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10/8 Town Meeting - Comments from the Mayor
Good Evening. Welcome to Walden! We have a very important vote later in the agenda this evening that your board will be engaged in. We have read all your letters, we listened to your comments at the public hearing. It’s now our time to discuss it with each other.
This is an exciting time for the residents, visitors, and business owners of Walden that we as a board serve.
The beauty and charm of our town is attracting young families, moving to the mountain for the first time, or in some cases, returning a stones-throw from a childhood home. At the same time, residents that have been here for decades are creating new memories with loved ones and Grandchildren in spaces given new life by the hard work of this board, volunteers, and our community. Personally, it was a special moment to see my granddaughters squealing with excitement on the recently reopened Pumpkin Patch!
As the composition of our community changes, so do the need of our citizens. This is precisely what we're here to discuss tonight. I've spent the last 6 months listening to our residents (young and old, lifelong residents and newcomers), eager for their feedback on what they love about Walden, and what could be better. Young families are vocal about a need for variety and convenience. An 81 year old longtime, resident sent a letter and voiced her opinion in favor of the development because "it's what the town, her children, and grandchildren need in this day and age." Other residents are concerned about environmental and sustainability impacts. All of us (myself included) are adamant about preserving the character and the charm of the community we love.
There is an opportunity before us - that if done right - will amplify the values, the charm, and the attractiveness of our town. It can be consistent with our track record of successfully breathing new life into blighted property, for the benefit of our residents and visitors. The town has the ability to impose conditions attached to the center that the developer is required to meet. We can control the exterior materials and the signage to ensure the tranquil feel of our community is preserved. Regarding environmental concerns, there are standards for Hamilton county for stormwater runoff and the state of Tennessee has strict controls for sewage. These are the experts in this area that we like many local municipalities, defer to. The developer has not provided any plans for either of those simply because this rezoning has not happened. If this does become an issue then an extensive engineering plan is required and submitted for both. If it does not meet their requirements, a building permit will not be issued until it is accurately developed. Period.
We're fortunate to live in a community where we can voice our opinions, they will be heard, and considered. Unfortunately, our town is divided on this topic. In this day and age, especially on a topic that we're all passionate about, it's critically important to me that we uphold a standard of respectfulness and compassion for one another and our neighbors. We have been elected to make these decisions and it’s certainly not to the first time we've been at a crossroads. The McCoy Farm & Gardens sat vacant for many years . It’s now a community gem for all the mountain to enjoy. The Bachman Center is thriving, the Pumpkin Patch has regrown, with new structures and bathrooms for all to enjoy. Town Hall has been completely redone, and thanks to our collaboration with the county we have a brand new Firehall - an example of when I and the Board worked very closely with the architect on the design and materials to ensure it's consistent with the look and feel of our town. The Ace Hardware, not only a resource to the residents but a large portion of our sales tax revenue, is a great example of smart development serving the residents of Walden. Change, done right, propels communities forward and preserves the longstanding Town of Walden for many generations to come. Each of these projects was met with early opposition, that I hope are now developments that you and your families enjoy, and our proud of. I know I am.
The tax dollars play a critical role in providing the services we have become dependent upon, such as maintaining our properties, Paving, Curbside trash and recycling, and supporting our Waldens Ridge Emergency Services.
I am extremely pleased with this volunteer board as we complete our due diligence efforts on projects and serve our community to the best of our ability. Regardless of the outcome, our commitment to serving the needs of Walden are our utmost priority.
Mayor WIlliam Trohanis
10/8 Town Meeting - Comments from Alderwoman McKenzie
Letters and Emails
I have read carefully every letter and email received by the town regarding the project and listened carefully to those that have voiced an opinion to me privately or at our meetings and truly appreciate those that have made an effort to express their opinion. I’m especially grateful to those who have spent time doing some research on the issues. I have also reviewed the Walden Plateau Plan and the Walden Town Center Plan, our zoning ordinance, and the transcript of the public hearing. I’ve done some research on land use planning in other small towns and other statistics. Many of the letters we have received are including information that has proven to be incorrect and based on gossip and social media rather than facts. I’ve also been concerned that petition signers and letter writers don’t have all the facts. I have been determined to consider both sides with an open mind and objectivity and fairness. Truly I have been back and forth on whether to support the development or not and have struggled particularly with the conditions in the VC-1 zoning ordinance and the Walden Mission Statement.
The local option sales tax and property tax from the development should be considered not just as a replacement for the Hall Tax but also allowing Walden to continue to provide the services and improvements to amenities without an undue burden on homeowners. Street paving, developing walking trails, parks, recreation facilities and planned improvements to McCoy are not free.
