Walden officials on Tuesday fired a volley of questions at the owner of a tract of land that could hold a proposed grocery store project.
At a public hearing before more than 200 people, the town's mayor and aldermen heard a presentation and sought answers from site owner John Anderson, his architect, and a Hamilton County planning official for about an hour.
Also, citizens at the hearing got their chance to weigh in on the proposed development, offering up their visions of the future of Walden's Ridge.
Anderson, a Chattanooga attorney, said the proposed 43,000-square-foot store would be "full service" and give Walden the chance develop a town center at the Taft Highway and Timesville Road location.
He said that the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission this summer gave its approval to the project with no limitations to the size of the store. Also, Anderson said, the project would hold small shop space along Taft Highway while the grocery store would sit off the road in the 9-acre site.
"There's already 56,000 square feet of greenhouse space on the site," he said, citing the parcel's longtime use of commercially growing orchids. "We've done our due diligence."
However, town Vice Mayor Lee Davis tried to pin down Anderson on if a Food City is the proposed grocery store user. Anderson said he wasn't in a position to name the grocer.
"If your contract falls through with Food City, there's no assurance it's going to be a grocery store?" asked Davis.
Anderson said that would depend on how the town board approves the project.
Davis also asked if the project drawings give it the appearance of a strip mall, adding that "it looks like it."
Anderson said he disagrees with that assertion, saying that the existing center where a Pruett's grocery store is located in the town of Signal Mountain is a strip center.
"We're trying to improve on that," Davis said.
Mayor Bill Trohanis asked if the small shop space along Taft Highway would have a buffer from the road.
Anderson said plans are for a 65-foot buffer, and he added that plans are for sidewalks along Taft and Timesville.
Project architect Bob Franklin said the project could become a "town center for the whole plateau."
"What we don't have on the mountain is something with a strong sense of place — a true village feel," he said.
John Bridger, who heads the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, noted that the planning commission had taken out an internal street grid the agency staff had proposed for the project.
Also, he said, the staff had put a limitation of 20,000 square feet on any one building on the site.
Walden resident Gary Smith, who is against the project, said at the meeting that there's value in not having light and noise pollution coming from nearby property.
"There is value in less traffic and no problems with sewage and water run off," he said. "There is value in keeping the atmosphere that has increased and maintained the worth of your homes."
But Eva Mae Johnston said she was born and raised in Walden and she'd like to see the grocery store.
"If you don't have progress, we'd still have dirt roads," she said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.