Walden grocery store project gets OK from town officials

Rendering by Franklin Architects / A grocery store and small shop space are proposed for a Walden parcel.

Clearing a major hurdle, a proposed Walden village center with a full-service grocery store and small shop space on Tuesday drew the OK of town officials for a second time.

All that apparently remains for the $15 million project to get a green light is for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission to meet in December to OK changes made to language in the zoning ordinance.

The vote before a standing-room-only group of more than 100 citizens was two to one, just like in the first reading of the zoning change made earlier this month.

Voting for the project again were town Mayor Bill Trohanis and Alderman Sarah McKenzie. Vice Mayor Lee Davis voted no.

Chattanooga attorney John Anderson, whose company owns the 15-acre former Lines Orchids Greenhouse tract at Taft Highway and Timesville Road, was congratulated by family and supporters after the 75-minute meeting.

Anderson said he was "very grateful" to town officials and people who have backed his project, but declined further comment. He again wouldn't offer the name of the grocery store, though Food City had last year sought unsuccessfully to place a unit in the neighboring town of Signal Mountain.

A large group of opponents to the project, many of whom before the meeting stood along Taft Highway with placards against the vote, packed the town hall.

photo Rendering by Franklin Architects /A proposed grocery store in Walden would sit at the back of land identified for the project, while small shop space would go up against Taft Highway.

Sandra Koss, who lives near the proposed development, said that 56 people around the site signed a petition against it. She cited traffic, stormwater and sewer runoff worries as key reasons.

"Do you think traffic [on Taft Highway] is going to get better if the grocery store gets in?" she asked before the start of the meeting.

But, Trohanis and McKenzie both defended their original votes. The mayor said the project will clean up the area and provide residents with a full-service grocery store on the mountain.

"I've talked with people who can't afford options they have up here," Trohanis said.

He also said the village center project could spur redevelopment of a nearby "bus depot" site where school buses are often parked.

"This could be the thing that gets us something there," the mayor said.

McKenzie said town officials are looking at the concerns of residents and neighbors as conditions were put on the project involving traffic and stormwater runoff.

"I think we are," she said.

McKenzie added that village center zoning has been on the town books since 2002, and one hasn't been developed yet. She said the majority of people want one.

"This anchor tenant will attract businesses and keep them on the mountain," McKenzie said.

But, Davis sought to change the votes of the pair, telling them to look at the concerned people in the room.

"We've always voted unanimously [on key issues]," he said. "Let us have a plan to work together. If this is the highest and best use 12 months from now, I'll vote for it."

Davis said there will be unintended consequences as a result of approving the project. He said that while the town is facing pressure from an elimination of Hall Income Tax revenue, he expects there will be new costs associated with the center, such as policing the site.

"It's not cheap," Davis said.

Also, Walden town attorney Sam D. Elliott said at the meeting that he wanted to dispel talk that a member of the board had an interest in the proposed project. Anderson said no board member or anyone associated with them had an interest.

The project includes a 43,000-square-foot grocery store and about 10,000 square feet of small shop space.

Anderson has said his proposal would provide Walden with a town center and a meeting place for residents, and that Walden could garner some $200,000 annually in sales taxes based on $16 million a year in grocery sales at the store.

"It would have all the amenities to provide the town with the highest and best use," he said.

Anderson said part of the tract already is zoned commercial. He said commercial zoning permits uses such as convenience stores and gas stations.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.