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published on 05/26/2006

Signal Mountain Community Meeting on Re-Zoning SEE VOTE ADDENDUM

By staff writer

The Signal Mountain Community meeting held Wednesday, May 24 in the Paul Mathes Community Center Gym was led by Mayor Bill Leonard who led the more than 150 citizens in the Pledge of Allegiance and moment of prayer. Explaining that the main question for the evening was: “Why is the Town considering changes to the zoning ordinance for the Shackleford Ridge area?” He noted that the purpose was educational to inform those persons who had missed some meetings, had only a parcel of information, or had no information at all. Focus would be on the facts.

Mayor Leonard then introduced a panel of individuals who have contributed to the process at hand. This included the town attorney, Phil Noblett; chairman of the Planning Commission, Dan Saieed; senior planner from the Chattanooga Regional Planning Agency (RPA), Karen Rennich; Councilmembers Robert White, Lizetta Paturalski, Steve Ruffin, and Bob Linehart. Also present were town manager, Diana Campbell, assistant town manager and police chief, Boyd Veal; town recorder Sherry Morrison, and representing the Hamilton County Waste Water Treatment Authority (WWTA), Mike Howard.

On May 18, 2005 the high school became a reality when the towns of Signal Mountain and Walden committed to financing part of the building. The WWTA controls the sewers in the Town of Signal Mountain. The high school will require a sewer and as long as they were going to lay a line out Shackleford Ridge Road, the Town asked them to consider going past the high school so that future development could benefit from the sewers.

In 1997 the Walden Plateau Area Plan was developed and then in 2000 the Town Land Use and Transportation Plan was created. Both these plans were meant as guides for future development and have been available at the Town Hall since their inception. They include among other things two recommendations that provide: a variety of housing arrangements and the services (fire, police, sewer, etc.) to meet the needs of such housing.

To hook up to a sewer line is very expensive for individual homeowners when done after-the-fact. Putting in the sewer lines when the property is developed is more cost efficient, according to Mayor Leonard. And sewers are more environmentally safe than septic systems.

Dan Saieed gave a brief history of the Planning Commission’s meetings of which there were 20 including the one tonight, that began in October 2005. All but three of these meetings were open to the public and those three were with the town attorney and met attorney/client restrictions. When the Planning Commission reviewed the growth study they asked the Hamilton County RPA to assist. The RPA came back with three options: (1) no growth/build a 4” sewer line; (2) conventional large lots w/little or no open space and no diversity of housing/build a 8”-12” sewer line; or (3) reduce lot sizes, provide open space subdivision design options, offer current zoning of residential planned developments (PUD), and offer alternative low density residential designs. This would require an 8” to 12” sewer line.

Because the first two options did not meet either the Walden Plateau or Land Use Plan, the Planning Commission focused on the third option. After 50+ hours of public meetings discussing and answering questions to those people who took the time to come to the meetings a final draft which took over 14 hours to create, was drawn up and voted upon unanimously by the entire commission. It was then taken to the Town Council who passed it on First Reading.

Karen Rennich focused on demographics reporting that the population between 1990 and 2000 rose and continues to do so. The median age is between 33.6 in 1999 and 43.6 in 2000; with 1,165 senior citizens (65+) in 1990 and 1,532 in 2000. The average home on Signal Mountain is $100,000 higher than the county average.

Attorney Phil Noblett explained that before 1938, the Town of Signal Mountain had no zoning ordinances. In 1979 the minimum size of a lot was increased and then in 1992, it was increased again due to sewer problems and the forced use of septic tanks, which required increased lot sizes. In 2000, the open space zoning was adopted. To create the Shackleford Ridge Overlay Zoning ordinance, the previous zoning ordinances were used as starting points.

Mr. Noblett pointed out that even though there are 1,023 acres in the proposed rezoning area, only 744 of those acres has the potential for development (279 acres is the park/school site). He went on to explain in more detail each of the sections of the ordinance comparing them to current zoning laws. Example neighborhoods were given of each section such as Ramsgate in Hixson, Reunion in East Brainerd, and Traditions in Red Bank. He explained once again that any property being developed would be required to submit a plan to the Planning Commission for approval and all plans would have to follow the zoning ordinance as prescribed in the law.

Mayor Leonard then invited any of the Council or people who have worked on the ordinance to come forward and make a statement. Councilmember and Vice-mayor Steve Ruffin announced that he ran on a promise to not rezone and therefore he did not support the ordinance and would vote no to which he got a resounding applause.

Glenn Baird, one of the property owners in the proposed area of development spoke on how he felt about the future of the area. Although he and his family had not discussed a particular development, he talked about the look of Old Towne and recreating that type of atmosphere. Mr. Baird also reminded everyone that the people who own the property are their neighbors, friends, and people we see at the ball games, grocery store and church – not the enemy. Another developer and property owner, Jay Bell came forward to ask the community to not be afraid of a lot of people moving up the mountain; that it would take ten to twenty years for it to be all developed and so it would happen over time – not a population explosion as people had been frightened into believing. What he would build would be controlled growth and something the community would be proud of.

Jack Kreusi, who developed Fox Run, thanked the town for holding this meeting and the people for coming but pointed out that what was being said tonight had been said before at other town meetings. He also reminded people that it was he and the other property owners in the Shackleford Ridge Road area who created the Walden’s Ridge Utility out of their own pockets when the town of Signal Mountain wanted to charge too much, in his opinion, to come out that far. He stated that misinformation given to the public was a shame and was hurt that people had accused the developers of being money hungry blaming the people who were giving out misinformation.

Mayor Leonard then opened the meeting up to questions at which time people were given an opportunity to express their opinions. He then announced at the end that a vote will held by the members of the Town Council on Friday, May 26, 2006, at the Town Hall. There will be no more discussion at that time.

Friday, May 25, 2006 -- Mayor Leonard called the special meeting at the Town Hall to order. After the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and opening prayer, town recorder Sherry Morrison called roll. All members of the town coucil were present. She then read the ordinance being voted on. Mayor Leonard suggested in his opinion that the Town Council carry the ordinace to the Planning Commission and together they go back over it, if and only if, all members of the Town Council and Planning Commission are present and come up with an ordinance that they all agree on as well as the residents in the community. Vice-mayor put the mayor's suggestion in the form of a motion which was seconded by the Mayor. Councilmember Linehart pointed out the Planning Commission would make the final recommendation to which town attorney Phil Noblett agreed. Councilmember White wanted clarification on one or two readings. Councilmember Paturalski asked that the transportation study be stepped up in time to be considered during the planning session. And Mayor Leonard announced that this session would be open to the public. The motion passed and Mayor Leonard closed the meeting.
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