It will be at least two weeks before a controversial development in Hixson will know if it has the green light to move forward, after Chattanooga City Council members opted Tuesday to defer approving an ordinance for rezoning property in Hixson.
The land, a 190-acre tract located along Highway 153 and Boy Scout Road, has been chosen as the site for a prospective $100 million multiuse development called Chattanooga Village, built by Scenic Land Company. Along with more than 140 acres of office and retail space, more than 40 acres of the property have been designated to be built into a "multifamily" development, including 280 apartments.
After months of public discussion, developers had hoped to be given final approval by the City Council. Dozens of supporters attended the meeting, only to be seated alongside neighborhood residents in opposition to the development wearing noticeable green T-shirts bearing the slogan "Don't Chop the Hilltop."
Questions on the development from City Council members pertained to the language of the proposal, recent suggestions or modifications made as the result of discussion, traffic, and items such as water quality and environmental management.
John Van Winkle, transportation engineer for the city, told council members that after having reviewed a traffic study of the site, his department could approve it subject to the working out of questions between the developer and residents.
"We recommend that the conditions that were stated, offered and suggested by the consultant for the developer were satisfied, and we recommend approval," he said.
But several citizen attendees to the meeting had alternative opinions.
Duane Horton, president of Scenic Land Company, said that his group had made several concessions to their original proposal after hearing objection from residents and the city. Horton said that with regards to "chopping" the hilltop, which has been the battle cry for residents in opposition to the development, no irreparable damage to the slope-sides or highest points of the tract would materialize during construction.
"We have a highly restrictive set of conditions for slope protection and the types and sizes of buildings," Horton said. "… The highest point will not be touched."
Ellie Wallis, a nearby resident who spoke out in opposition against the development, said she thought the community had been shut out from discussion regarding the development. Wallis said she thought the project was being put forward for the sake of growth without the concerns of nearby residents being considered in planning.
"That lack of information from the developer is the only thing that's been consistent," Wallis said. "I've seen many developments that look good on paper but fail."
Joe Conner, an attorney for the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, cited a lack of agreements from potential commercial tenants for the development, along with no letters of intent having been submitted by potential apartment leasers. Conner suggested that the structure of the proposal would allow developers to focus on building "big box" retail stores first, as opposed to housing for area residents.
"If you pass this as is, they can build whatever phase they want to first, whatever part they want to," Conner said. "It'll be the big boxes first, then pedestrian."
Councilman Manny Rico motioned to deny approving the ordinance, with Councilman Jack Benson seconding the motion. The motion failed. Rico later said he had put the motion forward because he had received more communication detailing opposition to the measure than communication in support.
Councilman Andraé McGary moved to defer the resolution two weeks. McGary said that although he saw some of the points brought forth during debate as being "superfluous" to the issue, there were still elements that could be discussed.
Councilwoman Pam Ladd, who represents the area in which the proposed development would be built, seconded McGary's motion.
"This has been a very convoluted issue," Ladd said. "It's been an issue where I think we've got a good attempt at making a credible investment, and there are also concerns of residents who live nearby … This has gone on very long, and I can tell you that it is causing a lot of stress in this district. I vote to defer only because there have been good questions that have been raised by both sides this evening."
The council eventually voted 8-1 to defer voting on the ordinance. Councilman Manny Rico cast the lone no vote among council members.
The council will resume discussion of the ordinance in their Jan. 22 meeting.