The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency is currently in the process of revamping the county’s land use plan. (Screenshot: Staff)


Regional planners know that what works in a Collegedale community might not be ideal for a downtown neighborhood, so they are developing a plan to guide growth and address those differences.

“That’s what makes Hamilton County a great place to live—you have so many different choices,” Executive Director John Bridger said. “We want to make sure people can continue to have those options.”

Area officials are currently redeveloping the county’s land use plan, which guides business and residential growth in the metropolitan area. The new plan will account for differences in neighborhoods by offering new, more specific zoning classifications and by including community input.

The hope is that fostering different kinds of neighborhoods will attract a wider variety of people.

The big picture
The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency created the land use plan to guide development, and they renew it every so often to make sure growth is done in a way that makes sense for each community.

For example, the land use plan is what prevents shopping malls from being built next to residential homes.

Between 1985 and 2013, the agency created more than 27 land use plans for communities in the area.

In 2015, the planning agency started a comprehensive plan update in an effort to create a unified framework for the future.

Regional planners are aiming for smart growth by sorting areas of town into specific categories that mirror the type of developments in that area. Officials then use the categories to guide the growth by limiting what kinds of developments spring up. 

Previously, these categories have been relatively broad and focused primarily on the intensity of the current developments. Categories, such as single family residential or commercial, described the kinds of buildings allowed in the area but those names didn’t provide insight into the area’s personality.

Bridger used the example of Main Street and Gunbarrel Road—each area has a different feeling.

“We want to really attune to what makes those places different so that when we plan, it’s not just about use,” Bridger said. “It’s about how buildings are arranged on a property, what kind of green spaces there are and how things work together.”

To do this, the agency developed new classifications, called place types, to help define these small differences and make sure future development flows naturally with the current structures.

These new classifications break-up the existing categories into more refined and specific ones.

Some of the new categories are:

  • mixed-use corridor, which includes a mixture of residential and commercial-use buildings, like on Cherokee Boulevard
  • neighborhood center, a driveable commercial space with a couple of large stores, like the North Market Street area near Publix
  • crossroads; a rural commercial location with a small store

The agency has also adjusted its philosophy to account for a new trend of people who want to “live, play and work” in the same area.

“In the 80s and 90s, it was [about] separate everything…” Bridger said. “But what we’ve done is made it harder to get to point A to point B. More and more people like to live where they can walk to the store or not be too far from work.”

The stages
The planning agency divided the Hamilton County map into 12 different areas that will be worked on as separate entities during the course of the next six to seven years.

The 12 areas will be divided up into groups of three, as the agency moves forward with the project.

The first three to be addressed are: Area 12, which consists of Apison and the area surrounding Collegedale; Area 3, which covers East Chattanooga neighborhoods like Avondale and Highland Park; and Area 2, which includes Hixson and Mountain Creek.

The agency has finished Area 12 and is moving onto Area 3.

Once the agency starts staggering places being currently worked on, each area will take about seven to eight months to finish and a full set of three will take about two years to plan.

Plans will continue to be updated every few years following their initial reviews.

The process
To start the designing process for the new land use plan, the agency first looks at the Transportation Planning Agency’s planning map to assess the strength of city roadways. Stronger roadways can handle increased amounts of traffic.

Then, the agency assesses the surrounding environment to see if natural resources should be preserved. Areas like Chickamauga Creek are not pegged as good areas for major development, for example.

“If a location has great infrastructure and is not a sensitive environment, we want to maximize the opportunity for development there,” Bridger said. “Oppositely, if there’s not any transportation and it is a sensitive environment, we probably ought to not develop it.”

During this time, the officials also drive through the areas to get a feel for the community’s personality.

Oftentimes, community members are invited to come along on the ride to point out important features of the area.

To get an idea of what stakeholders want in the growth of their area, the agency also puts together an advisory committee for each area that consists of residents, developers and business owners or large-scale employers.

“You need to have that forum where people from different perspectives can have that conversation,” Bridger said.

From all of this information, the planning agency builds a plan and then introduces it to the community for feedback.

After some editing, the agency then sends the plan to the regional planning commission for voting.

Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She currently attends UTC, where she was previously the news editor of the student newspaper, The University Echo. Alina also worked at CNN during the summer of 2017 and is the former Chattanooga correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville. You can reach Alina at [email protected] or on Twitter @alinahuntergrah