Walden appears near vote on grocery store, town center

Staff photo by Mike Pare / The Lines Orchids site on Taft Highway in Walden is shown in 2022. A developer has a proposal for the tract to hold a grocery store as part of a town center.

Walden officials appear near a vote that could clear a path for a new grocery store as part of a planned multimillion-dollar town center and potentially end years of tension over such a project.

Officials said last week at a meeting on Walden's Ridge they plan to take up in October a proposal to amend an existing zoning ordinance related to the town center.

Mayor Lee Davis said at the meeting he and town aldermen are to attend a public workshop with planning staff on the issue Oct. 17. Then, at the town's meeting, the zoning ordinance change is expected to come up for a public hearing, a first reading and a vote, he said.

Alabama developer John Argo, whose group is proposing a 29,000-square-foot grocery store as part of the mixed-use town center at Taft Highway and Timesville Road, has been open and transparent about the project, Davis said.

The mayor said he'd been critical of a 2019 proposal for the store by a different development group led by the late Chattanooga attorney John Anderson, adding there was "a high-temperature back and forth."

(READ MORE: An earlier proposal planned a grocery store and small shop space in Walden)

Argo and his group have looked at the issues Walden citizens have expressed concerns about, and discussions between the parties is "a different situation," Davis said.

Argo's SE Capital Partners development group has proposed about a $20 million mixed-use town center, including the grocery store. A website earlier seeking support for the proposal didn't identify the grocer but said it's not Food City, Walmart, Ingles, Save A Lot, Fresh Market, Aldi or Trader Joe's.

Publix, with seven stores in the Chattanooga area, was noticeably absent from the list. Argo has said he can't comment on the store's name yet.

After last week's Walden meeting, Argo said in an interview about the proposed project that town officials "want to get it right."

"I think our project will successfully implement a town center," he said. "I think we're close to the finish line. I think we can do something special."

Argo understands concerns about the project some have expressed, he said.

Citizens have worried about over-development, traffic, wastewater and sewage issues, and the idea it would change the nature of living in Walden, and they've packed some prior public meetings.

A lawsuit was even filed by some citizens that successfully blocked an earlier proposal by Anderson's group.

(READ MORE: The decision that upheld the lawsuit)

"For a lot of folks, it's paradise up here," Argo said. "Any change ought to have scrutiny."

Concerning the project, the grocery store would be a full-service one with the specialty departments shoppers expect, he said. The proposed town center also has a housing component that would provide about a dozen townhomes, Argo said. The townhomes would be "very upscale," he said.

In the months since his project was proposed, Argo has learned people want more food and restaurant choices in the town center, he said. Also, plans are to provide 8 to 10 acres for a park as well as a village square, and the group is looking at an event venue, Argo said.

If the project receives the approvals, it would need to be designed and permitted, he said. Work could start in 2024 with a potential opening in the third quarter of 2025, Argo said.

"We'd build it all at once," he said. "It's not a phased development."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

  photo  Contributed rendering / A rendering shows part of a planned town center in Walden. A developer is proposing a grocery store, housing and a park as part of a multimillion-dollar project.