We’re trying to protect the neighborhoods while still providing a variance process.”