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Hamilton County plans response to Littlefield’s growth letter

Date: 10/16/11 by Ansley Haman by Cliff Hightower Source: GROWTH PLAN

The city, county and other municipalities in Hamilton County adopted a Comprehensive Growth Plan in 2001 to comply with state law. That law allows the plan to be amended at the request of any municipal mayor or the county mayor, but the individual must give notice and has the “burden of proving the reasonableness and necessity of the proposed amendment.” Then, within 60 days, a committee must be established to consider the proposed amendment and make a recommendation to the county commission and municipal governing bodies.

Hamilton County leaders plan to respond this week to a request by Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield to revisit the city’s urban growth boundaries.

“We will be responding to his letter on Monday,” County Mayor Jim Coppinger said, declining to discuss the matter further until he delivers the county’s letter to Littlefield.

But one county commissioner blasted Littlefield, saying the city mayor could be overstepping his boundaries.

“Littlefield is the city of Chattanooga’s mayor and he loves to run the county,” said Commissioner Fred Skillern. “He loves to run everything, and you can quote me on that.”

Skillern, who represents District 1 in the northwest corner of the county, said any proposed amendment to the plan ultimately would need his body’s approval to become final. He’ll review the plan when it gets to the commission, he said.

On Tuesday, Littlefield hand-delivered a letter to Coppinger, seeking to revisit the urban growth plan, which sets up where and how far municipalities across the county can annex. He also sent the letter to eight of the nine other cities within the county.

Littlefield said Friday that other topics — beyond growth boundaries — could come up at any meetings between the city and the county. He said he also would like to talk about a public utility for sewer, water and stormwater.

“I’ve been calling it the Moccasin Bend Water Quality Authority,” he said.

The city’s sewer division could merge with the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority to deliver sewer countywide, Littlefield said. He also could see private water companies throughout the county signing up to the authority with an option to sell in the future if they wish, said Littlefield, who added that it is not unrealistic for a private water company to fall under a public authority governed by a board.

“We have public-private partnerships all the time,” he said.

One City Council member said she is not so sure about Littlefield’s idea. Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said the county and cities should revisit the growth plan because of changes over the last 10 years. The formation of a public utility could be too much, she said.

“That’s going to take a lot of discussion,” she said. “I would question a private entity signing on with a long-term idea of selling out to government.”

Private companies may be spooked by the mere mention of joining such an entity, Ladd said.

“I would question whether they would even come to the table,” she said.

Tennessee American Water officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said his primary concern with the growth plan is making sure those in a potential annexation zone have an opportunity to vote on the matter.

“Any amendment needs to be left up to the people to make the choice in the areas being annexed,” Henry said.

Commissioner Mitch McClure, who represents Hixson, Lakesite and unincorporated areas in District 3, said he received a number of calls from residents opposed to the expansion of the urban growth boundaries.

“People have moved to the place that they wanted to live. If they wanted to live in the city, they’d move to the city,” McClure said. “I believe if they’re going to be considered for annexation, they should have the opportunity to vote and voice their opinion.”

Some mayors from surrounding cities, who also would have representatives on any urban growth boundary committee, said they are interested in the public utility aspect.

Signal Mountain Mayor Bill Lusk said he’s “all ears” about Littlefield’s plan. Though the project would be expensive, Lusk said it’s the right thing to do.

“I completely support the idea of a metro area sewer system,” he said.

Signal Mountain recently completed a study of its sewer system, which serves about one-third of town residents. To build it out to about another third would cost an estimated $10 million, Lusk said.

Walden Mayor Peter Hetzler said the bottom line would be the cost of joining. But he’s leery about the whole process, remembering what it took 10 years ago to get the first growth boundaries mapped out.

“If it’s anything like last time, it will be a lot of work,” he said.

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