As a lifelong resident of Signal Mountain, I am writing this letter to submit to the public record my opposition regarding the rezoning request by Charlotte, N.C. based developer Keith Corporation at 617 Cauthen Way.
The more I have learned about the potential rezone in the heart of Signal Mountain’s town center to permit a large-scale “big-box” grocery, the more this situation unsettles me.
Keith Corporation purchased eight acres at Cauthen Way with full knowledge of its current zoning designation (residential). Commercial developers know that they do not purchase parcels of land and then seek a rezone...they secure the rezone before purchasing the land. In light of the fact that a rezone of the land was proposed in 2010 for the exact kind of development and was denied, one would think that Keith Corporation or any commercial developer would not take such a risk.
Was someone from our town making them feel like the development and required zone changes wouldn’t be an issue? Why is Keith Corp. forcing this poison pill down the throats of the Signal Mountain community in the face of such vocal and written opposition? Why haven’t they engaged our citizens in meaningful and transparent dialogue prior to hiring an architect? I’m pretty sure citizens hardly feel engaged by the vague two question survey or the comment mailer that arrived to our homes after Keith Corps. self-imposed deadline for sending it in.
Signal Mountain voters are speaking out at every meeting. They are circulating a petition, utilizing social media platforms, writing letters and making phone calls to Town Council members expressing opposition to this proposal. Over 1,500 signatures and counting on the petition have said no we do not want a large, big box store of any kind entering Signal Mountain’s town limits.
Our Planning Commission just engaged Signal Mountain citizens in two meetings (charettes) as well as an online survey to ask some important questions about the kind of growth our citizens do and don’t want to see in Signal Mountain. Additionally, the Planning Commission voted 5-1 to deny the request. What will our Town Council do with this information? Ignore it or act on it?
The prevailing argument for this zoning change is that if we don’t do it, another part of the mountain will. My counter-point to this is...fine. Signal Mountain can be strategic in our growth initiatives and support our business community while we also put a premium on community and quality of life. If tax revenue is that much of an issue, then let’s have a public conversation about it.
Nothing like the threat of a big box grocery store with 150 parking places being plopped right in the heart of our town center to make someone like me wake up and say no.
Lookout Mountain, Georgia’s Town Council has just hired a consultant to work with them to create a sustainable growth plan to strategize about the future of their community. They will control the dialogue, They will get input and ideas from voters, property and business owners, and it will be a plan built on the tenets of consensus and collective buy in.
What a concept.
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As small towns around the country are enacting legislation to make it harder for big box stores to open, our town council is considering rezoning a residential parcel so that a 38,000-square-foot Food City can be built. A Food City in the backyards of families who have been in their homes for decades. A Food City across the street from Pruett’s Market, which has served the community for 40 years. A Food City with a pharmacy, a mile and a half from our locally owned pharmacy that opened its doors in 1946. A Food City in the middle of the small town we cherish.
I suppose that someone at Food City’s headquarters in Virginia ran an algorithm based on the zip codes we enter at the checkout and the rapid fire new home construction on Walden’s Ridge. But did Food City’s algorithm take into account our unique topography and the number of people who drive off the mountain everyday to go to work or school? Did they factor in the unknown quantity of people who would continue to shop off the mountain out of preference or convenience? Did the algorithm include the number of people who would boycott Food City out of loyalty to Pruett’s that just completed a major renovation and out of loyalty to Signal Mountain Pharmacy? Did the executives at Food City consider the harm opening a store in a small town would do to the locally owned grocery store and pharmacy? Did they discuss how property values would fall for those who would have a big box store in their backyard? Did they consider the harm to the unique character of our ridge top communities? No they did not. They only considered their bottom line.
It is our council’s job to deeply consider our concerns. It is their job to consider that duplicating existing services will not result in a net tax gain. It is their job to care about local businesses that reinvest more of their revenue back into our local economy than chain stores do. It is their job to read, understand and honor the provisions of our land use plan and to protect the residents on Cauthen, James and Lancaster from commercial encroachment. It is their job to ask themselves if anyone would win besides Food City and the developer (Keith Corporation). Food City’s success isn’t a certainty, but they can afford the risk. It is our council’s job to understand that our neighbors, our local businesses and our cultural identity cannot afford the risk.
That’s our bottom line.
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I am writing to implore the Signal Mountain Town Council to follow the recommendation of the Planning Commission and deny the zoning request change of 617 Cauthen Way.
The addition of a 38,000 square foot Food City with 150 parking spaces will change the look of the mountain forever. The natural flora and fauna will be destroyed and for what--a big box store that I haven't heard anyone say they want.
Food City stated they want to build this store in anticipation of growth on the mountain. This "if we build it they will come" mentality is not thoughtful planning.
The Town Council needs to listen to the Signal Mountain citizens that elected them and say no to this re-zone.
Joyce Jennings Smith