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November 6, 2019

Position Statement on RPA’s Report & Recommendations Re: Chattanooga’s Steep Slopes & Low-Lying Area

Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® presented the following statement at the November 5th meeting of the Chattanooga City Council.

After reviewing the Natural Resources Assessment issued by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency (RPA) on October 15, 2019, the Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® provide the following statement:

Enforcement of Current Regulations

Although additional regulations may be needed and, in many cases, may be necessary, our concerns are that current regulations have not been properly enforced to determine if additional, more stringent regulations, are necessary. Many of the complaints previously voiced by residents could have potentially been avoided had the current regulations been followed. For example, erosion control measures are required to be in place to reduce and/or prevent sediment runoff from development sites. Also, had proper impervious construction methods been implemented on construction sites, stormwater runoff could have been properly controlled possibly preventing the flooding of residents during heavy rain events. Based on information provided, current regulations were not being adhered to or enforced, which resulted in the City Council’s request that RPA conduct their Natural Resources Assessment. We believe that the implementation and enforcement of proper construction methods that already exist could lessen the need for more stringent regulations.

In addition, we recognize that with increased development comes the need for increased oversight by the City of Chattanooga. This increased oversight may place additional burdens on City staff that had not been previously required. The Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® would be willing to assist the City in finding alternative oversight methods that might assist with some of these issues and be more cost effective than implementing more stringent regulations.

Lots of Record

We appreciate the RPA considering the importance of “Lots of Record” and how they should be handled should the City implement a Natural Resources Ordinance. However, there is concern that no clear consensus has been reached on how these lots should be handled and the recommendation seemed to suggest that it be based on a case by case basis. This is an extremely important property rights issue that should be addressed on the frontend and not left as an afterthought. We respectfully request that “Lots of Record” be evaluated prior to any recommendation in order to further ensure the property rights of these owners are protected.

Exploring Additional Options

The Natural Resources Assessment outlined numerous additional amendments and/or tools that could be explored further to potentially implement in the future. Examples of these tools are Tree Canopy Protection Standards; Site Plan Review or Geo-Technical Report for Critical Lots; Timing of Retaining Wall Construction; and, Stormwater Requirements, just to name a few.

First, we believe the willingness to explore additional amendments and/or tools could be beneficial to all parties involved in the steep slopes and floodplain discussion. This exploration ensures that responsible development continues in the City of Chattanooga and that we continue to protect property rights of those on both sides of these issues.

However, due to the significant number of additional amendments and/or tools that were recommended for exploration, we would request that if the City Council is in favor of exploring these other options, that you request these tools be explored prior to any ordinance, policy, etc. being proposed or implemented. This would ensure that all parties involved have an opportunity to review what is actually being proposed by the City since no clear direction was provided, would allow for feedback by the stakeholders involved, and would allow for educated discussion as to the overall impact to property owners for recommended changes.

Further, we want to ensure that all possible tools are reviewed as to how they will work in conjunction with one another. In other words, could some of the tools mentioned be contingent on the findings or results of other tools proposed? For example, is it possible that the geotechnical report proposed for critical lots could be used to determine if and when a retaining wall should be constructed and/or if tree canopy protection standards are necessary on the development site based on soil conditions? A “one size fits all” approach may not be the most effective approach for some of the proposed tools when it comes to restricting the development on a steep slope.

Again, we recognize that additional amendments and/or tools may place additional burdens on City staff. The Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® are willing to assist the City in finding the most cost-effective way of implementing additional amendments and/or tools without requiring more stringent regulations that could impede development.

Natural Resource Protection Overlay District

Based on the various options outlined in the Natural Resources Assessment, the Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® would be in favor of a Natural Resource Protection Overlay District as opposed to an across the City resolution. We think being specific to the areas that would be the most impacted by this issue is necessary given steep slopes concerns. It is our belief that trying to implement such drastic regulations across the entire City of Chattanooga are not only unnecessary given the purpose of the Natural Resources Assessment, but also detrimental to overall development in the City of Chattanooga.

The areas the Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® recommend be included in the overlay are as follows:

  • Missionary Ridge
  • North Chattanooga
  • St. Elmo

Tax Base Impacts

As Councilman Ledford stated at the public meeting on October 30, 2018, the “City relies on property tax for majority of its annual revenue.” Obviously, restrictions on development could greatly impact the tax base in the City of Chattanooga. Has the City considered not only the potential impact on property tax by restricting development but also, how the City of Chattanooga will make up for this loss of tax revenue in the future? Will implementing stringent regulations on development today put the burden for the loss of tax revenue back on all taxpayers in the City of Chattanooga in the future? These questions need to be discussed today to ensure we are making the best decisions possible for the City of Chattanooga’s future.

Affordable Housing

In addition, the Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® are constantly being asked by elected officials how we can bring affordable housing to the City of Chattanooga. Unfortunately, stricter regulations cause the overall costs of development to increase making affordable housing nearly impossible.

In 2018, National Association of REALTORS®' Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of Research Lawrence Yun made a presentation at our annual Economic Luncheon on Chattanooga’s economic outlook. During his presentation he stated that there is a strong desire among young adults age 18-34 to own a home in the future rather than rent. The dream of homeownership will continue to become more difficult to achieve for young adults in Chattanooga as long as stringent regulations continue to be implemented. The Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® want these young adults to achieve the dream of homeownership and encourage you to consider this as you move forward with this Natural Resources Assessment.

Conclusion

As you know, the mission of the Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® is to “promote the highest ethical and professional standards and cooperation among its members; provide products, programs and services to meet the evolving needs of the real estate industry and consumers; and advocate for private property rights and community involvement.”

The Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® appreciate RPA’s work on this Natural Resources Assessment and allowing us the opportunity to be at the table during this process. Although we only touched on a few recommendations included in the Assessment, we are concerned that some of the regulations being suggested have only been analyzed as to the potential positive impacts to the City of Chattanooga. Our concern is that the potential consequences or additional costs associated with implementing some of these regulations have not been properly analyzed and the impact of implementing more stringent regulations on property owners in the City of Chattanooga could outweigh the positives.

It is the Greater Chattanooga REALTORS®’ desire that we continue our discussions to resolve the concerns outlined today and respectfully request that the City Council delay this process until the overall impact on the City of Chattanooga could be fully studied. The regulations we implement today will have a long-lasting effect on the City of Chattanooga tomorrow.

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