I am writing this letter in response to the article written by Matt Ledger regarding the rezoning of the property on Chattanooga Valley Road in an effort to both correct some misinformation and to educate the citizens on what options the County has when zoning changes are requested.
The first public hearing was held by the Planning Commission on September 13, 2012. There were approximately 15 people in attendance regarding this issue. During the meeting we listened to the concerns of several of those residents in Eagle Landing Subdivision. Their main concerns were with multi-family dwellings. They did not want to see apartments or duplexes built because they felt that these would more than likely be rental units and would not complement the existing development in the area. They also mentioned that they would love to see a “park” for their community on that property. Our Planning Commission listened to their concerns and asked for a show of hands of how many people would support a rezone to Residential R1, which only allows for single family, stick built homes. There were 10 people in that community that raised their hands in support of the property being rezoned to Residential R1 (I have our video of the meeting to document this). The Chairman then asked how many people would support the requested zoning to Residential R2. Three people raised their hands, including Charles Lusk, with Gateway Bank, the potential buyer of the property, and Mr. Ronnie Holden. To make a long story short, the Planning Commission made a motion, which passed, to recommend R1 Residential to the commissioner because this is what the community wanted.
The second public hearing was held by Commissioner Bebe Heiskell on September 27, 2012. I am curious as to why it took over a month for the article to be published in the paper. I’m sure someone had a good reason. What people need to understand is that when a property owner requests a rezone of their property, the County is limited by the State Law as to what actions can be taken. The County’s options include: approval of the rezone as requested, denial of the requested rezone, approval of the rezone with conditions, table the request until another date (but a decision would eventually have to be made one way or another), or find a compromise to meet everyone’s needs as best we can. Commissioner Heiskell does not have the option to zone a property as a “park” or to TAKE someone’s property to make a park, or require a person not to develop their property because the community would rather have a park. If Commissioner Heiskell had denied their rezone, then it would have remained commercial C1 with conditions. If Commissioner Heiskell had approved the rezone to Residential R2 as originally requested, then it would have allowed for multi-family homes like apartments or duplexes, which the residents were concerned about and we heard them. Tabling it would not have done anyone any good. So the best protection that Commissioner Heiskell could provide for the residents in the neighborhood was to rezone the property Residential R1, which is Walker County’s most restrictive zoning district. R1 was NOT what the Bank or the future owner had requested, but Commissioner Heiskell rezoned it to R1 because it is the most restrictive zoning district we have and it best protects the citizens in Eagle Landing. I totally disagree with the tone of the article that was written because the Planning & Development Office, the Planning Commission and our County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell all worked together to make sure the concerns of these citizens were addressed. When I left the two meetings, I felt like we had done our jobs and protected those residents. Everyone was happy with the decision as far as I knew. Commissioner Heiskell told the residents that she would be glad to meet with them later to discuss the idea/concept of a community park/“green space” because, though a park/“green space” is a wish or a want for their community, it was not a decision that could be made related to the rezoning application. The attendees to the meeting even said that they were NOT opposed to the R1 zoning. They simply stated that they would like to have a community park/“green space,” if possible.
I hope this clears up any confusion that the article portrayed as being something that Commissioner Heiskell approved despite the community’s concerns, because that is simply NOT true. She listened and addressed their concerns.
Sincerely, Kelia Kimbell, Walker County planning director