How big does Chattanooga need to be? A simple question that gets to the heart of the latest round in the ongoing war of words between Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield and residents of growing neighbors just outside the city limits. The latest round was started with a letter to Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, where Littlefield politely requested the Urban Growth Plan committee be re-seated for another look at growth in the county.
When asked for clarification of his intent, Littlefield made it clear it was for the express purpose of finding a solution for providing urban-grade services to formerly rural areas that have grown by leaps and bounds in the decade since the last time anyone put together a comprehensive urban-growth plan.
“When we adopted the growth plan more than a decade ago, we weren’t really growing,” the mayor said in a recent interview on News Talk 95.3 WPLZ. “Now we are. We’re particularly growing up towards Ooltewah, towards the Bradley County line—and the rest of the area is not immune to growth, either.”
What has alarmed many in those areas is that Littlefield’s solution to how best handle the new growth is simple: have those areas annexed into Chattanooga. He feels that the city is the best choice to administer the areas, manage their growth and provide them the urban services the areas now require.
Not everyone, naturally, is in agreement. Many, in fact, feel that the worst thing to happen to residents in those areas would be to be absorbed by the 800-pound municipal gorilla that is Chattanooga, fearing the their tax rates would skyrocket without seeing an equitable return in the form of services.
So, a number of residents in and around the Ooltewah area have banded together to start a petition drive to form their own city, which they would call Hamilton, as a way to maintain control over their neighborhoods. They believe they could better manage the tax base of their hoped-for city boundaries and provide urban-grade services more efficiently and cost-effectively than the much-larger Chattanooga government could. Several supporters point to cities such as East Ridge and Soddy-Daisy as prime examples of small municipalities effectively meeting the needs of their citizens and providing a more direct level of governance.
Mayor Littlefield has a different take on smaller cities, however. “I don’t think we can sit around and let multiple governments grow up again,” he said. “I’m not worried about the town of Hamilton, but I do believe the interchanges up there that are existing now and will be growing in the future need to be a part of Chattanooga.”
It’s obvious that the fast-growth areas will end up under some form of urban government. What is not obvious is what form that government will take. Will it be a much larger, more experienced Chattanooga or will it be a smaller, yet more directly representative Hamilton? Stay tuned…this little melodrama is far from over.