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Rendering by Franklin Architects / A proposed grocery store is part of a $15 million commercial project in Walden.

This story was updated Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, at 8 p.m. with more information.

A dispute between the town of Walden, some of its citizens and a landowner involving a planned grocery store project is now all in the hands of a Bradley County judge.

Hamilton County Chancellor Pamela A. Fleenor on Wednesday transferred the latest piece of the legal case to Bradley Circuit Court Judge J. Michael Sharp.

Judge Sharp already had taken on a lawsuit involving the Walden residents against landowner LOP LLC and the town. Hamilton County judges earlier had recused themselves from that case.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Fleenor said that a separate legal action related to the original case should be heard by Judge Sharp as well.

In an order prior to a scheduled court hearing, the chancellor said that both cases arise out of the same series of transactions and occurrences "such that the disposition of one may impair or impede interests in the other."

She said that to avoid the risk of conflicting, inconsistent rulings, the court determined that the latest part of the dispute should be transferred to Judge Sharp, and he has agreed to hear the matter to its conclusion.

The legal fight involves a proposed project that would hold a 44,000-square-foot grocery store, which has been identified in drawings as a Food City, and small shop space in Walden atop Signal Mountain at Taft Highway and Timesville Road.

In 2019, the town approved an ordinance permitting the project by LOP and its principal, Chattanooga attorney John Anderson, to move forward.

But in early 2020 a lawsuit was filed by some Walden citizens and another man against the ordinance and the town, saying that passage of the measure was in error and in violation of state law.

After a town election late last year and a change of leadership in which Chattanooga attorney and project critic Lee Davis was chosen mayor, the town board indicated earlier this month it was to hear a resolution calling for the town to reverse its support for the grocery store project.

Before the resolution could be heard, Anderson filed a suit and obtained from Chancellor Fleenor a temporary restraining order related to the proposed resolution.

Anderson has denied that the ordinance paving the way for the project was improperly approved.

The original decision by the town board in 2019 was "supported by material evidence, had a rational basis, was fairly debatable and was not arbitrary, capricious or illegal," said Anderson in an earlier court filing.

Gary Smith and Linda Collins, both of Walden, and Anthony Wheeler, who lives in Hamilton County near the proposed development, had brought the 2020 suit claiming that the board that passed the ordinance and approved the project was in direct conflict with a land-use plan and zoning.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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