Citizens say homelessness, housing and development are major issues in downtown Chattanooga

Homelessness, housing and the quality and location of new development were among the issues raised by people who participated in a meeting Wednesday about the future of downtown and north Chattanooga.

Housing is the biggest concern in the ML King Boulevard neighborhood, Gene Smith said in Bessie Smith Hall, where planners sought input on a long-term growth strategy for Chattanooga.

Smith cited a proposal by Chattanooga officials to create a 24/7 low-barrier homeless shelter in a transit building on East 12th Street. There are already homeless people who often walk up and down the street throughout the week, she said in an interview.

(Read more: Chattanooga faces questions over homeless shelter)

William Smith, her husband, said the zoning is troubling. He mentioned a request to set up tiny homes in a sanctioned homeless encampment at 12th Street and Peebles Avenue on a temporary basis.

“What plan does he fit into?” Asked.

(Read more: Chattanooga officials, groups see need for more supportive housing)

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency is hosting a number of meetings throughout the county this week and over the next month, as the city and county develop new growth plans for the future. Attendees have an opportunity to review data, listen to planners, share their feelings, and ask questions.

Planners said downtown and North Chattanooga were among the areas within the city that grew the most in terms of additional residents from 2010 to 2023. East Brainerd was also among the biggest gainers, according to planners.

The overall estimate for Chattanooga’s population for 2023 is 184,103, which is in line with an 8% increase from 2010 to 2020, planners said.

Stroud Watson said in an interview during the meeting that he has lived downtown for 25 years and that the quality and location of the new development is an issue. He said there should be a sense of the importance of the poor when making decisions.

Watson said ongoing community meetings to formulate city and county plans are key.

“It’s important that people have the opportunity to have their voices heard,” he said.

Sarah Page, an architect who works for the city, said she would like to see a more integrated approach when it comes to issues such as land planning and transportation. Page said in an interview that she would like to see more collaboration between people and groups.

There was a round of meetings about a month ago, and more are scheduled for next spring after this group, said Dan Reuter, executive director of the planning agency.

The planners’ work will wrap up in late spring or early summer, with one plan for the city and another for the unincorporated parts of the county.

Planners and political leaders earlier this year announced efforts to develop plans to guide future growth.

According to planners, the Chattanooga area has been steadily attracting new residents since the 1990s. Last year, Hamilton County’s population grew at more than three times the national average, making it the fifth-fastest-growing county among Tennessee’s 95 counties, numbers show.

Contact Mike Parry at or 423-757-6318.

picture Staff File Photo/An apartment complex at Broad and 17th Streets is one of the new residential developments in downtown Chattanooga. It is located next to the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant on Broad and Main streets.

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