A proposed new Walden land-use plan has drawn criticism from officials who decried what they see as a document that excludes some people from living in the mountaintop town.
While the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission approved the adoption of the proposed Walden blueprint for the future at a Monday meeting, nearly a third of the panel in attendance voted against it.
Chattanooga City Councilman Darrin Ledford of East Brainerd, who also serves on the planning panel, said at the meeting there's an appearance that renters are frowned upon in Walden.
Ledford said his first impression is the plan is aimed toward "a certain type of resident."
Chris Anderson, another panel member representing Chattanooga, said there's an appearance in the plan that residents need to be able to afford a 2-acre lot to live there.
"That's what the councilman meant by exclusivity. This document excludes people," he said, adding he believes he wouldn't be welcome there.
The plan said the majority of the town is zoned for A-1 Agriculture, which requires a minimum lot size of 20 acres, and R-1 Residential zoning in the town requires a minimum lot size of 2 acres.
According to the plan, Walden restricted much of the land within its boundaries to 2-acre minimum single-family residential lots in the 1990s. About 96% of housing units in the town are for one family, the plan said.
Angela Cassidy, a member of the Walden land-use plan committee who spoke to the planning commission, said the intent of the plan isn't to exclude anyone.
She cited a proposal in the plan for a new town center. The plan shows opportunities for townhouses and "similar housing types." It also shows parcels along Taft Highway for "low-intensity commercial or residential infill ..."
"We wanted to offer more housing within that town center," Cassidy said.
Walden Mayor Lee Davis said in a telephone interview after the meeting that the 2-acre lots help in terms of sewage treatment systems because there's so little topsoil on Walden's Ridge.
"It wasn't intended as any sort of elitist thing," he said. "We do have a town that's welcoming of all economic levels."
Davis said issues of diversity are important, "and we welcome those conversations."
Planning commission member Jason Farmer said the land-use document could have been worded differently. He said that maybe "inclusivity language" could be included in the plan.
Cassidy said the land use committee would be "happy to do that."
She said the plan is expected to go for a vote before the town board in February.
The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency assists the town to review development proposals because Walden doesn't have its own planning commission or staff.
Walden hasn't updated its land-use plan in over two decades, and a consulting team was used to develop the blueprint with community input, the document says.
The plan also suggests creating "a sense of place" for the town through design changes and landscape elements along Taft Highway in the proposed town center area.
Also, the document raises the idea of traffic circles at Anderson Pike and Taft Highway and at Fairmount Avenue and Taft.
In addition, the plan envisions the walkable and bikeable town center and neighborhood. That area appears to include property held by an entity in which the late Chattanooga attorney John Anderson was an investor.
Anderson had won town approval to build a mixed-use development, in which documents showed a Food City grocery store was included, at Taft and Timesville Road. But some town residents later sued, and a judge last year overturned the approval.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.