published Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

$100 million Hixson development clears first Chattanooga City Council hurdle

Putting aside reservations about traffic, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously took the first step to approve a $100 million development expected to bring hundreds of jobs along with high-end apartments, restaurants and retail that could change the face of Hixson along Highway 153.

Several council members acknowledged congestion concerns raised by the city's transportation director, but argued that wasn't a large enough issue to stop the Hillocks Farm project, which has been through 20 meetings and gained the overwhelming support of the community.

"I don't think the project should have been stopped because of this," said Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem. "That's more of an issue that needs to be addressed with the state and we're going to continue to do that."

The City Council will take a final vote on the Hillocks Farm plan next week, and approval is anticipated.

With that, the project will be set in motion and phased in over the next six years. The revised plan for Hillocks Farm leaves about 60 acres -- one-third of the entire project -- as green areas and open space, including pedestrian trails, and a 100-foot, undeveloped buffer between the development and surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Councilman Chip Henderson asked city transportation officials to pressure the state about the busy 153 corridor and a remedy for the conditions that lead to traffic snarls.

"It will be incumbent on the city to take the lead in directing the state to address some of the improvements that need to be made," Henderson said at the meeting.

The 190-acre project, formerly known as Chattanooga Village, was resurrected this year after the previous council killed the development in January 2013 amid heated community protest.

Later in the year, Henderson, along with fellow Councilmen Jerry Mitchell and Ken Smith appointed a committee of environmental advocates, neighbors and civic leaders to address concerns with flooding, water run-off and how to integrate the commercial project with the residential neighborhood around it.

By the time the project was revived at the January 2014 Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission meeting, the room that more than a year before had been filled with two dozen opponents was filled instead with supporters.

One committee member, Mike Baskette, who lives about a mile from the proposed development, said the reason for the turn-around was the developer's commitment to address the community needs and the potential for a unique option for the area. He compared it to a smaller version of the city's North Shore.

"I became convinced this was going to be good for the community, good for the city," Baskette said. "This is going to draw probably positive attention not only to Hixson but to Chattanooga because of the uniqueness of the project."

Project developer Duane Horton agreed to 39 conditions in order to develop the property. It is estimated that the project will bolster the city and county's annual tax base by $2 million.

City Council members took up the proposal with recommendations both for and against.

The planning commission had recommended by a 12-3 vote that the project be approved. But the Regional Planning Agency's staff and city transportation director Blythe Bailey had recommended that the project be denied. In a five-page document, Bailey detailed traffic and safety concerns, citing the Highway 153 and Dayton Boulevard intersection.

Only one neighbor spoke in opposition to the project Tuesday night, citing the same intersection as the reason.

Council members decided that the concerns weren't enough to deny the project.

Horton said he was pleased with the City Council's response to the last two years of work.

"We were very satisfied with what happened tonight and the work from the whole community," Horton said. "We'll be continuing to work with the community to make sure this is the best development for Hixson and all of Chattanooga."

Bailey said he has a meeting with the Tennessee Department of Transportation on Thursday to address overall projects for the city. He said he will talk with officials about tackling Highway 153.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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