A Bradley County judge has found that Walden officials’ 2019 decision to rezone a piece of property so it could be used for a grocery store complex was “illegal, arbitrary and capricious.”
Consequently, Judge J. Michael Sharp said in a decision released Monday, the ordinance is declared invalid.
The judge denied a request from landowner/developer/attorney John Anderson to grant summary judgment declaring that the rezoning was legal. Instead, Judge Sharp granted summary judgment upholding petitioners' position that the ordinance violated both laws and zoning codes.
The judge’s decision in “Anthony et al v. Town of Walden and LOP, LLC,” is the latest development in a two-year dispute over whether Anderson’s proposed grocery store/fuel center/office complex qualified for VC-1 zoning.
As proposed, the development would have been located on the former Lines Orchids site, and would have contained a 43,000-square-foot grocery store, 10,000 square feet of retail and/or office space, a gas station and a parking lot for 220 vehicles.
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs contended that former Mayor Bill Trohanis and Alderwoman Sarah McKenzie erred when they voted in 2019 to approve the VC-1 rezoning request, despite the fact that the project fails to include five of the six required components. For example, they point out, as proposed the development includes neither residential properties nor an internal network of streets, both of which are mandatory in a village center.
Attorney/developer Mr. Anderson disagreed, contending that the actions taken by the former mayor and alderwoman were rational because both publicly outlined their reasons for voting as they did.
"The petitioners may not think these are good reasons,” Attorney Anderson told the judge in April, “but they are (their) reasons. The court should not look to the intrinsic correctness of the decision, but whether it is rationally based.”
Further, the developer/landowner/attorney contended, the courts have no business second-guessing local officials’ zoning decisions.
“Zoning is a legislative matter and as a general proposition the exercise of the zoning power should not be subjected to judicial interference unless clearly necessary,” he wrote. “In enacting or amending zoning legislation, a court cannot substitute its judgment for that of a local governing body in cases where the zoning ordinance is fairly debatable.”