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The exterior of a proposed grocery store in Walden was madeover to give it a more town center look, according to the landowner. / Rendering by Franklin Architects

The landowner behind a planned Walden grocery store is countering critics of his newest plan for a town center complex, saying it will provide Signal Mountain with a better sense of community.

"It will be the place where more people on Signal Mountain see each other than at any other place on any given day," said Chattanooga attorney John Anderson about the proposed $15 million project.

However, some opponents said the changes made in the center, such as building a smaller grocery store and putting two office and retail buildings up against Taft Highway, aren't enough.

Ed O'Kelley of Walden said the grocery store, which hasn't been identified, is still too large and he worried the project would create more empty shops on the mountain.

WHAT’S NEXT

The proposed new town center complex in Walden is expected to go before the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission for rezoning on Aug. 12.

"Most everyone who moved to this community in the last 45 years moved away from urban sprawl to live in a small-town atmosphere," he said in an email to Hamilton County planners who'll consider a zoning change for the tract next month.

Anderson filed the new proposal with planners in June and is seeking "village commercial" zoning on the parcel to create "The Town Center of Walden" project.

The proposed grocery store is 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 while the small shops move up to Taft. The number of parking spaces are fewer, 222 versus 273 under the prior plan.

Anderson, an attorney who lives in Walden, said the mountaintop communities are growing with upwards of 1,000 new residences planned. The center would help meet needs of existing and new residents, he said in an interview this week.

"This is important to the long-term tax sustainability of the mountain and service sustainability," Anderson said. "There's a demand for this on the mountain."

Also, he said, he plans to donate seven acres of the 15-acre site, which for many years held Lines Orchids, to Walden as park space.

"It will set a precedent over how to give back to the community," said the attorney, stating the development will essentially become Walden's town center.

The project's small-shop space will have "dual fronts," one on Taft and the other facing the grocery store, he said. The parking lot will have tree-lined pedestrian lanes from the store to the shops, Anderson said.

He said the grocery store will be full-service, unlike Pruett's Market in the town of Signal Mountain, which has remodeled to sell more wine and individual meals.

"You don't have one [grocery store] that cuts across all economic levels [on the mountain]," Anderson said.

But Richard Ford said he's still opposed to the proposal, saying it doesn't have a village center look.

"What he's proposing is terrible," said Ford, who lives in Sequatchie County, citing worries about stormwater runoff.

He also had concerns about old coal mines and air shafts in the area and possible fire.

"Walden would be crazy to take [the donated land]," Ford said.

Anderson has noted there are other developments going up on the mountain and they're unaffected by the mines. The Lines Orchids location has been a commercial site for decades, he said.

The attorney said that calling the 44,000-square-foot grocery store a "big box," a complaint some opponents have offered, is a mischaracterization.

"When I think if big box, I think of Walmart, Costco and Target," he said, adding that it's not an accurate representation of market forces to say the project would "cannibalize" existing commercial space.

Anderson said that a traffic study has indicated the service level on Taft Highway will be minimally impacted.

Steve Meyer, president of Transportation Consultants, said a large percentage of trips generated by the development is expected to be passbys, indicating the vehicles already will be going by the center and decide to stop.

"What the driver experiences is a very small increase in delay," said Meyer, whose firm conducted the study. He said a traffic light won't be needed at Taft and Timesville.

In May, Anderson pulled his original concept for the center after planning commission staffers recommended denying rezoning of the site.

The staff said the size of the grocery store and parking lot, a lack of pedestrian connectivity and of public space didn't meet characteristics of a preferred town center or town corridor development.

Anderson said he met with planners and heard complaints from residents and redesigned the project with the town center approach.

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

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