published Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Planning panel votes OK; residents still mulling lawsuit


by Cliff Hightower
Audio clip

Kyle Holden

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission voted 9-5 Monday for the city's annexation plan to move forward, despite about 200 people voicing their frustration at the meeting.

Kyle Holden, an opponent of annexation and founder of Hamilton County Residents Against Annexation, said after the meeting that he was not surprised by the outcome. He said residents were not ruling out litigation.

"It's still too early to tell," he said.

Angry residents packed the Hamilton County Courthouse chambers, taking up the floor, a balcony and spilling out into the rotunda. The planning commission considered 10 different zones to be annexed and went over each zone individually, allowing residents of the areas five minutes to speak.

The areas being considered for annexation include Cummings Cove, Ramsgate, areas in Ooltewah around the Summit of Softball complex and Apison Pike and areas east of Morris Hill Road.

The commission voted specifically on the city's plan of services, which discusses how Chattanooga will provide such things as fire and police protection and sewer and garbage services to newly annexed areas.

Jim Chastain, a resident of north Hixson, argued that the plan of services given to the commission lacked details. In several parts of the plan, the city said it would study if more services need to be provided after 90 days, he said.

"To conduct a study is not really a plan," he said. "We would like to see a plan."

Mayor Ron Littlefield countered later in the meeting that the city had presented a reasonable plan under law.

"This plan meets the requirements of the state statute," Mr. Littlefield said. "We do follow up with what steps we would take."

AFFECTED AREAS

* Cummings Cove

* Ramsgate

* Ray Jo Subdivision and areas east of Morris Hill Road

* Swaths of area along Apison Pike and the Ooltewah area

Source: City of Chattanooga

VOTES AGAINST

Five board members voted against the annexation plans presented to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission:

* John Allen Brooks

* Mike Langley

* Tommy McDaniel

Bobby Scott

* Dan Wade

VOTES FOR

Ron Littlefield; Jack Benson; Jon Bell; Mary Eastman; Kenneth Jordan; William Smith; Vance Travis; Y.L. Coker; Don Moon.

NOT Voting

Carolyn Collins

With the planning commission's approval, the annexation now moves to the Chattanooga City Council for a public hearing and then two required votes of approval. City officials have said those votes could happen in October.

A second phase of annexation is also expected to go in front of the planning commission next month.

a split board

During Monday's meeting, five members of the planning commission voiced frustration at the city for what they deemed as an incomplete plan of services.

At the beginning of the meeting, City Attorney Mike McMahan acknowledged that more fire hydrants would be needed in the Ramsgate community and a fire station would need to be built to serve Cummings Cove.

Planning Commissioner Mike Langley asked Chattanooga Fire Chief Randy Parker point blank how many fire hydrants Ramsgate needed.

"We do have a number, I don't have it immediately available," Chief Parker responded.

Pressed further, Chief Parker said that much of the information about fire service had been talked about internally.

Mr. Littlefield countered by saying that the city builds fire stations continuously.

County Commissioner and board member John Allen Brooks, who voted against the plan, said it fell short in several areas, including listing the number of fire stations and hydrants needed and how many police officers would be needed to patrol the streets.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by John Rawlston Every seat of the Hamilton County commission room is filled prior to the start of the Monday afternoon meeting of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency. The agency voted to approve the plan of services submitted by the City of Chattanooga for their first phase of annexation.

"I do believe the plan we've been given is inadequate," he said. "The planning commission can't stop this annexation. We can delay it 90 days, that's about it."

But proponents of the plan said it was about those outside the city "paying their fair share."

Planning Commissioner and City Councilman Jack Benson noted that he opposed annexation in the 1970s when he was living in East Brainerd, but without that annexation there never would have been Hamilton Place or Northgate malls.

"There's people who would say we have a good community now," Mr. Benson said. "I say you wouldn't if the city hadn't expanded."

residents speak out

State Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, attended Monday's meeting, saying he represents the people being annexed in the northern parts of the plan. He said he opposed the annexation and how the city is conducting it.

He said he thinks the city is trying to push annexations through in time for the 2010 census, so that more federal money could be gained by being a larger city.

He said there are two steps the city could use for annexation: ordinance by the City Council or a referendum voted on by local residents.

"Why aren't they doing it by referendum?" he asked.

Allen Lloyd, a resident of Stonewall Farms in north Hixson, said some people may have to move out if they're annexed because of extra city taxes. Stonewall Farms is not being considered in this round of annexations.

"We can't afford the extra hit," he said.

Ken Wilson, who lives in the area of Big Ridge Road, said annexation would be "a hardship" on the many elderly people who now live in the area, which is completely surrounded by Chattanooga.

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Sailorman said...

I'm waiting for the first comment by a city resident applauding this and accusing county residents of being freeloaders. If anybody in a responsible position in the private sector submitted a "plan" like this to their company, they would be given an opportunity to find greener grass. The city does not know the cost of the annexation or, if they do, they aren't saying. I will bet right now that city taxes will rise as a result of the coming annexations. I was at that meeting and a clearer, sorrier example of politics as usual is rare. The meeting was supposed to be about the plan. Some residents, understandably, are concerned about annexation in general and voiced that concern. The mayor and a couple of council members, obviously happy to have the focus off the plan, took the opportunity to mouth platitudes about growth and how "we're in this together". The mayor, in a spectacular display of arrogance, refused to address the failure of the plan to address the cost issues. He chose instead to hide behind "we met state law" - a cop out.

This is all about money - fed money. The road to that money is next year's census. The fact that this annexation is, in all likelihood, unsupportable without federal money doesn't seem to be an issue.

I am not neccessarily against annexation though I would prefer to consider a metro form of government. I am entirely against having a nebulous plan that is in reality no plan at all jammed down my throat by politicians with an agenda that may or may not be best for the citizenry.

August 11, 2009 at 8:21 a.m.
bigDaddy said...

"I do believe the plan we've been given is inadequate,"

The plan is simple: annex areas that don't want to be annexed so you can tax the residents against their will. I've never talked to anyone that felt that the benefits (trash collection) were worth the extra taxes.

To foil the annexation plan in time for a census, it seems like a law suit might be the only way.

I used to support Littlefield: I no longer do.

August 11, 2009 at 7:08 p.m.
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