Feelings ran high Tuesday evening in the auditorium of Bachman Community Center, where Walden Town Council members convened for their regular September meeting.
The meeting didn’t start until 6:30 p.m. but before 5 p.m. Bachman’s parking lot was already filling up with vehicles owned by both opponents and proponents of a proposed 43,000-square-foot grocery store in the heart of Walden.
It came just weeks after Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission members voted 9 to 4 to approve the proposed project, turning thumbs down on a recommendation by its staff that the grocery store contain no more than 20,000-square-feet.
Walden council members – Mayor William Trohanis, Vice Mayor/Alderman Lee Davis and Alderwoman Sarah McKenzie – looked bemused as they took their places on the stage prior to the meeting.
They are scheduled to vote on the requested rezoning at their October meeting.
Proponents were led by attorney/developer John Anderson, who told council members during a lengthy opening statement that he owns 80 percent of the former Lines Orchid Property where the commercial center would be located.
On hand to back the project were Signal Mountain town council member Amy Speek, wearing one of the shopping cart stickers passed out by developers; seasoned Signal Mountain Realtor Lois Killebrew; and a variety of interested parties from throughout the county.
“We’re from East Ridge,” one man explained, “but we came to support our mother.
She wants a new grocery store up here so she won’t have to leave the mountain.”
Proponents’ enthusiasm, however, did little to nothing to lessen the skepticism of the dozens of people in the audience opposed to the project, many of them sporting pale green t-shirts emblazoned with “No Big Box Store” logos.
There are already 14,000-square-feet of empty commercial space in Signal Mountain, 10,000-square-feet in Walden and another 1,500-square-feet in unincorporated Hamilton County, one man noted. Why would we want to build any more commercial properties here, he wondered.