City Council denies rezoning of controversial Hixson development

Authored By Chloé Morrison

After more than a year of planning and debate, City Council members denied the request to rezone a tract of land along Highway 153 near Boy Scout Road in Hixson. The vote was 5-3.

Andraé McGary, Russell Gilbert and Carol Berz voted to approve the $100 million, mixed-use development called Chattanooga Village, but the remaining members denied the proposal. 

The project would have included 280 apartments and up to 750,000 square feet of retail and office space, according to archives. 

The project falls under Pam Ladd’s district. She voted no, and Peter Murphy cast the final vote after saying that he would side with the majority. 

“We are here to represent you,” Ladd said about the voters in her district. “I’ve always taken that extremely seriously. I will be voting no. I’m your representative, and I’ve appreciated your input-some was a little friendlier than others.”

For developer Duane Horton, developer and president of Scenic Land Company, the decision means he must re-evaluate. 

He also said the decision surprised him.

“I think that in the end, the community and the landowner lost the best option that was available,” he said. “I think the other options that are available, I don’t think are near as attractive.”

When asked if he would resubmit a proposal after the March election, he said he wasn’t sure. 

“The property is zoned where it could be developed-we can develop homes on it, and there are other options I’d rather not discuss,” he said. “This was our plan. There wasn’t a backup.”

For opponent of the development Gregory Vickrey with the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, the decision brought relief.

“Truth be told, had the decision gone either way, we still would have felt relief,” he said after the meeting. “We feel there’s been enough information. But we feel strongly that the council made the only reasonable decision.” 

Opponents of the development have said repeatedly that they were concerned about environmental issues, such as stormwater runoff problems and hilltop destruction, as well as traffic and public safety worries. 

Horton made attempts to address the concerns, he said. He hosted public meetings, hired a public relations firm and other development experts, and he made many changes to his plans. Tuesday night, he said his plan went through five major redesigns and included 38 conditions. 

Leaders with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission approved the controversial development last month. 

The City Council meeting was packed Tuesday night-the majority of people attending to hear discussion about this development. 

Each side discussed their positions, and council members asked questions of all those involved. 

Jack and Carolyn Lonas own the 190 acres. Jack previously said he supported Horton’s project, according to archives. 

According to the Chattanooga Village Facebook page, Jack wrote a letter explaining his desire for the development to move forward. 

The discussion lasted a couple of hours, during which time leaders questioned the extent of their duty to regulate some parts of private property. 

There’s only so much interference we can do with private property rights,” Berz said. “I wonder if some of our consideration is outside what a council should be considering.”

She added that topics such as infrastructure and stormwater runoff were issues of concern to council members but questioned where the line is drawn in interfering with the development of private property. 

Councilman Manny Rico said that he didn’t like the idea of rezoning land for something it wasn’t originally meant for. 

“I believe in property rights very strongly-for what it’s zoned for,” he said. “When you go rezone, it’s a different animal.”