More than 600 homes sites eyed in Hamilton County as industry is 'full throttle'

·4 min read

Jun. 11—More than 600 proposed new home sites in Hamilton County are up for approval by a planning panel on Monday as developers seek to meet a demand from buyers that some say is through the roof.

"The whole industry is full throttle right now," said Doug Fisher, the Home Builders Association of Greater Chattanooga's executive officer.

More than a half dozen proposed projects, nearly all of which are suburban or rural, are to be heard by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission on Monday.

Also, the panel is expected to consider changes to single-family zoning regulations stemming from a proposal raised by the Home Builders Association. Changes include adding a new zoning district permitting smaller lot sizes and reduced front and rear setbacks.

Fisher said the aim is to provide for higher density, which he added could help control rising home prices.

"We need desperately in Hamilton County to achieve more property with a zoning classification that provides for higher density," he said. "Density is the only real tool of controlling the price of housing at this stage of the game."

On Monday, developers will seek zoning or other approvals from the Planning Commission for the proposed home sites. Among the proposals are:

— 180 sites at 10400 East Brainerd Road

— 176 at 1076 River Gorge Drive

— 129 at 7302 and 7306 Snow Hill Road

— 103 at 8619 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road

— 86 at 10700 block of London Lane

— 38 at 10900 block of East Brainerd Road

Mike Price of MAP Engineers, which is representing two of the developers, said it's unusual to see so many such projects come before the Planning Commission at one time.

"It reflects the demand out there for single-family homes and in the rental market at this point," he said.

Price said that while the residential market is hot, it was already strong before the pandemic. He traces the start of momentum in the market to the announcement that Volkswagen was putting a new assembly plant in Chattanooga in July 2008.

When VW announced that "It's Chattanooga," he recalled receiving five phone calls in one week.

"In my mind, the housing market changed as a result of VW," Price said. "The genesis started at the VW announcement and slowly ramped up."

New Census Bureau data show that from 2010 to 2020, the Chattanooga metropolitan area added 19,000 new housing units, increasing the housing stock by 8%. Chattanooga's growth in new housing ranked No. 40 fastest among the nation's 100 largest metros.

Within the Chattanooga metro, Hamilton County saw the fastest growth in new housing units, with an increase of 11%, according to the data. Dade County built the least new housing, with an increase of 1%.

Fisher said the activity at the Planning Commission level is about a shortage of housing in the market.

"It's not surprising to see a lot of planning for future development," he said. "We're short. We need t0 pick it up."

Fisher cited several factors for what's occurring in the market, including low interest rates, buyer fears that prices will continue to climb and the coronavirus changing peoples' minds of where many want to live.

The red-hot market also is driving the price of building materials such as lumber up, he said, and he doesn't believe there's relief in sight "for quite some time."

Price said he thought a pull back in the market was coming in 2020 as people would wait and see about the impact of the coronavirus.

"The exact opposite ended up being true," he said, citing government stimulus checks. "The pandemic did not slow down the housing market one bit."

Price expects to continue to see strong demand for housing and developers planning new projects to meet needs.

"I haven't seen anything stopping or slowing at all," he said.

Fisher said the Home Builders Association's proposals, called the Smart and Responsible Growth Initiatives, involve locations where there is access to sewers.

"If you don't have access to sewers, we're not asking for it," he said. "A sewered lot should have the ability to build on smaller lots with more density, driving down the cost of the house."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter@MikePareTFP.