published Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Hixson site could hold 700 homes

TRACT TIMELINE

* 1991 -- Crown American Corp. proposes building a shopping center on the scale of Hamilton Place mall.

* 2002 -- Developer Tom DuPre offers a smaller commercial project.

* 2007 -- Hixson Methodist Church options land for a possible church and community-oriented development, but decided against the move.

* 2011 -- Duane Horton's Scenic Land Co. proposes 280 apartments and 763,320 square feet of commercial space.

* January 2013 -- City Council votes down Scenic Land project.

Though the proposed $100 million Chattanooga Village project has been spiked, the Hixson site is already zoned residential and could hold upward of 700 single-family homes.

Whether landowner Jack Lonas plans to move ahead with a large-scale subdivision on the 190-acre site is unclear in the wake of last week's City Council rejection.

Lonas, the longtime owner of the vacant parcel on state Highway 153 near Boy Scout Road, said he's uncertain about what's next.

"This was the best project," he said about developer Duane Horton's proposal for apartments, retail space and offices.

Horton, who worked with Lonas on Chattanooga Village, said he's not saying that putting up to four homes per acre on the property is what's going to happen to the site, but that "all the options" are on the table.

He said the single-family home market is coming back from the sharp downturn that occurred amid the Great Recession.

"It's about figuring out the best use of the property long term," Horton said. "I've got no comment on any other plan."

Linden Stricker, who lives near the tract, said some people in the area think homes should be built on the site. But he worries about the impact that a lot more residents with children would have on Hixson-area schools.

Stricker, who was a member of the Don't Chop the Hilltop group that was critical of Horton's project, said he doesn't oppose some small commercial space to service a potential residential use.

However, he said he's still in favor of filling the estimated 600,000 square feet of empty commercial space that already exists in the Hixson area.

Renee Roark, who also lives near the 190-acre parcel, said she doesn't want the hill torn down no matter what goes on the site. Boy Scout Road already floods during heavy rains, she said.

Roark said she's not necessarily bothered by retail shops and offices on the tract, though it depends on how the space is done. Already, she said, there are empty lots at The Fountains shopping center nearby across Highway 153.

Future projects

Chattanooga's chief planner said changes to the development approval process should be considered given all the conditions that were added to the final version of Horton's proposal that went before the City Council seeking zoning changes to the property.

John Bridger, who directs the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, said Chattanooga Village ended up with about 30 conditions, and that's an indicator that something should be fixed.

"How can we do a better job streamlining the development process?" he said, adding that the existing procedural system was built in the 1970s.

About 15 months passed from the time Horton's Scenic Land Co. proposed building up to 280 apartments and 763,320 square feet of commercial space to the City Council's denial.

Horton said some members of his development team, which included experts who work nationwide, remarked about the review process.

"The process should always be evaluated," he said. "This one should be as well. I do think that could be wise ... from a growth standpoint and the overall health for the community."

The City Council turned down Horton's plan by a 5-3 vote. It would have been one of the biggest mixed-use projects ever raised in Hamilton County. Horton said the project would have created 2,000 jobs and $2 million a year in new taxes, and he pledged to keep the top of the hilltop.

However, public meetings on the proposal drew sizable numbers of area residents with a wide array of questions and concerns, including increased traffic and a potential drop in their property values.

Also, the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy worried about stormwater runoff and other issues, and Northgate Mall owner CBL & Associates Properties Inc. weighed in.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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