A proposed $40 million housing and commercial project on Chattanooga's waterfront was approved Monday by a city planning panel, with one neighboring landowner calling the site "the next frontier for downtown development."
A Nashville development company plans to start working with the Tennessee Valley Authority to gain permits to kick off construction of the project that would add 70 cottage-style homes and 200 apartments off Riverfront Parkway near M.L. King Boulevard.
"In our opinion, downtown Chattanooga is under-supplied in terms of housing," said Aaron White, a principal with Evergreen Real Estate, after the city's Planning Commission approved rezoning an 11-acre tract from manufacturing to central business.
While the rezoning still needs City Council approval, White said his company would like to start construction next spring on one of the city's largest-ever riverfront mixed-use projects. The project's working name is "The Landings," but White said that's expected to change.
Chattanooga auto dealer Tim Kelly, who owns nearby Riverfront Parkway property, said the area around Evergreen's project is downtown development's next frontier and it signals a further reworking of the city waterfront.
Downtown's riverfront underwent an array of new development over the past couple of decades, but the Great Recession sharply slowed additional projects.
Kelly said a proposed extension of the Tennessee Riverwalk through the site links Evergreen's project to Ross's Landing and the rest of downtown.
"The Riverwalk is a catalyst," he said. A new trailhead is scheduled for an extension of M.L. King at the river.
Chattanooga businessman Grant Law, who owns about five acres of riverfront land next to Evergreen's site as well as a former Chevrolet dealership across Riverfront Parkway, was upbeat about the project.
"Hopefully it will get the ball rolling on further development in that part of downtown," he said.
Law said he'd like to redevelop his properties in the future, though he doesn't have any firm plans.
"I'm keeping my powder dry," he quipped.
White said the Evergreen project would "integrate" with the $80 million Cameron Harbor plan put forth by Chattanooga developer Eugene "Buck" Schimpf on land next door. Schimpf has proposed new townhouses, condominiums and boat docks.
Planning Commission members Monday also weighed in on the Evergreen proposal.
Panel Chairman Dale Mabee said he's "glad to see more activity down there."
Board member Joe Graham, also a Hamilton County commissioner, termed the project "the ideal development for that property."
Evergreen has a contract with Vulcan Materials to buy the site. White said the cottages would go up in phases, with the single-family homes sitting about 80 to 100 feet from the Tennessee River's bank.
He didn't have prices for the cottages or apartments yet. But, White said, his company has found the stand-alone cottage-style homes that it has raised in Nashville "very much in demand," with their shared green spaces and low maintenance.
Evergreen is proposing that the cottages be two or three stories high and range from 2,000 to 2,500 square feet with two-car garages.
Behind the cottages near Molly Lane would go two four-story apartment buildings. The units would range from one to three bedrooms. And there's room for another structure that could hold retail space and a parking garage.
White said he likes downtown Chattanooga for a variety of reasons, noting that many of its major employers have their offices in the central city. Also, he said, downtown has designated access to the river, such as that provided by the 21st Century Waterfront Project.
"We see that we'll be one of many [developers] building downtown," White said.
He said the project already has financing from Pinnacle Bank in Nashville. He said the development will go up in phases depending on demand.
"We won't build it and hope they will come," White said, adding that his company never has not finished a project that it has announced.