Timesville Road area resident Carla Gravett wouldn’t mind seeing another grocery store built on Signal Mountain. She can even think of a couple of spots that would be perfect for it.
But it would be a mistake to put it at the site of the former Lines Orchids property, she said, where the topsoil –which does not perk – conceals an underground crisscrossed with tunnels from long abandoned underground mines that sometimes collapse.
And that doesn’t even count the traffic tie-ups that would occur on the community’s narrow, two-lane road, the run-off from the grocery complex onto adjoining properties, and potential septic problems created by large numbers of customers using restrooms in the complex.
It’s frustrating, Mrs. Gravett said, when supporters of a proposal by LOP, LLC and owner/developer/attorney John Anderson to build a combination grocery, office, retail and fuel center complex on the site portray opponents as just being against a second grocery story on the mountain.
“It’s not about a grocery store,” she declared. “It’s about a lot more.”
Former U.S. Department of Defense architect and land-use planner Laura McCormick agrees.
Like Mrs. Gravett, she plans to attend Tuesday night’s Walden town council meeting when members are scheduled to take a second and final vote on the proposed development. The first vote took place on Oct. 8 during the Walden council’s regular monthly meeting. Both Mayor William Trohanis and Alderwoman Sarah McKenzie voted to approve the project.
Mrs. McCormick, now a stay-at-home mom and resident of Walden, said she attended the meetings where developer Anderson and his associates showed renderings of the proposed grocery complex and explained what they wanted to build.
She said she stood up and asked the architect why he would draw a project that did not comply with any of Walden’s “village commercial” zoning requirements.
“This whole project is a mirage,” she said Saturday. “It just should not be built on the Lines Orchids site. It is completely unsuitable for the environment.”
As proposed, she said, LOP, LLC’s plan requires that four to 16 feet of topsoil be graded to level the property, sloping from front to back.
That means that the self-contained septic system they want to use for the project will not work because it has to be installed in soil that has not been graded or disturbed, Mrs. McCormick said.
She added, “On top of that, where will they put the system? Certainly not to the rear of the property (steep slope) and certainly not in the parking area where the surface will be stripped to the (underlying) coal seam.”
Another problem, she said, is that the view which owners of neighboring properties will be left with is the back of a massive retaining wall.
“Property owners behind the site will be looking at a potentially (65-foot-high) concrete retaining wall,” she said. “That would be double the height of the retaining wall located at the new apartments across from Red Bank Elementary School on Mountain Creek Road.”
She said since the property is on a steep slope “the retaining wall that would be required will encompass almost two-thirds of the rear of the building/property line and will cost almost as much as LOP, LLC is indicating the entire project will cost.”
Those kinds of problems would have been apparent, she said, had members of the Hamilton County Planning Commission asked developers for a grading plan and a wastewater plan so they could review the documents.
“But they didn’t,” she said. “Our planning commission let us down.”
It is Timesville Road area residents who live next to the proposed site, Mrs. McCormick said, and they are clearly the people who will be most affected by it.
But rather than seeking their input, she said, officials have tried to exclude them from the political process the rezoning request triggered.
For example, during a public meeting on the proposal held at Bachman Community Center, Mayor Trohanis ruled that everybody from Walden who wanted to speak would be heard before anybody from the Timesville area got to say anything.
“That meant they couldn’t even speak until 9:30 or 10 p.m., after most people had already left,” she said. “I left. I said my piece and then I went home.”
They may have a difficult time getting heard at public meetings, but Timesville area residents aren’t taking this sitting down. They’re watching and waiting, weighing their options.
Last week, about 20 opponents of the grocery complex met at the home of Mark and Sandra Koss to discuss the situation and what, if anything, they can do about it.
Opinions are divided.
Sixty-nine-year-old David Plank – who is Mrs. Gravett’s father – lives right across the road from the site where the proposed grocery complex would be built. His driveway touches the Walden city line, he said, but he gets no say in whether the rezoning is approved.
In his opinion, Walden has not handled the situation correctly.
“There should be a referendum,” he said, “not just three people deciding what’s going to happen.”
His daughter agreed.
Mrs. Gravett has lived in the Timesville Road area all her life, she said. Her family migrated there from Kentucky early in the last century, and both her great-grandfathers worked in coal mines in the community until they closed during the 1960s. She and her husband own two homes in the area – their former residence, which is now a rental property, and the house where they now live.
She’s not going anywhere.
But that doesn’t mean she’s blind to the problems which plague the community: soil that won’t percolate, water which runs off the road and other paved areas and floods people’s yards, abandoned mines which leak polluted orange water, and garbage tossed into once-pristine Middle Creek which meanders through the area.
“I’ve seen dirty diapers come floating by,” Mrs. Gravett recalled.
Tony Wheeler, whose 14 acres of land adjoin the former greenhouse property, has been going nonstop ever since he learned about the proposed grocery complex.
Eventually, he said, his land will be put into an environmental trust. He doesn’t intend to let anything happen to prevent that.
"The run-off (from the grocery complex) would go to a creek on my land, to Middle Creek . . . around the golf course . . . to Rainbow Lake, and then into the Tennessee River,” he said.
He has contacted a variety of local, state and federal government agencies, Mr. Wheeler said, as well as numbers of environmental groups – particularly those that deal with issues related to storm water, sewage and coal.
Representatives of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation are among the officials who have visited the area and walked his property, he said, and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is keeping an eye on the situation.
In November, he noted, he is scheduled to meet with the Southern Environmental Law Center to discuss possible legal strategies. He also has joined forces with individuals and groups interested in presenting legislation during the upcoming session of the Tennessee Legislature aimed at protecting the Middle Creek watershed.