Ooltewah population influx leads Hamilton County growth, residents resist changes

Ooltewah residents living on or around Hunter Rd. have felt the effects
of local growth. Monday, September 18, 2023. (Photo by Ron Cabacungan)
Ooltewah residents living on or around Hunter Rd. have felt the effects of local growth. Monday, September 18, 2023. (Photo by Ron Cabacungan)

Written by: Alexis Dewey

The significant influx of newcomers moving into Hamilton County in recent years has elevated the angst of local residents over population growth and traffic congestion in their neighborhoods.

According to Nathan Janeway, the county’s director of development services, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the growth in Hamilton County. He said houses became more affordable at the start of the pandemic due to government stimulus checks and low interest rates, and many people from the northern and western United States headed south. 

“The pandemic encouraged people to move away from their cities because a lot of people wanted more freedom and wanted to be in a place that wasn’t so densely populated,” Janeway said during a phone interview with the Accent.  “ … No one was prepared for the growth in Hamilton County. The community wasn’t ready, the roads were not ready, and so we’ve had to sort of react as we can to those things happening.” 

Janeway said Collegedale and unincorporated Ooltewah have experienced the fastest growth countywide. A big reason for the rapid population increase is the sewer availability, road access and zoning options, as well as school investments attracting more families, Janeway explained. However, an inevitable outcome of the growth has been a traffic problem. 

“It’s definitely made it worse,” he said. “I think that’s obvious.”

Ooltewah residents living in the areas along and around Hunter and Snow Hill roads are among those feeling the impact. Rezoning requests have pitted neighbors against developers seeking to build new housing to accommodate population growth. 

On Tuesday,  David Mayfield, of Mountain Pass Developments, withdrew a rezoning request that he submitted Aug. 1 for a 101-acre tract near Hunter and Bell Mill roads. If it had been approved, the rezoning of the parcel located at 8125 Bell Mill Road could have resulted  in up to seven houses per acre. In the withdrawal paperwork, Mayfield stated that he needed additional time to prepare a concept plan.

A current district map of Hamilton County, split into 13 areas. (Photo sourced from planhamilton.org)

The site is not far from where another builder, GreenTech Homes, withdrew a similar rezoning request last week due to strong opposition from area residents. GreenTech — represented by Mike Price, of MAP Engineers — sought to rezone the property from agricultural to residential for up to 300 homes on a 102-tract parcel located at 8209 Bell Mill Road. The developer still plans to build 204 houses on the property,  which feeds in to Hunter Road. However, under the current plans, no rezoning is required.

In August, Hamilton County Commissioner Steve Highlander, R-Ooltewah, proposed a resolution that would have placed a moratorium on rezoning requests along Hunter Road in response to neighbor’s concerns. The moratorium would have paused the rezoning of properties that front or have access to Hunter Road, between Highway 58 and Mountain View Road, for 18 months while a comprehensive study was conducted. However, Highlander pulled the resolution after sensing that he did not have the support of his colleagues. 

  Since then, Hamilton County has held meetings for residents to express their concerns. Many have said they are not pleased with the rapid population growth and increased development in their neighborhoods. To address the issue, the county has divided the county into 13 areas as part of an effort to develop a comprehensive growth plan, according to Janeway. Five of the zones are in unincorporated Hamilton county; the rest are located in the City of Chattanooga.  RaganSmith, an engineering firm, will help conduct an analysis of the various zones to determine their infrastructure needs.  

“Without a plan, it’ll happen exactly like it has happened over at Snow Hill or Hunter Road,” Janeway explained, referring to the traffic and congestion issue. 

Janeway said there was a time when Hamilton County was less desirable. 

 “For years, we didn’t grow as fast as cities like Knoxville and Nashville,” he said. “Some of that was due to just the resources here. Back in the early ’90s, our air quality was some of the worst in the country.”

However, the city made great strides under the leadership of former City Mayor  Bob Corker, who served as mayor from 2001 to 2005 before becoming a United States Senator. 

“He put big investments into the riverfront, the aquarium,” Janeway said. “He’s one of the pivotable people that started working on clean air and clean water here in the city. And, of course, that had a  rippling effect all the way out in the county.”

Share this story!

Leave a Reply