Monday, July 28, 2014 · 10:23 a.m.
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Developer Duane Horton spoke to a group of citizens about his plans for a new Hixson project that has been controversial. (Photo: Staff)

After a tense community meeting Thursday night about Hixson development, the project's leader said he thinks he eased some worries, but opposition to plans for the 190-acre tract of land remains. 

"We had several people leave after the meeting who said they liked a lot of the things they heard," Duane Horton, president of Scenic Land Company, said Friday. 

After getting complaints about a lack of public input, Horton invited all interested parties to a meeting Thursday night at the Hixson Community Center. 

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That came after opposition leaders staged a press conference Wednesday outside a private meeting between Horton and traffic experts. 

The group then tried to go into the traffic meeting, but Horton and other leaders turned them away because it wasn't a public meeting. 

Norton explained at the meeting Thursday that his team had just come to the time to start getting more public input and that there will be more time for feedback.

Gregory Vickrey with the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, who is one of the leaders who opposes the $100 million project, said leaders are purposefully keeping community members out of the discussion.

"People showed up after hearing about this meeting last minute because they care and they care deeply," he said. "They have not been given the opportunity to speak in this format. The developer has deliberately kept this quiet." 

 Those who oppose the development do so for environmental, economic and public safety reasons.

They are concerned about stormwater runoff, the damage to the environment and traffic flow issues. They said that the empty property in Hixson should be revamped and repurposed instead of building new developments. 

The original plan called for about 250 apartments, 250,000 square feet of commercial office space, and stand-alone parcels for retail and dining surrounded by pedestrian-friendly green space, according to Nooga.com archives. 

But in May, Horton also withdrew his rezoning application for the project so that he could modify his plan.

He has since revised the plan, and he tried to tell those at the meeting Thursday night about some of the changes. He also gave out packets of information and encouraged anyone with continued concerns to contact him. 

The literature he handed out details how his plan has evolved. Norton has made changes, such as locating buildings with a smaller footprint in areas with the greatest slope, increasing stormwater control measures; reducing the requested amount of C-2 rezoning; and adding one-fourth of a mile of spacing between curb cuts, according to the documents.

The project also includes amenities such as pedestrian access to neighboring properties, a playground, trail access and outdoor dining. 

Thursday's meeting 
At the beginning of the meeting, leaders with the development told the crowd they would be split up into smaller groups for discussion. 

That drew opposition from the crowd and accusations of a "divide and conquer" attempt by the developer. One woman stood up and said, "We are a community; we want to act like one."

Attorney Gary Patrick, who owns five acres adjoining the property in question and has an option on 12 acres more behind that piece of land, spoke in favor of the project, and a member of the audience asked him where he lived. 

When he said Signal Mountain, members of the crowd rolled their eyes and laughed, implying that his opinion wasn't as relevant because he won't be as directly impacted.

Norton told the crowd that he has worked on LEED-certified projects and that he has made changes, such as adding a buffer of untouched land and green space for a park into his plan. 

Crowd members questioned him about why the meeting wasn't publicized as he tried to speak. 

"There is a different agenda that is being imposed on this meeting," he said. "It's not what we intended for tonight, if I can please go through the presentation." 

He told them that he is doing everything that the Hixson Community Plan outlines and that he isn't proposing a mall.

Vickrey told a local news station that opponents have never said that they think the project is a mall. But according to their website, the conservancy has put billboards up on 153 that say, "Traffic. Flooding. Malls. Do we need more of these on 153?" 

Rick Hill, who is working with Scenic Land Company, told the crowd he is a community advocate and has worked with situations like this for 30 years. 

Hill addressed the negativity in the meeting and encouraged constructive discussion. 

"Don't sell yourself short," he said. "Just express what you want, and just kind of chill out a little bit."

After Norton spoke, he took questions from the crowd as a whole. 

Vickrey said Friday that he thinks many people left the meeting with continued opposition. 

"My impression is that they continue to stand in unison against this rezone request," he said. "With regards to the supplemental information being provided—the information just doesn't resonate with us as a group. While the developer and his team seem to be very adept at picking and choosing information to respond to, they just don't get the whole picture, and I don't think they ever will." 

Norton said Friday that there are misunderstandings about the development. Some people seem to think the North Chickamauga Creek flows through that property. Norton said it doesn't. 

He plans to resubmit his proposal to city leaders soon, although he said at the meeting there isn't a scheduled date yet. 

"We will continue to have public meetings," he said. "We are doing everything we can to address concerns." 

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