Control over the development of an inevitable grocery store
A full-service grocery store on the mountain is going to happen. The town limits to the west are 1.6 miles away. If it is developed outside of our town limits, we lose control over the architectural elements, signage, lighting, landscaping and the site plan as well as the sales tax and property tax revenue.
Traffic up and down the Mountain
A grocery store will reduce traffic going up and down the mountain. From the most recent census there are almost 5,000 adults within 37377 that either are not employed or employed on the mountain. So it is reasonable to assume that given a 2 adult household, as many as 2500 people don’t have to drive off the mountain every day to work. A grocery store on the mountain would capture many of these and offer convenience and affordability for the elderly and young families.
Wear and Tear on Taft Highway and cost to Walden
TDOT has confirmed that Taft Highway which is a state and federal highway is built to withstand truck traffic. A full service grocery store actually has fewer trucks than a small store because it has more warehouse space. Since it is a state highway the state is responsible for maintenance and cost of infrastructure. Walden will have no cost of infrastructure. The previously mentioned Erwin TN store involved a TIF that the town agreed to in order to entice the store to come. Walden is not having to make any concessions to attract this development.
The site is an eyesore and is not a forest that would be clear cut. The additional trees and greenspace on the site plan offer more landscaping and greenspace than currently exists on the site. The existing commercial greenhouses and offices currently are larger than the proposed development.
Small zoning change
Over 7 acres of the site is already zoned commercial. VC-1 zoning is only 2 more acres. With the current commercial tracts, the developer can put in a convenience store/gas station, as well as a strip of retail or office buildings each under 5,000 square feet with parking in front. This would not be what we want our Town Center to look like.
Land use plan Town Center site
This area was cited as the site for the Walden Town Center in previous plans, RPA has confirmed that a future plan would confirm this location as the Town Center.
Small shop vacancy on the Mountain
This development would help small business on the mountain by keeping traffic on the mountain. Rather than going to Walmart to by a child’s birthday present or a can of paint while getting groceries, shoppers would choose the businesses on the mountain. Typical unanchored retail has a 10-15% vacancy. In the Town of Signal there is 152M sf of retail space of which 14,000 is vacant (9%) and 101M of which 10,206 is vacant (10%) in Walden. If you exclude the Pruett’s anchored center the unanchored retail in Signal is 15% vacant. So this is a normal vacancy rate. Retail statistics show that grocery anchored centers continue to be stable in every real estate cycle. Typical vacancies are 5%. Online shopping, delivery and pickup options still need a brick and mortar store to house the stock.
Big Box mega store strip center
This has been portrayed as a big box development with a “mega” grocery store and a strip mall and will lead the way to Walden looking like Gunbarrel Road. A grocery store is not a “big box.” A big box is a retail store with 50,000-200,000 sf offering a variety of merchandise such as a Costco, a Target, a Home Depot or a Wal-Mart. In real estate terminology, a Grocery Store is a Neighborhood Shopping Center. A large grocery store currently averages about 60,000 square feet. I’ve looked at the size of the Publix and Food City stores around the county and of those stores this would be the second smallest store. An average grocery store is about 45,000 square feet so this store would be smaller than average. A grocery store can and does exist in both rural areas and village centers all over the country. Examples are the Food City in Harrison, the Ingles in Cashiers, the Food Lion in Blowing Rock.
Not needed will go dark
It’s also been said that a grocery store is not needed and will end up going dark in a few years. Before a grocery store or any retailer agrees to sign an option to lease in a new area, extensive research is done on the market demographics, traffic patterns, topographical divisions etc. Also existing stores know where the majority of their shoppers live, given the various value cards in use. Grocery Stores sign 20 year leases with renewal options.
A point has been suggested that this rezoning request would pave the way for future rezoning and more commercial development. I don’t know if this has historically proven to be true or not. I do know that our population does not meet the minimum requirement for most chain retailers and we are geographically limited in growth. You are not going to see a Home Depot or Target going up in the Town of Walden or the entire area for that matter.
Environmental Issues –
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has confirmed there are no mines on the property. The coal seams are all over the mountain and exist under other commercial developments and gas stations. Required soil borings, environmental site assessments and the permitting process would address these concerns. Commercial Development requires subsurface soil analysis and environmental site assessments. The civil engineering required for the design of the wastewater and stormwater system typically costs 100s of thousands of dollars is not done on a project prior to rezoning. If the systems can’t be designed to meet the regulations, then the development does not happen regardless of the zoning. Since the Area Plan in 1997, the EPA has had a major focus on decentralized septic systems and stormwater and the new technologies address issues caused by older systems.
Traffic at Timesville
Traffic and wait times are already bad at the Timesville intersection. The traffic study provided uses existing traffic counts, growth rates as well as industry standards for traffic trip generation for the type and size of the development. The report found that at the Timesville intersection traffic would only have an additional 1-3 second delay from existing delays during peak times. Turning at the Timesville intersection already has some delay during peak times and the population growth out in the county will increase this in the future but the point is that the amount the development adds to this is negligible. This report has been reviewed by an independent engineer and TDOT.
