published Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Chattanooga Village offers hope to Hixson

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    Developer Duane Horton discusses plans for the Chattanooga Village project at a public meeting at the Hixson Community Center in this file photo.
    Photo by Allison Love.
    enlarge photo

Nine Chattanoogans hold the future of the Chattanooga Village project -- and, perhaps, the long-term economic viability of the Hixson area -- in their hands tonight. After deferring the vote for two weeks, the members of the Chattanooga City Council must decide in this evening's meeting whether to rezone property so Chattanooga Village can be built.

The council members will choose between either granting the wish of an elderly property owner to improve the lives of thousands of people or succumbing to a spurious smear campaign led by disingenuous menaces who want to crush the project.

Jack Lonas, the 84-year-old widower who owns the vacant 190-acre tract near state Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road, wants to sell his land. He also wants what's best for the Hixson community.

In an open letter to Hixson residents, Lonas said that after the loss of his wife, he decided to do something with the land that would have "a lasting impact on the community and provide something for generations to come."

At this point, Lonas can do one of three things with the land:

1) He can keep the zoning as is and sell the property to residential developer who would put over 700 homes on the land. This option, Lonas points out, would leave "little to no existing green space and [create a] major disruption of wildlife."

2) He can clear-cut the trees on the property to make a profit on the timber -- an option that would require no permission, but would create an eyesore and possible environmental harm.

3) He can have the land rezoned and work with developers to create Chattanooga Village, a green-friendly "mixed-use development plan which incorporates existing natural features with housing, dining, corporate office space and retail options not currently available in the area," Lonas said.

Lonas supports the Chattanooga Village plan because, with its promise of up to 280 apartments, 500,000 square feet of retail space and 250,000 square feet of offices, "it will be a place of lasting significance."

•••

While Lonas and the developer behind Chattanooga Village have listened to comments and questions in 18 public meetings and made 30 changes in the plan to make sure the project has addressed all concerns, a faction has worked to kill this exciting dream.

CBL & Associates Properties Inc., the corporate owner of Northgate Mall, doesn't want to see hundreds of homes, thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic growth come to Hixson. That's because CBL's leaders are opposed to the competition Chattanooga Village could create for nearby Northgate.

In an attempt to stall the project, the greedy mall development conglomerate enlisted Waterhouse Public Relations firm to inflame concerns about Chattanooga Village and lobby city council members to vote against the zoning necessary for the project.

A Waterhouse employee worked with North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, a band of environmental activists, to exaggerate environmental fears associated with Chattanooga Village and attempt to sway public support away from the promising development.

As a part of the effort, Waterhouse distributed the green "Don't Chop the Hilltop" T-shirts that are often donned by opponents of Chattanooga Village. Further, a Waterhouse employee circulated questions critical of Chattanooga Village with audience members before a recent public forum about the project. Meanwhile, the employee says that she is a mere "concerned citizen" of Hixson -- even though she is on Waterhouse's payroll.

It seems the grassroots support against the Chattanooga Village project is, largely, a front for CBL's opposition to the development.

To make matters worse, Gregory Vickrey, the Conservancy's executive director, has paraded around as the voice of local opposition to the Chattanooga Village development. It turns out Vickrey's local roots aren't as deeps as they appear. His consulting firm doesn't claim an address in Tennessee.

According to county records, Vickrey doesn't own a home in the Chattanooga area and, as recently as 2007, Vickrey ran for local office in Ketchikan, Alaska. On various websites, he claims Alaska, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and California as home.

•••

When voting tonight, city council members should ask themselves the question: "Do I want to empower a land owner to create jobs, homes and economic opportunity with his property, or do I want to allow a small group of opponents working as a front for a competitor to kill a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hixson?"

The choice seems obvious.

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aae1049 said...

My My, greedy corporations using citizens for their own special interest. This action has thrown all the valid citizen concerns under the bus. That's right, under the bus.

The most stinky is CBL, who is the recipient of corporate welfare, where, we the taxpayers, subsidize the CBL Center on Jarnigan Road's share of property taxes and services.

As noted on the PILOT list of local corporations exempt from paying property taxes or pay at a greatly reduced rate is the CBL Center on Jarnigan Road.

http://littlechicagowatch.com/2012/11/chattanoogas-passion-for-corporate-welfare/

Why the heck doesn't the City and County call the property project what it is, "CBL Center?" Then, we might know who was not paying property taxes without digging to find out?

Jarnigan Road ain't no road project, so call it what it is, "The CBL Center." It is just mind boggling how CBL pleads for us all to give to United Way, then exempts themselves out of paying local property taxes that go to local services, such as the recreation centers in neighborhoods riddled with poverty. If CBL really cares about the poor, then they should start paying all of their share of paying property taxes for the CBL Center. I should not have to subsidize CBL's share of property taxes for Jarnigan.

Oh, where was I going this? Pay your property taxes CBL and quit meddling in other developers business. You are not the corporate ruler of Chattanooga, although I am sure you own a few elected officials, Benson and Rico. Perhaps Mr. Horton will hear a who, and sue you.

