City eyes Tub­man re­zon­ing pro­posal

Res­i­dents ex­press con­cerns about plan

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOAN MCCLANE STAFF WRITER

“The con­cern I have is com­mu­nity trust. You have al­ready made a de­ci­sion. That is prob­lem­atic.”


Af­ter sev­eral years of rel­a­tive si­lence, the city of Chat­tanooga is qui­etly be­gin­ning to tell neigh­bor­hood lead­ers its long-term plans for the former Har­riet Tub­man pub­lic hous­ing site, which the city pur­chased in 2014.

On Mon­day, at a gath­er­ing of neigh­bor­hood lead­ers, and Satur­day, at an Avon­dale neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tion meet­ing, staff from the city’s of­fice of eco­nomic and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment out­lined an ag­gres­sive time­line for re­zon­ing the former Tub­man tract from res­i­den­tial to light in­dus­trial, or M1, with two con­di­tions. The site can­not be used for poul­try pro­cess­ing and the buyer must cre­ate a green buf­fer along Roanoke Av­enue.

“It re­tains mul­ti­fam­ily zon­ing. That makes it less at­trac­tive for com­pa­nies look­ing to pur­chase the site,” Charita Allen, the city’s deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, told the group gath­ered Satur­day at the Avon­dale Re­cre­ation Cen­ter. “We need to get the zone changed so that we can com­pete. … What we want to do is level the play­ing field so that the next time a prospect comes, it is al­ready re­zoned.”

In less than 10 days, by Oct. 22, Allen said the city ex­pects to have a zon­ing change ap­pli­ca­tion sub­mit­ted to the Chat­tanooga-Hamil­ton County Re­gional Plan­ning Agency. The re­zon­ing process should be com­pleted by Jan­uary, she said.

“We feel good about the time­line we have cre­ated,” she said.

Neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents, how­ever, weren’t com­fort­able with the time­line, or the plan.

Af­ter Allen fin­ished her pre­sen­ta­tion, the meet­ing be­came ex­tremely tense.

At the be­gin­ning, the 30 or so res­i­dents gath­ered were told by city staff that they could ask ques­tions af­ter the pre­sen­ta­tion, but they would need to write their ques­tion down on an in­dex card and turn that card in for a city staffer to read for them. They needed the ques­tions on in­dex cards so they could have a record of each one be­ing ad­dressed, Allen said.

Some res­i­dents wanted to speak for them­selves and when city staff tried to re­assert their “ground rules” for the meet­ing, Dr. Everlena Holmes, a Glen­wood block leader and East Chat­tanooga com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer, stood up and re­fused to go along.

“Ab­so­lutely not!” she said.

“The con­cern I have is com­mu­nity trust,” she added. “You have al­ready made a de­ci­sion. That is prob­lem­atic.”

Holmes and sev­eral other East Chat­tanooga neigh­bor­hood lead­ers have been deeply in­volved in the Re­gional Plan­ning Agency’s Area 3 plan­ning process, which launched over the sum­mer and promised to cre­ate a fu­ture plan for the area — which in­cludes zon­ing for the Tub­man site — in­formed by lo­cal res­i­dents, as well as other stake­hold­ers.

De­spite a flurry of meet­ings ear­lier this year, the plan­ning process stalled sev­eral months ago when the Re­gional Plan­ning Agency staff mem­ber lead­ing the plan­ning process left to take an­other job. A new staff mem­ber has taken over the plan­ning process and the Re­gional Plan­ning web­site says a pub­lic in­put meet­ing fo­cused on “Com­mu­nity Choices” is ten­ta­tively sched­uled for Novem­ber.

“Why not wait un­til it [the area 3 plan] is done be­fore you do any­thing?,” Holmes asked Allen. “There needs to be a mora­to­rium on all re­zon­ing. Why is the city jump­ing over the plan­ning process?”

In March, when the city re­ceived a state grant to study the site, Allen said the fu­ture of the site would de­pend, in large part, on the re­sults of the Area 3 plan­ning process. On Satur­day, Jer­maine Free­man, civic en­gage­ment co­or­di­na­tor for the city, said “we want this process to in­form the Area 3 plan.”

Chat­tanooga Mayor Andy Berke has al­ways in­tended the Tub­man site — a to­tal of 44 acres, in­clud­ing in­ter­nal roads — for job cre­ation. So far the city has spent $7.2 mil­lion on ac­qui­si­tion and de­mo­li­tion.

Job cre­ation also was the stated in­tent when the Chat­tanooga City Coun­cil ap­proved the pur­chase. Allen re­minded the Avon­dale group as much Satur­day.

How­ever, for just as long, res­i­dents have been say­ing the area needed af­ford­able hous­ing as much, if not more than, jobs.

“It was al­ways a point of con­tention, whether there should be job cre­ation or af­ford­able hous­ing,” Eric Atkins, a com­mu­nity ac­tivist, told Allen. “There has al­ways been an ar­gu­ment for mixed use. You need to stop say­ing that that was what the com­mu­nity wanted.”

Af­ter the city pur­chased the site, the Re­gional Plan­ning Agency and the Chat­tanooga De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion cre­ated mul­ti­ple con­cepts for the fu­ture of the Tub­man site and shared those plans with neigh­bor­hood groups, hop­ing to get feed­back. Each rec­om­men­da­tion was mixed use. One con­cept en­vi­sioned by Re­gional Plan­ning and the De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion, at the time, com­bined a smaller in­dus­trial space with of­fice space, mul­ti­fam­ily apart­ments and mixed-use space with re­tail on the bot­tom floor and res­i­den­tial above. The one con­cept Re­gional Plan­ning and the De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion didn’t rec­om­mend, at the time, was a “con­ven­tional” M1 des­ig­na­tion, which would limit the site to a sin­gle use, doc­u­ments show.

Gail McKeel, a Glass Farms res­i­dent who saw the con­cepts at a 2015 ur­ban­ism work­shop hosted by Glass House Col­lec­tive, a place-mak­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing to re­vive the neigh­bor­hood around the former Tub­man site, said she was much more ex­cited about the ideas she saw that day than she was about the city’s pitch Satur­day.

When asked if the city had con­sid­ered a mixe­duse zone, Allen said no.

“When the site was pur­chased, it was for job cre­ation, not a mixed-use district,” she said. “When this goes be­fore the plan­ning com­mis­sion, there are pub­lic hear­ings on it. That is when that con­ver­sa­tion comes up. When it goes be­fore the coun­cil, the com­mu­nity can say they don’t want jobs, they want mixed-use de­vel­op­ment.”

Con­tact Joan McClane at 423-757-6601 or jmc clane@times­freep­ress. com.

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