The East Ridge City Council denied a developer’s request to rezone property near the Bachman Tunnels to build a luxury apartment complex, Thursday night during its regular meeting.
After hearing a chorus of concerns from citizens that the new 80-unit complex would clog traffic, increase crime and create stormwater issues in the area, the council voted unanimously to deny the request by property owner P.J. Patel.
Former East Ridge Mayor Bob Johnson, a 40-year resident of Seminole Crest Lane, told the council that South Seminole is “like a runway” for cars coming from Georgia as a cut-through during the morning rush hour. He noted there are no sidewalks for children who catch a school bus in the morning near the proposed site. “I don’t know how to do this and make it safe,” he said.
Marvin Scott, a retired FBI agent who built a house on South Seminole Drive in 1993, told the council that when it rains “it’s like a river of water” that comes down the street. He said that water frequently pools in yards on the street.
Charles McCullough, a citizen activist who lives on Reeves Avenue, said he was concerned about crime. He said that Patel owns other businesses in East Ridge (a nearby convenience store and a motel on the east end of the city) where calls for police service are frequent. McCullough brought with him documents that he said indicated 734 calls to police to Patel properties from 2015 to 2018.
“We have evidence of how Patel runs his properties, we don’t need another,” he said.
Patel was asking to rezone the long-vacant property at 1023 South Seminole Drive from residential and commercial status to R-3 residential apartment district. He said his investment of $11 million in building the complex would generate $2 million in city and county property taxes over a period of time and generate $1 million in consumer spending to adjacent businesses.
He said that East Ridge is experiencing a resurgence.
“I consider this project a ‘Pioneer Project’ for the west side,” Patel told the council.”East Ridge is beginning a new life and I can add to that with this new development.”
Patel brought in two engineers, one who did a traffic study and another who addressed drainage issues, in an attempt to overcome objections.
Former county engineer Steve Meyer, who did the traffic engineering study for Exit 1 on Interstate 75, told the council of the methods he employed to study the traffic at Ringgold Road and South Seminole as it pertained to the apartment complex. He said there would be more traffic and lines of cars would occur during morning rush hour. He said adjusting the timing on the red light at the intersection could address the issue.
“It’s not going to be like Hamilton Place at Christmastime,” Meyer said.
Thomas Retseck, an engineer with March Adams and Associates, told the council that the property was “a tough lot to develop,” but that his firm is “basically a bunch of problem solvers.”
Retseck said the stormwater issues could be addressed by building several underground catch basins to hold the runoff. The water would be metered out to a pre-development flow to the existing stormwater drains both along Ringgold Road and to the south.
Retseck said that if this property wasn’t developed now that it would most likely lie dormant for years to come.
Patel said his intention was to build an upscale apartment complex with nice amenities that would be rented for about $1,200 a month to reputable people. He said he would comply with the “crime free lease addendum” in an effort to suppress criminal activity. He noted that police calls for service was public record but that “reports shouldn’t be used to condemn a business.”
Patel’s pleas fell on deaf ears.
“As bad as I hate to lose the tax money and see this property go back to tent city, I make the motion to deny (the rezoning),” said Councilman Jacky Cagle. (Tent city was a reference to a homeless camp that had once been established on the property).
In other action during the meeting, Assistant City Manager Kenny Custer announced that the property on Rebecca Drive that the city was attempting to purchase for a new animal services facility was sold to another party. Custer said the other party made a higher bid and the city was given no opportunity to make a counteroffer.
“This isn’t going away,” Custer said in regard to finding property to build a new animal shelter. “This is just a small set back.”
Custer also announced that Life Center of America intends to break ground in April on a $40 million expansion of its facility near I-75.
Mayor Brian Williams led a discussion of moving forward with the hiring of a new city manager. Williams said that UT’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) had reviewed the candidates’ resumes and ranked them. The council decided to interview the six top-ranked candidates in public interviews. Williams said he wanted to get the interview process started as quickly as possible, which may include special called meetings.
The council passed on second reading an ordinance that would allow the sale of beer in businesses adjacent to churches along Ringgold Road. The rationale was to spur economic growth. The vote was 4-1, with Councilman Cagle casting the lone dissenting vote.
The council passed on first reading a bevy of ordinances that would update building codes. Assistant City Manager Custer said the state requires these codes to be updated periodically to national standards. The city is currently operating under building codes that were adopted in 2012.
The council approved a resolution to extend an agreement with Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis to act as government affairs counsel for the city in regard to affairs in the Tennessee General Assembly. The firm will be paid $20,000 for its efforts.
The council waived fees for the River City Corvette Club to have its annual car show at Camp Jordan Arena. The club donates half of the proceeds from the show to the East Ridge Needy Child Fund.
The council approved a change order in the amount of $17,500 for electrical work on scoreboards for ball fields at Camp Jordan Park. The park is currently undergoing a $2.3 million renovation.