An overflow crowd filled a downtown room on Tuesday night to hear John Anderson give details of a planned project at the former Lines Orchids in Walden.
He said a 49,000-square-foot building for a grocery store with a 60,000-70,000-square-foot parking lot and a gas station is in the proposal. The location is at 1823 Taft Highway on eight and a half acres at the intersection with Timesville Road in the existing commercial corridor in Walden. Mr. Anderson is a principal owner of LOP, LLC which has purchased the site.
The proposed development also includes a 10,000-square foot retail/office building.
Building a big box grocery store in the town of Signal Mountain was denied last year and that building was 30 percent smaller than the one proposed by the current developers. The brand was not disclosed, nor were the other principals involved with LOP.
The group has had multiple studies done that show benefits to the town of Walden with no adverse affects, according to Mr. Anderson. In fact he said he believes that it would “enhance property values and increase desirability to live in the community.”
A number of those who came to the meeting disagreed. Out of around 25 people who asked questions and shared their concerns, only two spoke in favor of the development.
Studies based on the 2010 census show that there are 5,890 houses in zip code 37377. Food consumed at home is estimated to be $6,795 annually and “retail leakage” of $23,561 in sales taxes leaves the community, said Mr. Anderson. Since 2010, nearly 400 more households have been added so that amount will have increased.
The amount of the Hall Tax, the state income tax on dividends and interest, is being phased out in 2021. The small communities that rely heavily on it to operate will need to replace that money. In Walden’s case, with very little retail sales, the difference is likely to be made up with increased property taxes, said the developer. This new store would help replace some of that with sales taxes generated by the store, he said.
Bob Franklin, architect of the project, told the crowd that this is an excellent location for a grocery store that would serve both the towns of Signal Mountain and Walden. It would be on a previously developed site not requiring clear cutting trees. The property to the north holds a hedge of trees that would screen the site, he said, and there is very little residential development near it. Plans would be to plant a landscape buffer of trees and a split rail fence along both of the entry roads. The building would be positioned toward the back of the property with a parking lot in front that includes trees. Lighting would be shielded and turned out after the store closes at 11 p.m. Materials used in the building would mirror Walden’s town hall.
Questions and concerns about the size of the store came from multiple speakers who said 49,000 square feet is the same size as the Publix in North Chattanooga and the Food City at the foot of Signal Mountain. The environmental impact of the project is a concern, considering stormwater run-off, buried gas tanks and wastewater disposal treated in the on-site de-centralized system that would be built above old, porous underground coal mines.
One speaker questioned building something new when there are already 16 vacant buildings on Taft Highway. Why you would add so much space? they asked. Because small shops do not drive development, replied Mr. Anderson. He disagreed with another concern that a supermarket would put Pruett’s Market out of business by taking away sales of basic items that supplement the specialty products it sells.
How the large building would be used if the business fails is another concern. The demand for a brick and mortar store might not be enough since the way people shop for groceries is changing to online shopping and delivery is becoming more prevalent.
A press release from LOP says the store would “serve to anchor additional dining and retail opportunities that follow,” although Mr. Anderson told the audience that there were no plans for the remainder of the 23 acres that his group has acquired. A former city attorney for Walden said one big box store would lead to another. “This is just the start of the forest fire.”
Mr. Anderson said his group has not yet considered additional community services that might be needed such as an increase of police or patrols from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, but that will be addressed he said.
The belief expressed by many was that a large store in Walden does not fit the town’s mission statement and zoning ordinance from 2017. They say, among other things, the mission is to retain small-scale development, rural character and a small town atmosphere.
Residents who live nearby voiced concerns about lighting, noise and getting in and out of their neighborhood due to increased traffic.
According to a TDOT study that LOP had done, no additional vehicles will be added, although Mr. Anderson acknowledged that truck traffic would increase. He also said there would be no impact to Walden regarding water run-off, wear on roads, sewer services, adding patrols from the sheriff’s department or increased traffic. One speaker said it is impossible to do this without increasing trucks, and despite planting trees, there will be stormwater runoff during heavy rains. “It’s disingenuous to stand before these educated people to say there will be no impact,” he said. Another said that one 18 wheeler with a 40-foot trailer equals the wear and tear of 10,000 cars. The size of this store could require five trucks of this size daily. "That would produce the same damage as 50,000 cars would each day. And our tax dollars would pay for it,” he said.
One of the two speakers in favor of the development said he believes that everyone at the meeting has the best intentions for Walden but that you cannot expect to get a new school and not expect growth. There will be an increase of the number of homes during the next five years, he said. If the store is not build here, it will go to the the back of the mountain, he said. The other person supporting the plan said that it does not bother him that there would be a grocery store on Taft highway. He said with the Hall Tax going away, it could be replaced with this. If not, he said he would expect property taxes to double.
The next step will be a hearing at the Hamilton County Planning Commission on May 13.