The Cleveland Municipal Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend that the property at 3635 Ocoee St. North remain in the Single-Family Residential zoning district instead of changing it to Professional and Institutional.
Commissioner Maryl Elliott made the motion to deny the request. Commissioners Larry Presswood, Dee Burris and At-Large Councilman George Poe joined with her. Commissioners Clint Taylor, Tricia Haws and Commission Chairman Tim Henderson voted against the motion. Commissioner Andrew Johnson recused himself for an undisclosed reason and Commissioner Yvonne Cannon was absent.
Commissioners voted 8-0 in favor of a plat approval by RAK Properties to develop a subdivision on Inverness Drive and Candies Lane N.W. in spite of stiff opposition from Rolling Hills residents.
The 14.6-acre property is zoned R1. According to staff reports, the developer plans 25 homes ranging in value from $200,000 to $250,000. The total acreage dedicated to buildable lots is about 3.6 acres.
All of the lots front Inverness, however, the owner plans to construct a private drive for rear access to the lots. A major portion of the remaining open space is located within the floodplain and the western side of the property is bounded by property owned by the Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority it is using to mitigate the loss of wetlands at Cleveland Regional Jetport.
Residents successfully thwarted previous attempts for further development in the neighborhood based on existing flooding problems and sewage overflows. However, the commissioners took into consideration that the Army Corps of Engineers is in the early stages of remapping the city’s floodplains and Cleveland Utilities is beginning a 10-year project to reduce inflow and infiltration into the sewer system.
The Cleveland City Council will make the final decision on both issues at a future date.
Residents on North Ocoee spoke against Hughes’ zoning change request. Most of the reasoning behind the opposition seemed to be from fear of a domino effect that would continue on other property rather than Hughes’ purpose for the property.
Hughes said he has tried working with the neighbors to reassure them he would not damage their property values. He said the initial plan was to rezone the property Highway Commercial, the same as adjoining property on the western boundary.
“I’m trying to work with those who are residents close by,” he said. “If you’ll check my track record, I’m not going to build something that’s going to be questionable. Some of the allowed uses under PI, I wouldn’t consider at all, so don’t worry about what’s going in there.”
Hughes said that in his opinion, the PI designation is better than a cluster development of 25 homes.
“I can’t let it sit there forever. I’ve got to do one or the other,” he said. “I’ve already said it would not be commercial, but maybe PI would be a better fit.”
Bradley County Commissioner and businessman Jeff Morelock lives across the street on the corner of Blythe Ferry Road and North Ocoee. He observed that most of the property on the west side of North Ocoee between Sunset and Mouse Creek Road is zoned residential.
Also, he said a previous rezoning request to PI for property on North Ocoee Street was denied.
“The main point I want to make is, if this were granted and if I came to you in another month to rezone my property across the street, how could you turn me down?” he asked. “How can you turn down the neighbor?”
Henderson said each request is considered individually in terms of how it fits in its surroundings.
John Hogan, who lives in the third house south of Hughes’ property, said he felt the change would reduce the value, privacy and security of neighboring residential property. He said the property is part of a tract of four residences that share similar histories and a uniform landscape. The houses range in age from 40 to 70 years old.
“These homes are not considered historical in the strict sense, but do have a strong history and have long been fixtures on one of Cleveland’s more noteworthy streets,” Hogan said.
He named existing professional properties along Ocoee Street with vacant office space.
“We believe Ocoee Street has no need for another commercial office complex that in 20 years or more will ultimately end up abandoned,” he said.
Ben Moore, who owns one of the four homes, said they are part of Cleveland.
“There isn’t any need for any more office space in Cleveland. I’ve got 20,000 square feet of vacant space, and nobody calls, and nobody knocks on the door,” he said.
Ben Berry, an engineering consultant with Miller-McCoy Inc., of Chattanooga, presented the proposal to the Commission on behalf of Hughes. The consultant said the PI designation better reflects the surrounding properties where First National Bank is located and the property on the corner of Ocoee Crossing and Ocoee Street.
"There is a lot of CH along Keith Street, which is very appropriate. As you go along Ocoee Crossing, you transition from Chick-fil-A to Aubrey's [restaurants] to the bank, office buildings and residential," he said. "It really provides a nice transition between commercial and residential."
Elliott said she could not understand rezoning the property “just because Mr. Hughes bought the property, and now he can’t find a buyer.”
Berry said he did not know how hard Hughes has tried to sell the home.
“The point I was trying to make earlier is the home is 50 years old. It’s on a busy street. The people who live on North Ocoee have lived there for years. They’ve loved it and or have family homes that have been passed down (as in the case of the Hogans). So to attract somebody new — My point is, the market is small for it to remain as it is, and the likelihood it would change is very great, either with the rezoning or without the rezoning,” Berry said. “This is going to come down to an opinion of what you want this section of Ocoee Street to be.”
The reality is, he said, the property will probably change from one house on 4 acres.