October 26, 2011

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Mayor Ron Littlefield’s grandiose plans to annex outlying areas people already consider part of “Chattanooga” might be thwarted in some places if a renegade, petition-toting protest committee has its way. Seems that a group of citizens concerned over the prospect of having to pay city taxes if Littlefield gets his way is rising up to form a more perfect union.

Representatives from the northeast outskirts of Ooltewah, Harrison, Georgetown and Birchwood are looking at the possibility of creating their own city—which they will call “Hamilton.” This new addition to its namesake Hamilton County is proposed as a preemptive strike against any threat of being sucked into Chattanooga’s borders at any time in the future of Littlefield’s proposed urban-growth plan.

This plan is to capitalize on the startup of Volkswagen and others by looking at potential city growth within the county. In the past, seems that ye of little faith in Enterprise South hadn’t thought of trying to annex these communities BEFORE a major manufacturer said yes. But now that VW, Amazon and others have set up massive shops within a short drive of the aquarium, we’re all-of-a-sudden welcoming in our once-distant cousins with open arms.  

Until recently, County Mayor Jim Coppinger was on the edge of his wingback leatherette seat awaiting Littlefield’s detailed plan, which was hand-delivered (via horseback messenger, I’m sure) sometime last week. It outlined a plan that would extend city borders all the way to Bradley County in some corners, and include all of the aforementioned towns.

If annexed, these areas would become privy to all of the niceties that we “for real” Chattanoogans already take for granted, like paved secondary roads, regular garbage service, police that don’t wear five-point stars and fire stations that don’t require volunteers. Best of all, they can all start putting “Chattanooga, TN” on their outgoing mail. The problem is, all of these luxuries come at a cost.

One of the tricks of living in a city like ours is that you can claim you live in Chattanooga without ever having to pay the taxes it takes to maintain it. In fact, you can say you live in “North Chattanooga” or even “downtown” if you live in some parts of Red Bank, for example. I did. From my previous “duck pond-area” home I could see the Chattanooga city limits sign from my front porch. However, I paid the lower county taxes.

I thought it was a real treat to live just a mile or two from the skyscrapers of downtown and not have to pay for it. I would taunt my North Chattanooga friends with tales of the low taxes I paid and brag about how quickly I could get home from their house.

At the end of the day, however, I still lived in Red Bank. And, that stigma was a little harder to overcome upon resale than the benefit of lower taxes. It’s true what they say: “Location, location, location.” But when the location is typically reserved for homeowners or renters who can’t afford to live in North Chattanooga, there’s only so much shining you can do. “Where are you livin’ these days?” “Red Bank.” “Oh…”

That’s why I’m not really sure why the property owners in those outlying areas are so quick to throw up a town square called “Hamilton” as opposed to becoming part of the bigger picture. Nothing but disappointment and pity crosses my mind whenever I drive down Red Bank’s Dayton Boulevard or Ringgold Road in East Ridge. It’s like atom bombs went off, killing all signs of life but leaving the shells of once-thriving retail stores that are now inhabited by Mad Max check cashers, title pawners and spicy fried-chicken huts.

I’m afraid, with all of Hamilton’s promise, the town will seem as neighborly and folksy as Mayberry for a few years—but then fall victim to Walmart’s next super-store location that ruins it all. Might as well roll up “Alexander Boulevard” or “Ten Buck Street” or whatever they end up calling the main drag.

On top of that, I think that most of the areas mentioned as becoming part of Hamilton already play second fiddle to Ooltewah. So, if you live in a McMansion in the more desirable area of Ooltewah, and now some 3/2 rancher in Birchwood is considered just as good ’cause it’s in the same town, who wins? Not Ooltewahans.

You see, these are the kinds of things I think about in my spare time. And it might behoove Hamilton’s founding fathers to carefully read the writing on their own Constitution before they have to plead the fifth.


October 26, 2011

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