published Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Chattanooga City Council delays land swap vote

  • photo
    Staff Photo by John Rawlston — Dogwood Manor, a 136-unit apartment building owned by the city of Chattanooga and managed by the Chattanooga Housing Authority, is located on Gateway Avenue overlooking downtown Chattanooga.

  • photo
    An old phonebooth sits in the vacant lot that used to be Poss Homes.
    Photo by Ashlie White

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    East Brainerd Elementary School
    Photo by Margaret Fenton

After a "firestorm of resistance" from East Brainerd residents, a divided Chattanooga City Council deferred voting on its part of a three-way land swap.

The Hamilton County Schools and the Chattanooga Housing Authority proposed the deal in late March in response to the city's request for proposals to sell Dogwood Manor Apartments, which the housing authority currently manages.

The proposed cash and land swap involves Dogwood Manor and two other properties -- East Brainerd Elementary School and the former Maurice Poss Homes site. The proposed swap would provide 6.25 acres of the East Brainerd Elementary site to the city to sell as development, and 2.8 acres to CHA for low-income senior or disabled housing.

East Brainerd Elementary is in Councilman Jack Benson's district, and he said residents and developers are mad about the prospect of CHA housing on the school site.

"There's a firestorm of resistance out in our community on this," Benson said in the council agenda session.

On Benson's motion, the council voted 5-4 to defer the vote for another week.

Benson said he wants to dump Dogwood Manor, but that he couldn't support the proposed trade because of the subdivision of the East Brainerd site.

"Developers have been calling out there ever since they realized this was going to be available," he said. "You reduce it by two acres and we're going to lose in the market value."

He also doesn't think the site is an appropriate place for public housing.

"We've got a nice subdivision on the east of it," Benson said.

Dan Thornton, head of the city's General Services Administration, said he's attempting to trade one of three other surplus properties to CHA for the full nine acres.

In Tuesday night's meeting, Mayor Ron Littlefield's Chief of Staff Dan Johnson told council members Thornton wanted an extra week.

Councilman Peter Murphy said he wanted to approve the three-way swap and work out the trade to get all of the East Brainerd side later.

He, Russell Gilbert, Deborah Scott and André McGary voted against deferral. Council members Benson, Carol Berz, Manny Rico, Sally Robinson and Pam Ladd voted to defer.

Thornton said all three parties agree on the transaction, though the school board hasn't voted on the issue.

In the deal, the schools would end up with the 20-acre Poss Homes site to be used for a new Howard School for Academics and Technology football stadium and track and cash to demolish East Brainerd Elementary.

CHA would get Dogwood Manor.

Board of Education member George Ricks, whose district includes Howard, told council members he thought he'd have the votes on school board.

"We need the property and we've been working on this a long time," he said. "It will be brought probably at the next board meeting, according to our chairman."

If not, council members asked Thornton if the city would finalize the deal without the East Brainerd site.

"I'm not sure about Poss Homes being a value to us," he said.

Murphy said, "It may not be a huge asset, but it's not as much of a liability [as Dogwood Manor.]"

Contact staff writer Ansley Haman at ahaman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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