Builders say steep-slope rules will wreck investments, spike prices

Developers of hillside properties are under siege from a committee developing property controls limiting development on hillsides and graded areas. (Photo Greentech Homes)

Builders caught napping by the efforts of city councilman Darrin Ledford to regulate lands with slopes show up en masse to object, though only one is allowed to speak at the meeting..

Builders such as the operators of GreenTech did not make themselves part of an earlier city council meeting that gave itself to hearing from about 20 members of the public on matters touching on hillsides, slopes and neigborhoods.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

Home builder Jim Lee says 25 people in the trades showed up, some from his company Greentech. Builders work on five-year plans, and face ruin if their properties come under a city slope-building ban before projects are complete, he says.

“The homebuilders are just now becoming aware of what’s going on, and  we’ve been having deep meetings — all of us. *** When we realized the percentage of our land holdings that would all be impacted by it as builders, and the percentage of projects that we’ve slated for years to come — you know, homebuilders have their next five years planned with land already purchased,  already in the pipeline. All this land would be caught up” and damaged in the Ledford plan.

The David Tulis show is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

“If this measure goes through,” he says, “there will have to be severe cuts made at multiple homebuilders across Chattanooga where people will be losing their jobs. we can’t afford to pay accounting — we’re going to have to outsource it, pay someone part time to do what she was doing full time. Her job is gone. Our front desk lady. We won’t be able to pay for a full time front desk lady. We’ll have to outsource that somehow. *** In the measure, they recognize how this could affect people at a terrible level.”

Mr. Lee says proposed language for a temporary rule says vested property owners are not affected, but people can be at various degrees of “vesting.”

“Hey, these people at this stage in their project they have their rights protected. But these people at [that] stage in a project don’t have their rights protected. An earlier phase in their projects — and they’re not protected.” Mr. Lee says investors who bought land with partial development plans will be stuck with what is effectively worthless land if the moratorium takes effect. Plumbers, framers, sellers of lumber also will suffer, he declares.

John Bridger, head of the regional planning agency, points out that some people facing regulation have vested property rights. But others don’t. Even those property holders who think they’re vested may not be vested, because vesting is delimited in Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-4-310 and § 13-3-413, which rules in the first set print out at 4 pages of single spaced type, the second set — which seems pretty close to the same material — at 4 pages, single spaced. City attorney Phil Noblett makes this remark about limits in state law that reduce actual protection to property owners.

Rules add costs for buyers

This subdivision by Greentech may face added costs if the site has slopes and grades. (Image Greentech Homes)

The homebuilders’ spokesman is a loquacious Barry Bennett, a former planning official, who represents the local trade group and comes equipped with a two-page printed statement. Mr. Bennett, even when at his most forceful, has a style that is measured and dry. “Professional studies that are based on the Chattanooga area medium household income show that over 500 households are priced out of their ability to purchase a new home for every $1,000 increase in price.”

Councilman Ledford cites repeatedly that the city cannot grow any more by annexation, and land available for development is all used up. “We should be stronger stewards of the land we have left,” he says. “Our future action is not intended to hinder or cause complications for developers or homebuilders, but set forth clarity and defined expectations.” 

But many parts of the city are flat, and entire districts are underpopulated, marked by empty lots and houses nobody appears to want.

Mr. Bennett calls the Ledford scheme a “moratorium” and says builders are being caught by surprise. “This short notice of new more strenuous regulations without considerably more vetting is not a reasonable, fair or responsible approach to take.” He is worried generally about “the continuous implementation of new government regulations which have a negative effect” on housing costs.

Mike Price of MAP Engineers says he doubts the rules will solve the problems against which they appear to be addressed. Please don’t rush into the plan, he asks council members.

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