Why? you ask. It is NOT the role of City gov to give preference to any one business interest over another. CBL has intentionally lobbied to stop commercial competition for their Northgate financial interest, and have interfered in Horton's right to use his property.

The taxpayers have no business protecting Northgate's business interests for the Lebowits. Let free market and strong business principles pick the winners, instead of a corporate lobby from CBL.

January 22, 2013 at 7:30 a.m.
Facts said...

As a Hixson resident, reading the writings from a man who's lived here less than a year talk about the "hope"of my hometown is sickening.

We have too much vacant retail space now. We've just had the entire Boy Scout Rd. area flooded that will be impacted by this "hope".

The City Council vote tonight should be of every homeowner's concern. This could happen to your neigbhorhood next.

The market is not demanding a new development in Hixson. It's the authentically greedy who are being exposed now. The Libertarian gets it wrong and should understand the "rights" of one do not over ride the "rights" of another.

January 22, 2013 at 7:33 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Market Demand is measured by the risk loan institutions and investors are willing to take. There are obviously people willing to invest in the development, so the Demand does exist.

What you are asking gov to do is to protect another companies investment by controlling the vacancy market. Dangerous move for gov to pick and protect business winners.

If there is valid traffic or environmental, stop the project, if not, proceed.

January 22, 2013 at 8:09 a.m.
BigRidgeGOP said...

As a Hixson resident, the whole process for the development concerns me. Our elected leader on the City Council has previously made positive comments about the developer and continues to say she wants to hear more the developer before voting on the issue. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear her say anything that would advocate on behalf of those she was elected to represent – the residents! This is strange seeing how she is now running a re-election campaign that promises to be a voice for the local neighborhood associations.

I cannot attest to what CBL is or is not doing in this debate, but I can attest to what Hixson residents think about this project and its viability. As someone who drives this area almost every day, it's pretty clear that the Chattanooga Village development will only add to the stormwater runoff and traffic issues that already plaque this area. Just look at how the recent rainstorms have flooded the proposed site, which happens all of the time when our area gets a prolonged period of rain. This is a FACT... not something that is being created by a PR firm to derail this project.

I do agree with your comment about the rights of the property owner. The property owner has the right to do what he wants with the property as long as he following the current zoning restrictions. But, that is not the issue being discussed here. If the developer was building residential homes, I don't think the surrounding areas would be opposed as they are with the Chattanooga Village project. If the landowner wants to build something different, then he must go through the rezoning process just like anyone else.

I'm not opposed to this area being developed, but I do oppose a process where a zoning change is rammed through the approval process (which the Mayor did in this case) while ignoring the key concerns and issues raised by local residents. From day one, the developer has mishandled this process and taken steps that only raise more questions rather than provide answers with any substance.

For example, we keep hearing that the developer has incorporated changes to the Chattanooga Village plan to address resident's concerns, but I have yet to see how they will address the stormwater and traffic issues once this project is built. All I keep hearing from the developer and our city leaders is how the city will not allow the project to open until these issues are addressed.

Can you tell me the last time you have actually trusted city government to upholds its commitments?

January 22, 2013 at 10:07 a.m.
glorygloria said...

Mr. Lonas wants to make "a lasting impact on the community and provide something for generations to come" but thinks his only choice is to put up 700 acres of houses or knock down 700 acres of trees, both of which he admits would be BAD for the community, if Mr. Horton doesn't get his way. Talk about disingenuous.

And I'm sorry, was there a parade? I must have missed it...maybe it was held in Alaska...?

The planning approval process is designed to give the neighbors a voice in what happens in their community. The neighbors are using the process as intended, and they're not backing down - good for them. Why is the Free Press so intent on defeating these citizens with collateral attacks on their integrity? Is it because the facts about the development just don't support the viewpoint the Free Press espouses?

Since we're so very concerned about who's funding/goading/fronting for whom in all this, I'd like to know who's got their claws in the Free Press. It ain't CBL, that's for sure...

January 22, 2013 at 2:26 p.m.
Leaf said...

I don't know anything about this issue, but this piece didn't sound like an advertisement written by a hired lobbyist's intern AT ALL.

January 22, 2013 at 4:41 p.m.
librul said...

Kudos to the Commission! Only wish Aetna Mountain had had the benefit of an active, concerned citizenry but those Black Creek politicos would have probably rolled over them anyway. Just compare the two - in one case, an unneeded project that would sacrifice greenspace in an already over-developed community and would create water runnoff and traffic headaches versus the unneeded sacrifice of an entire mountaintop to unneeded high-end development that accomplished exactly the same thing with the same liabilities but with the added insult of public taxpayer subsidy! Of course, "Thunder" Thornton's barely bankrupt-rescued debacle on Jasper Mountain is the worst example of all and his fraud-fest at Little Cedar Mountain is way up there, too. What a bunch!

January 23, 2013 at 6:40 a.m.
Handleit said...

I feel sure had it not been election season for several council members we would have seen a different outcome.

January 23, 2013 at 1:23 p.m.
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