Walden Mission Statement, VC-1 Zoning, Land Use Plan
Regarding the Walden Mission Statement and the VC-1 zoning intention and development regulations and the need for a land use plan.
Land Use Plan
I firmly believe that zoning and land use plans should be updated and just because an existing zoning ordinance exists does not mean it is good for all time. We are past due in updating these, given the growth on the mountain. However, a land use plan is a process and will take time. The first step was the survey we conducted back in the spring but we will also need to pick a consultant, get bids, have community meetings etc. A new land use plan is not going to change the Taft Highway corridor from being commercial and mixed use. In the meantime, the grocery store will be developed a couple of miles down the road and we will have missed an opportunity.
The purpose of our zoning ordinance” is designed to enhance and implement the vision in the Walden’s Ridge Plateau Area Plan” and to be a” community that attracts families, who can live here through the phases of life, provide for orderly and cohesive development pattern that maintains a small town atmosphere with rural character and green spaces and preserves pristine natural areas for the enjoyment of its residents.”
- Maintaining rural character. The Taft Highway corridor of Walden is not rural. The rural character is found off the highway in the agricultural and residential areas. Hamilton County is statistically considered Urban/Suburban. Walden may have a rural character but not on its 2 mile strip of Taft Highway.
- Protect Natural resources – There are no creeks, gorges, overlooks, woodlands, wetlands or pristine areas on the the site.
- Protect Property values. – Convenient retail typically enhances property values. The location of the Brow Estates neighborhood next to the 60,000 sf Pruett’s shopping center does not appear to have affected those values.
- Provide a variety of living arrangements- We are currently not providing this in Walden and the remaining undeveloped land on the Taft Highway corridor has the potential to have more moderate density housing.
-Harmonious and Integrated development. This development is providing pedestrian access, outdoor gathering spaces, and green spaces. The final site plan and architecture will be well planned and cohesive with the architecture of the Town Hall and the Bread Basket and will require RPA and Town approval.
-Discourage Commercial Strip Development – The redesigned site plan is not designed as strip center. A strip center has parking in the front. The shops will be village like with a front both on Taft Highway and internally towards the parking area, with sidewalks and greenspace in between. 80% of the Taft Highway frontage is covered by the shops which screens the parking and grocery store behind it.
-Promote High Quality Development – This development will have restrictions on signage, lighting, architectural details and building materials as well as state of the art wastewater and stormwater systems.
Development Regulations of the Village Center Zoning
1) 15 acre size. The developer owns 23 acres and could easily applied for VC-1 on a larger tract but 9 acres was recommended by RPA with the idea that current zoning allows the remainder of the property to be developed with residential or preserved greenspace.
2) Block Layout – There is no size restriction on buildings in VC-1. The VC-1 zoning provides for a maximum block size of 400X400 which can contain five 80 foot lots or up to 16 25 foot lots. Buildings can be constructed with zero front or side setbacks and 55 foot rear setbacks for parking. So each block could potentially have 5 one story buildings touching each other with a total of 138,000 sf and if you make the building 2.5 stories that could be 345,000 sf. The parking area for each block could be 22,000 sf. And the 24 foot streets and 8 foot sidewalks surrounding this one block would contribute an additional 51,200 sf of pavement. So with 9 acres being approximately 600 feet X 600 feet could contain one block with 345M sf of building space and 73M sf of pavement. My point is that this block layout in VC-1 zoning may not be what the Town really wants or needs anyway. RPA and the Town have the final approval on the site plan. The pedestrian access with internal sidewalks, landscaping and greenspace achieve a similar effect with much less total building square footage and pavement.
3) Off Street Parking – replaced by amendments to ordinance limiting building area, landscaped islands, and open space.
4) On-Street Parking – I’m not sure with the 45 mph speed limit that on- street parking on Taft Highway or Timesville is a good thing? Maybe in the future if we have a 25 mph speed limit, a landscaped median and a stop light it would make sense.
5) Residential Area- RPA has said the connectivity to the neighboring residential on Timesville helps this requirement as can the developer’s adjoining acreage. Development of the adjoining acreage could provide an opportunity to have a variety of living arrangements and amenities for our residents in all phases of life.
6) Sidewalks – The development plan conforms to this regulation with pedestrian connectivity to residential areas on Timesville with sidewalks along Timesville, Taft Highway and interior sidewalks to the buildings.
In summary I believe that the additional restrictions that have been added to the ordinance replace and greatly improve on the development regulations that have been waived and conform with the intent of the VC-1 Zone.
