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Rendering by Franklin Associates Architects / A proposed grocery store in Walden is part of an estimated $15 million project.

This story was updated Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, at 8:44 p.m. with more information.

Two Walden residents and another who lives near a planned grocery store project in the town have filed suit against the land owner and the board that approved the development.

Gary Smith and Linda Collins, both of Walden, and Anthony Wheeler, who lives in Hamilton County near the proposed Taft Highway and Timesville Road development, brought suit claiming that the board that passed an ordinance and approved the project was in direct conflict with a land use plan and zoning.

"The decisions of the Town Board in passing the ordinance and approving the development were illegal, arbitrary and capricious and this court should overturn them," said the suit filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court by attorney Douglas Berry of Miller & Martin.

The suit also challenged the town's adoption of the ordinance on Dec. 15, 2019, without additional meaningful review and formal action by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission after extensive changes made in the ordinance. The lawsuit claims the town council was in violation of due process of law in the rezoning decision and urged the court to void the project's OK.

(More: Walden officials seek answers on grocery store project)

In addition, the suit said the town's failure to conduct additional public hearings on the ordinance after a Sept. 10, 2019, public hearing was in violation of the law.

The lawsuit said that the board's actions violate the letter and intent of an existing zoning ordinance and land use plan by failing to require a blend of commercial and residential areas into a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

Additionally, the suit said that allowing construction of a 44,000-square-foot grocery store with the associated large parking lots is contrary to zoning and the land use plan that calls for small-scale development designed to provide local retail and office space.

The suit cited a failure to require a comprehensive plan for a complete village center, and said the action encourages strip or generic suburban commercial development with large parking areas.

The controversial $15 million grocery store project proposed by Chattanooga attorney John Anderson won approval late last year after a long fight with a number of residents on Signal Mountain.

Anderson declined to comment on Tuesday.

(More: Walden grocery store proposal on Signal Mountain redone as 'village concept')

But Bruce Novkov, a supporter of the project, said it would offer "an affordable grocery option and town center" and that it would be "fantastic for the mountain."

"Anytime you offer more services for residents, it's a good thing," said Novkov, who lives in the adjacent town of Signal Mountain. "Location couldn't be any better. It's a commercial piece of property already."

He said he thought the approval process "seemed like it was open and fair. I think there's overwhelming support for this."

Walden officials had put 23 conditions on the project that is to go on the site that for many years has held the Lines Orchids Greenhouse.

With zoning in place, the development group earlier said it would begin clearing land at the tract, which is to hold a full-service grocery store, fuel station, retail stores, offices and a public park.

While Anderson has said he's under a confidentiality agreement with the store owner and wouldn't reveal the grocer, Food City tried unsuccessfully earlier to put a supermarket in the nearby town of Signal Mountain.

"I am grateful for the commissioners' continued support of Walden Town Center and believing in the merits this development will provide residents," said Anderson, principal of LOP LLC and owner of the 15-acre tract, in an earlier statement.

But Wheeler, whose property is adjacent to the planned site, has expressed concerns about a coal seam that runs in the area as well as mine shafts which were dug in the 1900s.

"The site presents a significant hazard if fuel storage is put over the coal seam," said Wheeler, adding he has been in touch with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and plans to speak before a water quality board in February.

Mayor William Trohanis and Alderwoman Sarah McKenzie voted in favor of the development that is expected to generate, about $610,060 in revenue to the town and to Hamilton County each year, according to Anderson. Alderman Lee Davis voted against the rezoning.

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

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