The Planning Commission on Monday voted to approve rezoning for a plan allowing a shopping center in the town of Walden. The proposed grocery store would be located along Taft Highway, and would create a town center of sorts for Walden.
The room was packed, and several people had to be moved to the usually media-only balcony overlooking the commission. Citizens on both sides of the issue were accounted for, with many of those against the plan donning a green shirt with a slogan denoting support for an unchanged Walden.
According to the applicant of the plan, the grocery store would sit on a plot of 13.54 acres, with off-street parking and sidewalks. He also said there would be future plans for it to become a “residential, agricultural, and commercial zone,” while still maintaining Walden’s “small-town character.”
The proposed town center would be a place with distinct physical boundaries, and would have a “mix of commercial, residential, and public uses providing shopping, recreation, and living opportunities,” according to the presentation to the commission.
There was plenty of opposition present at the planning commission. Joe Davis, a resident of Walden, said he was concerned that the grocery store would not meet the requirements laid out by the 2017 Walden Zoning Ordinance.
“So the applicant is asking that 15 acres and some sidewalks qualify as a village center. So they’re asking the commission that 15 acres constitutes as a village center,” he said, “But it gets worse. They don’t meet any of the six requirements of the 2017 Walden Zoning Ordinance.”
He succinctly summed up his plea by telling the planning commission, “We’re asking they (the commission) deny the request.”
Another Walden resident mentioned a petition signed in opposition to the proposed grocery store and shopping center. "It has 1,300 signatures against,” she said, “It’s a large part of the community, and we took a lot of time to verify those signatures.”
She said that around 400 signatures were discarded, due to those signatures coming from “questionable sources.”
However, there were also many in support of the proposed project. One such supporter was attorney John Anderson, who is one of the leaders of the movement. One complaint lobbied against the project is the amount of space it would take up. At over 40,000 square feet, the size of the grocery store was a major talking point.
Attorney Anderson said, "We have looked at all of the rezoning cases since 1989, and we couldn’t find a single example of a limit on the square footage of a grocery store.”
Another supporter was a resident who had deep ties to the area. She noted that her grandfather was one of the proponents of creating the Signal Mountain shopping center, which included Pruitt’s, the Pizza Place, and other staples of Signal Mountain, a center which initially garnered much resistance from the residents of Signal Mountain.
“I’ve never heard about it being too big, or taking away from the small town values of Signal Mountain,” she said, speaking of how the town has now embraced these collection of stores.
After listening to the debates, the commission finally voted. While a few dissented, the vast majority of the council approved of the grocery store.
The final decision will be up to officials at Walden.