It took them a while, but Walden Town Council members voted 2-1 Tuesday evening to approve a request from LOP, LLC that they rezone a 15-acre tract of commercial land in the heart of the town to village commercial.
The outcome was greeted with applause from developer John Anderson’s wife, Teresa – who has campaigned actively on social media in favor of the project – and other supporters sitting on chairs placed around the edges of the room.
But Vice Mayor Lee Davis, noting that the project does not comply with Walden zoning requirements, was worried. "I fear that legal action could come because of the town's action," he said after the meeting.
LOP’s public face, attorney/landowner/developer Anderson, had sought a VC-1 (Village Center) zoning designation for the former Lines Orchids site so it could be transformed into a combination grocery, office, retail and fuel center complex.
At the meeting, after making lengthy statements – large portions of which were inaudible to the standing-room-only crowd attending the meeting – both Mayor William Trohanis and Alderwoman Sarah McKenzie voted to approve the project.
“We can’t hear you,” people at the back of the room called out repeatedly as Alderwoman McKenzie read on and on.
They didn’t have that problem with Vice Mayor Davis, who cast the sole dissenting vote and whose arguments against approving the rezoning could be heard in the hallway outside the council room as well as in the room itself.
It makes no sense to “scrap and rip up our zoning plan,” he told the crowd.
What’s the rush, the vice mayor wondered, suggesting that the town should take the time to hire a planner and have a study done that would determine the actual highest and best use for the former Lines Orchids property.
“If this is such a good deal,” he concluded, “it’ll still be a good deal after we do our due diligence,” winning an extended round of applause from the crowd.
His words, however, did not persuade his colleagues on the council, who noted repeatedly that the rezoning approval comes with numerous conditions.
“With respect to Mr. Davis’ concerns,” Mayor Trohanis observed, “we have the power to deny this (later) even if it’s rezoned.”
As proposed, a 43,000-square-foot grocery would be built on the site of the old Lines Orchids greenhouse property, which is located at the intersection of Timesville Road and Taft Highway.
Another 10,000 square feet of structures would be constructed along Taft Highway, developer Anderson indicated at a public hearing held in September.
According to Walden zoning codes, VC-1 “village center” requires a blend of commercial and residential areas in a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. The proposed grocery complex contained no residential elements and was not pedestrian-friendly, according to critics.
Vice Mayor Davis, addressing the crowd before the vote was taken, said he’s troubled by the fact that the developer won’t identify the grocery store chain that wants to do business in Walden.
“I want to see the person who’s actually going to build this come before us,” he said.
The vice mayor said Mr. Anderson bought the property in Walden knowing full well how it was zoned, and then demanded less than a year later that the town ignore its ordinances and let him build whatever he wants.
As proposed, the project does not contain a plan for dealing with the sewage created by a 43,000-square-foot grocery and other buildings, Vice Mayor Davis said.
“Anybody who has lived here for a while knows that the (sewage) has to be taken care of first,” the vice mayor said, in a reference to the decades of problems with poor percolation and polluted streets and streams that resulted in a building moratorium on the mountain.
There are also other problems, he said. For example, Mr. Anderson’s plan calls for just one curb cut between the 60,000-square-foot parking lot and Timesville Road.
“Can you imagine trying to make a left-hand turn out of there onto Timesville?” he asked.
“Somebody is going to get killed,” he predicted, “and we don’t have any law enforcement . . . There are two (Hamilton County Sheriff’s) officers who patrol this entire district – and Lookout Valley is in the same patrol district as we are.”