CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A Bradley County judge on Wednesday temporarily let stand an earlier order stopping Walden officials from flip-flopping on a proposed grocery store project in the town.
But Circuit Court Judge J. Michael Sharp said he'll hear a related lawsuit on March 31.
"This thing is ready to go," said the judge about the case. "Get everybody prepared and ready to go."
The judge's ruling came after a nearly hour-long hearing involving Walden officials and Chattanooga attorney John Anderson. His company owns the land at Taft Highway and Timesville Road atop Signal Mountain where the grocery store and small-shop space would go.
Anderson's group had won approval for the project from the town in late 2019 after some contentious public meetings. But in early 2020, some Walden and Hamilton County citizens filed a lawsuit against the town and Anderson to stop the project.
In late 2020, a town election in which project opponent Lee Davis was chosen mayor prompted the board to try to change course on the store and end its opposition to the citizens' lawsuit in a resolution.
But early this year, Anderson filed his own lawsuit and received a temporary restraining order (TRO) from Hamilton County Chancellor Pamela A. Fleenor to stop the town board from taking up the resolution.
Judge Sharp, who has the case after Hamilton County judges recused themselves, said that Chancellor Fleenor had the authority to grant the TRO and ruled it stay in effect at least until March 31.
Walden Town Attorney Sam Elliott had noted the oddity of a public body changing course on such a matter, but said that's what has occurred.
He said that the proposed resolution is aimed at letting the court know the board now has a different view on the grocery store project and "there's a new sheriff in town."
"We're trying to let you know that's Walden's new position," Elliott said.
But Chattanooga attorney John Konvalinka, representing Anderson, said the proposed resolution, if passed, would revoke and block permits to enable the grocery store project to move ahead.
Konvalinka said that Davis as mayor apparently would have that power.
Also, he said, Anderson's group already has met 23 of the conditions which the town board earlier put on the project.
The legal fight involves the construction of a planned 44,000-square-foot grocery store, which has been identified in drawings as a Food City.
Anderson said the $15 million project on a tract that long-held Lines Orchids would be expected to generate about $610,060 in revenue to the town and Hamilton County each year.
But 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.
Anderson said the original decision by the town board was "supported by material evidence, had a rational basis, was fairly debatable and was not arbitrary, capricious or illegal."
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.