With elections for the town of Walden fast approaching, I write in support of Mayor Bill Trohanis.
During his past five years in office, Bill, a retiree with time to dedicate, has served the town of Walden and its citizens admirably, effectively handling the inevitable growth while maintaining the quality of life that all Walden residents and non-resident property owners enjoy.
Mayor Trohanis has truly amplified Walden’s charm by leading the town’s involvement in the lovely McCoy Farm & Gardens restoration, the attractive Pumpkin Patch Restoration, the development of the very popular Puppy Patch Dog Park, and the new WRES Fire Hall.
With Bill Trohanis as mayor, the “Village Center” will aesthetically enhance the character of our town and serve our community well.
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The beef of the anti-grocery, anti-development faction in the town of Walden is that the Board of Aldermen, by a two-to-one vote last October, waived five of the six Village Center Zone development regulations outlined in the Town of Walden Zoning Ordinance, replacing them with 23 far-superior restrictions on the shopping center project planned for the Lines Orchids site. They don’t seem to care that the very VC-1 regulations that they consider sacrosanct allow for the waiver of the regulations by the Board of Mayor and Alderman, “so long as the plan approved conforms with the guidelines and intent of this section” (Article 4.05.e).
While the authors of the zone regulations were no doubt noble in their efforts, their restrictions for the Village Center Zone are neither practical nor realistic. With the exception of the Lines Orchids property (which, by the way, wasn’t available when the VC-1 Zone was created), there is not one single non-residential parcel of land in the town of Walden that has the size, location and topography necessary to be developed as a Village Center under the current VC-1 regulations.
The existing Land-Use Plan for Walden shows a neighborhood shopping center on the Lines Orchids site. Enacting a new land-use plan, while important to revise the outdated one, isn’t going to show another potential site for a village center, because there isn’t one. Vice Mayor Davis and the anti-development group complain that Mayor Trohanis and Alderwoman McKenzie rushed into this development without waiting for a new land-use plan. And wait for what? A new land-use plan that shows that the only viable site for a village center is the Lines Orchids property? The only outcome of a delay is that the grocery store development will just move up the road outside the Walden town limits. At that point, the town loses the sales tax revenue that would have offset the loss of the Hall Tax, and few, if any, restrictions on the county land will allow a development of pretty much any size and shape to be built.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that the grocery store project gets canned by the antidevelopment group, and the Lines Orchids site, the only property in Walden suitable for VC-1 zoning, now becomes available to be a Village Center under the existing restrictions. What lender in his/her right mind is going to finance a project with no anchor tenant (no grocery store, or any other retail business, for that matter, is going to open on Signal Mountain with a 15,000 square foot limitation)? What businesses are going to open in an unanchored shopping center and pay the $20+ per square foot in rent that a new building will require? The answer to those questions: zero.
The waived regulations include “small, four-sided blocks… with no side exceeding 400 feet in length” (Article 4.05.e.2). Streets must be designed for on-street parking, and meters are permitted. The amount of paving necessary to meet these requirements (approximately 1,100 linear feet/acre) is far and away greater than the 2.5+/- acres of parking lot in the shopping center project. How is the infrastructure necessary to build a web of 40-foot wide roads (two 12-foot lanes plus two eight-foot-wide sidewalks on either side, with curbs and gutters and stormwater control) going to be paid for? A handful of residential and commercial buildings can’t come close to paying for such improvements.
The anti-development folks cite the proposed service station among their arguments against the project. Well, guess what’s allowed under the existing VC-1 Zone regulations? You guessed it: a service station. Also allowed are loft apartments above commercial buildings, single-family dwellings, townhouses, B&Bs, and inns. And then to add commercial businesses, a requirement under the existing regulations, the vehicular traffic would far exceed that of the proposed shopping center.
The current VC-1 Zone regulations allow for block sizes up to 400 x 400 feet. Buildings can be as tall as 2.5 stories. So, potentially, the VC-1 Zone currently allows as much as 276,000 square feet of building per block. Are the anti-development folks, and the Timesville Road residents who are so opposed to the grocery store project, okay with that? The current VC-1 Zone restrictions have never been viable for the town of Walden. They may have looked good on paper at one time, but land use planners’ garbage cans are full of undoable ideas that looked good on paper. No sane developer will touch a project that is constrained by unworkable restrictions on its construction. The property will continue its downward decline into a kudzu-covered, rodent-infested eyesore.
Mayor Bill Trohanis should be commended for having the foresight to hold the Lines Orchids developer’s feet to the fire in enacting 23 restrictions on a project that would have otherwise been burdened by unworkable Village Center Zone development regulations. He has ensured that the development will have the well-designed look and feel of a village center, just as he did with the aesthetically-pleasing new fire hall. He is the only mayoral candidate who is focused on limiting the tax burden on the town’s citizens. Vice-Mayor Davis’ approach to the loss of the Hall Tax is that “we need to have a candid discussion concerning community investment into Walden’s assets and a review of our town expenses.” Translation: get ready for a property tax increase.
You can be sure that the anti-development folks are going to the polls. I ask my Walden friends and neighbors who are truly concerned about our town’s future to not let the vocal minority determine the outcome of this election. Please join me in re-electing Bill Trohanis as mayor of Walden.