Developer To Proceed With Controversial Walden Project After Planning Commission Declines To Intervene; Lee Davis Says Town To Face Traffic, Environmental Woes

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission on Monday chose to take no action on the zoning ordinance previously approved last month by the Walden Town Council, clearing the developer to proceed with a controversial Walden Town Center. The development slated for Taft Highway on Signal Mountain will include a full-service grocery store, fuel station, retail, offices and a public park.

“I am grateful for the commissioners’ continued support of Walden Town Center and believing in the merits this development will provide residents,” said John Anderson, principal of LOP, LLC and owner of the 15-acre tract.

“Throughout the last several months, we’ve received overwhelming support from community members who need an affordable shopping option on the mountain. We’re deeply appreciative of this opportunity to provide that important service.”

The approved zoning ordinance was sent back to the Regional Planning Commission for final review following the town council meeting last month. Mayor William Trohanis and Alderwoman Sarah McKenzie voted in favor of the $15 million development that is expected to generate $610,060 in revenue to the town and to Hamilton County each year. Vice Mayor Lee Davis voted against the rezoning. 

With proper zoning in place, LOP, LLC will soon begin clearing land for the development. Details for a groundbreaking ceremony and the name of the retailer will be announced in the coming weeks.

Sam Elliott, Walden town attorney, said a section of the town code requires a case to go back to the Planning Commission if there are substantial revisions. He said there initially were seven conditions on the project, but that was expanded to 26 conditions by Walden officials.

Attorney Elliott said it was vague what type of review the Planning Commission was supposed to do. He said Walden expects soon to make a change to eliminate the extra review. 

Vice Mayor Davis said, "The proposed development by John Anderson is the most divisive issue in the town’s history. An overwhelmIng number of Walden residents are against this large scale commercial development for our town, and it is easy to understand why.

"Allowing three commercial stores - totaling more than 50,000 square feet - on a septic tank, at the top of a mountain, over a nearby derelict coal mine is bad policy. Consider too the gas and diesel fuel station that was approved as part of this plan and one can see the obvious environmental risks at stake. The quality of our water and land will be compromised.

"Next come the traffic concerns. Substantially increased traffic at the town center and the lack of a traffic plan will result in fatalities on Taft Highway.

"Lastly, Mr. Anderson refuses to say who the proposed tenants of this project are.  There is speculation that it is a Food City, but that’s speculation; no one knows. If this is such a good deal for Walden, why not come forward? In these times of Walmart home delivery and Amazon Prime home delivery, I am skeptical that Mr. Anderson’s promise of a tax windfall to the town of Walden is real.

"The lack of transparency in his project is deeply troublesome. The town’s decision to allow this project to go forward was arbitrary and is a mistake. To call this box development a “village center” to get around our town’s zoning requirements is a decision that we will all regret." 

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