Section 3: The following conditions shall apply to the rezoning of the Subject Property:
1. The amount of building area for retail uses shall not exceed 80% of the total 9 acre site.
2. No more than one curb cut is permitted on Taft Highway.
3. Minimum building frontage on Taft Highway right of way shall be 80%.
4. Maximum building footprint of any one building shall not exceed 6,000 sq. ft. but a grocery store footprint will be allowed up to 43,896 sq. ft.
5. The applicant shall submit an open space protection plan for review and approval by the Town Council that designates at least 30% of the site area as protected open space and is consistent with the Phase II Site Plan submitted with applicant’s application to maintain such land in a natural state with no grading or clearing, including the permanent passive green space depicted along Timesville Road, provided however the permanent passive green space along Timesville Road will be cleared and graded during construction and then landscaped at completion per the site plan.
6. The grocery store and small shop retail structure will incorporate to the extent allowed by applicable permitting agency the architectural elements in design as shown on those certain architectural design renderings by Bob Franklin of Franklin Architects dated September 10, 2019 and attached as Collective Exhibit A. The grocery store building entry should be designed as a prominent feature of the building.
7. Prior to applying for building permits, applicant shall submit a general site plan addressing landscaping, architecture, signs and lighting which shall be subject to approval by the Town Council, and compliance with the approved site plan shall be enforceable as a condition imposed by this ordinance. Applicant will not apply for a building permit without an official communication from the Town indicating the Town Council’s approval of the general site plan.
8. Applicant shall submit as part of the site plan package a delineation of the proposed sidewalk lanes, widths and materials. All sidewalks shall maintain a minimum depth of 8 feet on public rights of way. Internal pedestrian lanes shall maintain a minimum depth of 6 feet.
9. All ground mounted light fixtures within parking areas shall be no higher than 30 feet. Light fixtures for pedestrian areas shall not exceed 15 feet in height. All light fixtures must be full cut-off (shielded) except for pedestrian lighting that has a lamp lumens not to exceed 9,500. All flood light fixtures must either be aimed down at least 45 degrees or shielded. Lighting under vehicle canopies must be less than 24 maintained foot candles and be designed to prevent off-site glare.
10. Any activity triggering a stormwater or land disturbing permit is required to incorporate runoff reduction measures designed, constructed and maintained, to manage (infiltrate, evapotranspire, harvest and/or use), at a minimum, the first one (1.0) inch of every rainfall event preceded by seventy-two (72) hours of no measurable precipitation, with no discharge from the project site to surface waters. This first inch of rainfall must be one hundred percent (100%) managed with no discharge to surface waters. The applicant is responsible for demonstrating compliance with this standard from a certified engineer.
11. Interior parking islands shall be planted with large shade trees at a minimum rate of one tree per six parking spaces. An interior parking island must be provided every 10 spaces (no more than 10 continuous parking spaces without a landscaped island or peninsula). Each required island must be planted with at least one large shade tree. All planted trees must have an expected maturity height of 35 feet. Installed trees shall have a minimum caliper of two (2) inches as measured from two and one-half (2½) feet above grade level. Each interior island or peninsula shall be planted with grass or other living ground cover material. Each interior island shall have a minimum width of thirteen feet and a minimum planted area of 400 square feet. Each interior peninsula shall have a minimum width of thirteen feet and a minimum planted area of 200 square feet. The owner will be responsible for replacing dead landscaping and trees in perpetuity.
12. Along all public rights of way, a street yard with a minimum depth of 8 feet be provided and planted with trees at a minimum rate of 1 tree per 35 linear feet. Trees may be grouped, but no closer than 20 feet apart. Trees shall have an expected mature canopy height of at least 35 feet. Installed trees shall have a minimum caliper of two (2) inches as measured from two and one-half (2½) feet above grade level. The landscape yard shall consist of grass or other living ground cover material.
13. No pole mounted signs are permitted. All free-standing signs shall be ground mounted with a maximum height of 6 feet, and a maximum width of 8 feet. All signs shall be externally illuminated. No internally illuminated sign are permitted. Ground mounted signs must be of masonry or stone material. As provided in Condition 7 above, Applicant shall submit a signage plan for review and approval by the Town Council that meets these standards.
17. All buildings will be substantially completed within ninety (90) days from the substantial completion of the grocery store.
18. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen will approve the donation of the land shown on the plot plan to the Town.
There are many ways that the Town of Walden works to serve the community. If you need information on or assistance with a particular city function or service contact the Town Hall.
Building permits are issued by the Hamilton County Building Inspectors Office: 423-209-7860.
Burn Permits are issued by the Chattanooga Hamilton County Air Polution Control Board: 423-643-5970
Stormwater contact: Hamilton County Water Quality Program, 1250 Market Street, Suite 3044 Chattanooga , TN. 37402 : 423-209-7859.