Preserving Walden

Tuesday, September 15, 2020
I write to hopefully provide some helpful thoughts and perspective on the proposed 44,000 sq. ft. big-box development in Walden, a development I understand will be replete with requisite loading dock, adjacent strip center buildings, and a massive parking lot complete with rows of gas pumps. The land was recently rezoned as a “Village Center, “  though the ordinance approving the development required the Town to waive compliance with each and every code standard applicable to the establishment of a "Village Center” zone in order to so.
Not just some of the standards— all of them.

These actions obviously raise fundamental questions, beginning with why does the Town have a written zoning code if all the applicable standards are going to be determined on the fly? How many village centers do you see when you drive down Brainerd Road or Rossville Boulevard— 100, 250, 500?  These are questions worth asking, especially when you think about the consequences of breaking the dike.  It would be interesting to learn how many Walden residents believed the creation of a “Village Center” zone under the Town’s zoning code was intended to replicate the development standards embodied on Brainerd Rd. and Rossville Blvd., not create a true village center consistent with our country’s historical past.

I was the second Town Attorney in the history of Walden, and a resident of the Town at the time- though I am no longer either. I knew many of the people who helped found the Town, and I worked closely with the first Town Attorney who lived there and also helped create the Town.  I say this only because I know that Walden was not founded to turn Taft Highway into Brainerd Rd. or Rossville Blvd.  It was founded to preserve the quality of life in a community atop Signal Mountain.  When I was the Town Attorney, the Town adopted two acre residential zoning to prevent the kind of tract development that was taking over the Town of Signal Mountain.  It built the Walden Town Hall. And it created the Pumpkin Patch and adjacent picnic area with public support, including incredible amounts of volunteer labor and donations.  I remember that well because, along with many others, I helped.  Walden also bought the first five acres of the McCoy property to set in motion what is now known as the McCoy Farm.  The Town also annexed large areas of land adjacent to the Town to protect the annexed areas and the Town from large scale commercial, apartment and tract development.  This included a large area of land across Taft Highway from the Town Hall.  To my knowledge and recollection, all of the commercial development within the Town lies on tracts that were zoned commercial before the Town was established in 1975. Until now, and though I may be wrong, I do not believe the Town has ever rezoned any land or tract to permit commercial development.

Unlike Walden, I  do not believe the Town of Signal Mountain has been a particularly good steward of residential or commercial development.  But even the Town of the Signal Mountain recently rejected a big-box development from another developer which I understand, again perhaps incorrectly, was to be anchored by a very similar big-box grocery store. I note in regard to that decision that the Town of Signal Mountain’s  development approach began to morph some years ago as a result of what I believe may have been the first successful recall election in the history of the state, a recall election stimulated because of what I believe was citizen perception of developer control over the adoption of development policies inconsistent with the public interest.

Developer influence is hardly unique to the mountain. One only has to look about to realize that few places have (or had) been blessed with as much natural beauty as Chattanooga and Hamilton County. But one only has to drive down any thorough-fare in the valley and it readily becomes apparent that few communities have done more to destroy that natural beauty than Chattanooga and Hamilton County. Walden was always an exception. Why change that?  Why join the race to the bottom?  Did people to move to Walden with the hope that that they come live next to Brainerd Rd. or Rossville Blvd.? i think that most unlikely.

What limiting principles have been articulated to provide Walden residents any assurance that this big-box development will not be a break the dike event?  Why will this pathway produce a different outcome than everywhere else in has been undertaken in Chattanooga writ large? I hope Walden residents will think carefully about the positions taken on this important issue by the candidates for Mayor and Town Council in the upcoming election.
Preserving Walden matters.
David R. Evans
Signal Mountain

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