published Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Smart growth in Hixson

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Planning Commission occasionally fails to heed the recommendations of its professional planning staff at the Regional Planning Agency. In the case of a proposal for a 190-acre tract that would flatten the large scenic hill toward the north end of Highway 153 above the junctions of Corridor J, Dayton Boulevard and Boy Scout Road, it's especially important that planning commission members pay close attention to the RPA's findings.

Unwise development on this site would compound the already serious negative consequences of reckless sprawl, traffic congestion and environmental degradation.

The tract of wooded land that Scenic Land Co. proposes to convert to commercial and high-density residential usage is twice the size of Northgate Mall's overall site. The commercial area envisioned for the bulk of the development where the hill now stands would consume 148 acres. The other 42 acres, on the slope toward Boy Scout Road, would be used for a 280-unit apartment complex.

The RPA confirms that the overall development would generate an immense volume of storm-water runoff which would be a challenge to contain, especially in heavy storms. Storms already frequently flood Boy Scout Road and the adjacent wetlands, which capture heavy runoff from three sides: Waldens Ridge above Highway 27, the surrounding slopes from the Hixson/Highway 153, and the stretch of Dayton Boulevard that runs out of Red Bank into the bowl of the wetlands.

The wetlands there, which funnel polluted water into North Chickamauga Creek, have already been squeezed by unsound development on all sides. Adding to the flow into the constricted wetlands scares adjacent neighbors enough that Gregory Vickrey, executive director of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, has gotten more than 670 signatures on a petition against the proposed development on Highway 153.

Equally important is the traffic congestion and redundant development that the project would generate. Current rush-hour traffic is bad enough, and state highway officials warn that Highway 153 and U.S. Highway 27 may exceed their traffic capacity in three years. They have also said that the junctions of Highway 153 and Corridor J need to be redesigned to accommodate expected growth before that growth occurs, but they yet have no budget or timeline schedules for such work.

There is also an abundance of vacant commercial space along Highway 153, where big-box developments and building sites for more have been shuttered or abandoned. There is no need to gratuitously add to the market surfeit. And there surely is no justification to rezone the portions of the proposed site that are now classified as residential to make way for speculative development that would further churn up green land and disrupt more adjacent neighborhoods.

If the Planning Commission wants to help the Highway 153 commercial area and its adjacent neighbors, its members and city officials would call for a pedestrian-friendly plan to add sidewalk, bicycle and tree-adorned ways out of the surrounding neighborhoods to and along Highway 153. That would enrich the quality of life in that part of Hixson, and improve the chances that all commercially zoned land along Highway 153 would increase in value and utilization, and would attract sustainable quality growth.

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