Walden grocery store proposal on Signal Mountain redone as 'village concept'

Attorney John Anderson talks to an overflow meeting room in April about a proposed new grocery store project in Walden. Anderson has filed a new proposal for the site atop Signal Mountain. / Staff file photo by Tim Barber

A Walden landowner is trying again to rezone a Signal Mountain tract for a grocery store, saying the new "village concept" should ease worries expressed by residents to the initial proposal.

Chattanooga attorney John Anderson has filed the new proposal with planners and is seeking "village commercial" zoning on the parcel to create what the plan calls "The Town Center of Walden" project.

The proposed grocery store under the new proposal is somewhat smaller, 44,000 square feet compared to 49,000 square feet, and it would still sit at the back of the site off Taft Highway and Timesville Road. The number of parking spaces are fewer, 222 versus 273 under the prior plan.

Also, the new proposal said it will have public spaces incorporated into the design, including a 6-acre green space, and enable visitors "to interact, picnic, relax or otherwise enjoy the property."

About 10,000 square feet of small office or retail space would sit along the entrance on Taft Highway, the new plan shows, rather than off to one side under the former proposal.

The proposal said there's "an emphasis on pedestrians in the site plan." It said there are pedestrian lanes from the parking lot in front of the store and behind the small shops to the green spaces. Also, sidewalks are shown along Timesville Road to encourage pedestrian use, the plan says.

"It would bring a significant amenity to the town of Walden," said Anderson, who pulled his initial proposal at the end of May in the wake of a negative recommendation by Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency staff.

Anderson said he met with planning staff to fold in their ideas and take into consideration concerns expressed by mountain residents.

He said the new plan would provide more than just a shopping experience for people, much as Cambridge Square does for Ooltewah residents.

Anderson said the proposal, when fully built out on the Lines Orchids Greenhouse site, would be a $14 million project though he declined to name the grocer. Last year, the Signal Mountain Town Council voted to deny a rezoning request that would allow a Food City store there. At that time, the Keith Corp. wanted to build a 38,000-square-foot Food City behind what is now an existing shopping center.

Anderson's new proposal, which is expected to go before the Planning Commission in August, still may face opposition.

Walden resident Barret Albritton said that while he'd like to see the new proposal, he doesn't believe "a big-box" grocery store with a fuel center is the way that Signal Mountain needs to grow.

He worried the new store would "cannibalize" the existing Pruett's store nearby and offer cheap prices until it drives Pruett's Market out of business. Then, Albritton said, the new store would increase prices and leave the mountain with an empty building.

"I'd like to see what he [Anderson] has got proposed," he added.

Anderson said he doesn't believe the project would increase traffic, adding that it may decrease the number of motorists now going off the mountain to shop.

"It will be less wear and tear on the roads," said Anderson, noting he lives in Walden.

A number of people earlier had indicated their support for the original project in letters and emails to the Regional Planning Agency.

Anderson had said that revenue generated by property taxes would help Walden replace Hall income tax monies, which are being phased out in the state.

Anderson said the Town of Signal Mountain earlier this week agreed to look at reworking its budget as it faced a property tax increase.

He earlier estimated that between $22 million and $32 million of food sales consumed every year at homes on Signal Mountain are currently bought off the mountain. The potential total retail "leakage," including items such as pharmacy sales, pet food, and alcohol, is over $101 million annually, he said.

He estimated that on $16 million annually in grocery sales at the store, Walden could garner some $200,000 annually in sales taxes from the new development.

Contact Mike Pare at [email protected] or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.