published Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Fort Wood weighs shrinking neighborhood lines

Terri Bonfiglio and Gregg Deneweth visit door-to-door Sunday to ask residents to attend Wednesday's Fort Wood Neighborhood Association meeting. They are concerned that residents of some homes are being excluded from the association, but the same residents and smaller homes are used to procure grant money for the Fort Wood area that is spent in the historic district.
Terri Bonfiglio and Gregg Deneweth visit door-to-door Sunday to ask residents to attend Wednesday's Fort Wood Neighborhood Association meeting. They are concerned that residents of some homes are being excluded from the association, but the same residents and smaller homes are used to procure grant money for the Fort Wood area that is spent in the historic district.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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Gregg Deneweth and Terri Bonfiglio trudged through the Sunday afternoon heat in their neighborhood, taping notices on doors as they passed.

"You belong to the Fort Wood neighborhood," the fliers read.

They weren't for the Victorian mansions deeper within the historic district, but for the smaller homes and duplexes along Central Avenue, Oak Street and O'Neal Street. In the coming weeks, and perhaps as soon as tonight, the neighborhood association will decide whether these houses, and a few others on the perimeter, will be disenfranchised in Fort Wood decisions and leadership.

"They think we're second-class people," Deneweth said of those who would support redefining the neighborhood. "I don't think they like the look of this block."

The disputed areas, which are not part of the Fort Wood Historical District, have been included in the Fort Wood Neighborhood Association since it was formed in 1981. A year earlier, the area was eyeing a federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would contribute $1.6 million to clean up the neighborhood.

Deneweth, who recently built a house on Central Avenue, and Bonfiglio, who lives in a house on East Fourth Street, believe that their areas, which Deneweth calls "distressed," were included so that the neighborhood association would qualify for the grant. The money would be used to pay for improvements in the historic district, as well as the surrounding streets.

"[The neighborhood association] used them to get that money," Bonfiiglio said.

The Chattanooga Housing Authority discussed the redevelopment project in its June 25, 1980, meeting. The official minutes of that meeting include CHA Executive Director Billy Cooper's report on the project, in which the record states, "[The Fort Wood Neighborhood] is generally bounded by Palmetto Street on the west, O'Neal Street on the east, McCallie Avenue on the south and East Third Street on the North."

The issue was brought to the board by Fort Wood resident Deborah Dunlap at its last meeting. The meeting notes, which were taken by Bonfiglio as board secretary, state, "[Dunlap:] 'In order to be on the board, to serve on the board or to vote in any election you have to be what's called an active member. ... You have to reside or rent a home within the neighborhood boundaries. As you know there might be some confusion in that because we have several different neighborhood boundaries; there's an overlay, there's transition zones, but Terri and Carey's [Koch, Bonfiglio's husband and a board member] house does not fall under the current bylaws under any of those situations. So what I'm going to propose is if they would be willing to remove their names from the nomination from the 2012 board of officers.'"

In the meeting notes, Dunlap said that she had maps to support her argument, but she declined to comment on the boundary issue to the Times Free Press.

The association will discuss the merits of redrawing Fort Wood's boundaries at 6 p.m. today at the Mayor's Mansion Inn. FWNA President Mike Biderman, asking to be interviewed by email, believes that the neighborhood shouldn't retract but will leave the decision to the association's 10-member board, upon which he, Koch and Bonfiglio sit.

"I'm not sure exactly what would be gained by having a smaller area," he wrote, "It could be that there is an advantage to having the Neighborhood Association boundaries be identical to those of the Historic District, but I don't know what that advantage would be."

Whatever the outcome, members of the neighborhood association will have to decide for themselves. Officials with the city's neighborhood services division have said that neither the city nor county government can rule on association disputes.

It is an important time for the neighborhood. As Bonfiglio and Deneweth's fliers note, Fort Wood is squeezed between the expanding UTC campus and Erlanger.

At an April 16 meeting, the school unveiled the long-term real estate plan it will pitch to state officials. It indicates interest in buying the land on the east side of O'Neal Street between East Third Street and McCallie Avenue and building athletic facilities. The large proposed project is just across the street from the homes where the pair canvassed.

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