In Chattanooga, Citizens Speak Out For Steep Slope And Floodplain Protection

The Chattanoogan

An overflow crowd at the Chattanooga City Council meeting on Tuesday night spoke out in favor of steep slope and floodplain protection.

A number of citizens said the city’s Scenic City image is being downgraded by rampant hillside development and that water runoff is affecting many residents downhill.

John Bridger, executive director of the Regional Planning Agency, said his staff will be bringing a proposal to the council for its deliberation.

He said currently there are no ordinance curbs on steep slope or floodplain development in Chattanooga. He said the planning agency makes policy recommendations on specific cases.

Mr. Bridger said 85 percent of the cases that go before the Planning Commission involve either steep slopes or floodplains. He said, “All the easy land has been developed.”

The hearing was an outgrowth of a request by Council members Darrin Ledford and Jerry Mitchell for the council to look into possible development curbs.

In an opening statement, Councilman Ledford said the issue was “long overdue for attention.”

The president of the St. Elmo neighborhood said 24 of 32 members present at a recent meeting were in favor of a strongly worded resolution on the issue from Tim McDonald, who owns a number of St. Elmo tracts, including some on Hawkins Ridge. Mr. McDonald said steep slope development is leading to excessive runoff, sedimentation and slope slippage.

Jim Faulkner, who lives on a hill at Mountain Creek, said, “I don’t understand why people build in a 100-year floodplain. I just don’t get it.”

He said he supports a moratorium on development on very steep slopes and floodplains.

Another speaker from St. Elmo said water runoff is “a huge problem.” She also said, “The scenic fabric of the city is being affected.”

Still another St. Elmo speaker said a developer has brought up a large section above Guild Trail and near the Glen Falls Drive. She said there already is a serious runoff problem in that area.

A resident of the Baker Street Hilltop neighborhood in North Chattanooga said the potential move by the City Council “is long overdue.” She said, “Our delicate areas are being irresponsibly developed.” She also favored a moratorium.

Sandy Kurtz, longtime environmental leader, said the city’s steep slopes “make Chattanooga Chattanooga.” She said, “They are slowly being eaten away. We should not destroy the essence of what is Chattanooga.”

Another speaker said, “The developers are calling the shots. And, bless their hearts, they want to develop. As a result, the Scenic City is imperiled.”

A resident said the city may get additional revenue from a development, but it may bring new expenses for dealing with runoff and infrastructure.

An architect and a developer said RPA actions on steep slopes and floodplains are spotty and inconsistent. They said an established policy for developers to follow is needed.

Sylvester Harris of East Chattanooga said developers “are piling it up in North Chattanooga and Gunbarrel, and it’s a mess.” He said, meanwhile, East Chattanooga has lots of developable land. He said, “They should help clean us up and spread the wealth.”

Marie Mott said the problem was on the City Council “you don’t have people with backbones.”

She said, “We’re already over-developed. We’re in this game a little too late.”

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