published Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

David Cook: The railroading of a Hixson hilltop

It's called the Chattanooga Village: a commercial and residential development being planned over 190 acres of trees, forests and one beautiful Hixson hilltop.

Based on the events from Monday, it ought to feature one more component.

Some train tracks. For the railroad.

"It feels like we are being railroaded and not being given answers," said Ellie Wallis, who lives within a stone's throw of the proposed Village. "It's frightening. I am more frightened than anything else because we haven't gotten any information from the developer."

More than 2,500 residents have signed petitions questioning and opposing the project (to be built near Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road). They have acres of questions about stormwater runoff, traffic flow and the need for more traffic infrastructure. Noise, air and light pollution.

And even the basic ones: What does the final plan look like?

"We haven't seen the plan they presented," said Wallis. "The public hasn't seen the documents. Or a traffic study. Or any other information."

Last week, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency recommended a 30-day waiting period before a deciding vote. We need to study the proposal more, they said. It's critical, they said. Let's take 30 days.

But Monday afternoon, ignoring the suggestion of its own staff, the Regional Planning Commission (the next rung up of power above the RPA) voted to do just the opposite.

The commission approved rezoning for developer Duane Horton's Chattanooga Village, pushing it forward to a City Council vote in January. (It's becoming a campaign issue for certain incumbent council members and their opponents.)

Leading the railroading was Mayor Ron Littlefield, inserting himself into a situation that both rebukes the people's voice and the process of government already in place.

"It was a political travesty," said Gregory Vickrey, the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy's executive director, who praised the commission members who voted against the rezoning.

Monday, the mayor showed up at the Planning Commission meeting, spoke strongly in favor of the proposal and then cast a deciding vote for its approval.

It's an insulting message, showing no concern for the legitimacy of the RPA staff, the concerns of the people or the importance of a slow, thoughtful planning process.

Why does the mayor care so much about the 190-acre development?

Sure, if it's successful, developer Horton's proposal could bring tax dollars and jobs to the city and county.

But it may not be. In recent years, other developments have been planned for this area, yet have come up empty. If constructed, the Village will be forced to scrap for commercial business with Northgate. Why not support and side with Northgate?

(Let's require Horton to produce a list of five retailers that are interested in the Village. Five, new-to-Hixson retailers.)

Forward-thinking planners understand that in this fragile time of economic recession and environmental instability, in-filling vacant storefronts is much wiser than cutting down natural landscapes.

So why not side with preserving the integrity, beauty and wildness of that area until it is absolutely and without question certain that this project is valuable to all involved, not just the pocketbooks of a few?

Horton's company, GenTech, was involved in the creation of The Fountains. During construction there, local and state governments found multiple environmental violations, specifically involving stormwater runoff and erosion.

"Right now, whenever it rains hard, I can't get out of my subdivision," said Wallis. "The roads both ways flood. ... And to have a developer come in and increase the stormwater runoff without even talking to the community bothers me."

If the land and people mattered as much as Horton's development, then an actual and wise planning process may have occurred. But Monday's railroading was pseudo-planning, a rubber stamp in place of democracy.

"I'm completely shocked," Wallis said.

So are most folks who get hit by a train they never see coming.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Facts said...

Chattanooga may have VW and look "progressive" but it's still a little town run by backroom thugs who get on the government payroll, then go consult, then stick their fingers in every pie for money. There are too many former mayors, mayors, commission members and council members who benefit financially from votes they make. Now that this is headed to a vote, I'll watch to see who's making money. We know that Mayor Littlefield and Dan Johnson(of Hixson) must have a cut. Let's see what coucil members are in line for the check.
If you vote for this, council members, you admit you're on the take and ignore citizens.
Period.

December 12, 2012 at 7:47 a.m.
VisaDiva said...

More even-handed, factual reporting than the other 'news' article in the paper today. This is railroading on the par with CXS. My question has always been "WHY?" With all the vacant office space, retail locations and residential space in Hixson who decided this project is needed, and what did they use for data and facts? The community is decidedly against it, so we'll see how much luck the citizens have with the politial process in our fair city. Thanks for the write-up. We can always count on you to see the little person's point of view.

December 12, 2012 at 9:45 a.m.
VisaDiva said...

And be sure to email or call your City Council representative. We need to let them know we are watching them and we expect them to vote with their constituents.

December 12, 2012 at 9:46 a.m.
Here2Opine said...

What's the rush? Why push this? Why not release the studies to the public / voters?

December 12, 2012 at 12:23 p.m.

I say they can only have this property if they promise to take over some of the empty commercial properties in the area and replace them with public spaces.

December 12, 2012 at 11:33 p.m.
Here2Opine said...

Why clear 190 acres of beautiful land just to build more businesses when there are many closed businesses and cleared empty land already! Please sign the petition to stop this! http://www.change.org/petitions/petition-to-deny-the-re-zone-request-at-boy-scout-road-hwy-153

December 13, 2012 at 6:30 p.m.
mv said...

One thing everyone overlooks is that the owner of the property can already build on this site. At least he is bringing the development to the table for public input. He could have cleared the hillside and asked no one. just a thought to consider. It could be worse.

December 14, 2012 at 4 a.m.
Here2Opine said...

The owner/owners would still have had to approach the council to have it rezoned. Why did Littlefield not adhere to the 30 days suggested by the board?

December 14, 2012 at 5:01 p.m.
Here2Opine said...

MV: In referencing Littlefield rushing this through the objections of the voters and the boards request for a 30 day extension, someone on this board ( I believe it was you, MV) made a statement regarding our local politicos: "These things must stop or the citizens will continue to have not trust in local elected officals." So, you no longer feel this way?

December 14, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
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