Ball Camp Walmart Project Dead (Updated)

In News by S. Heather Duncanleave a COMMENT

Knox County has withdrawn its controversial request to rezone a portion of Nicholas Ball Park to make way for a grocery store, widely discussed as a Walmart Neighborhood Market. The county had proposed to allow a developer to have 7.5 acres of the park in exchange for a 103-acre parcel in Hardin Valley that could be used for a new, larger park.

“Getting public land back on the tax rolls is something we need to go forward with long term,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett says. “But I don’t like to cram stuff down people’s throat. Clearly the people don’t want it, and that’s who we work for.”

For developer Gusto LLC to proceed with the grocery store, the park land and three houses would have to be rezoned from agricultural to general business, and the area’s sector plan would have to be amended from low-density residential and green space use to commercial use.

Both Gusto and the county requested those changes in October, and then later asked the Metropolitan Planning Commission to delay considering them until December so a public meeting could be held first. Two weeks ago, the county asked the MPC to further delay the petition until next year, so the county could push the public meeting to January.

Then Friday, Knox County withdrew the petition altogether, says MPC planner Michael Brusseau.

“We have zero plans or intentions on pursuing it further,” says Michael Grider, communications director for Knox County. “It’s not tabled, not postponed, but withdrawn completely.”

Brusseau says a Gusto representative told him Monday that the company is not withdrawing its own request, but has asked MPC to table it indefinitely.

“They’re trying to figure out what they want to do,” Brusseau says. “Without the county’s property, I don’t think there’s much they can do,” since most of the project was planned for the land that is now the park at the intersection of Ball Camp and Middle Brook pikes.

Neighbors of Nicholas Ball Park have been up in arms about both the potential loss of the park and the impact a new grocery store might have at an already busy intersection across from Ball Camp Elementary School. A “Save Nicholas Ballpark from Walmart” Facebook group (with almost 1,600 “likes”) has been guiding local neighborhood associations to circulate petitions opposing the project.

Beth Souders, who lives in the Trail’s End subdivision near the park, says she and her neighbors taught their children to ride their bikes at the park and felt strongly about preserving all of it, since it is so small. Many walked the neighborhood on Halloween gathering signatures on petitions opposing the project.

“We are so appreciative that the mayor and county commission heard us and acted on that,” says Souders, whose daughter attends Ball Camp Elementary. “We want to make sure our park doesn’t come up for any future negotiations—and make sure the county knows that we (the Ball Camp community) are small, but mighty.”

Grider says Burchett was open to the idea because he has always made it clear “any time there’s an opportunity to get public property back into private hands, that’s something he supports doing.” But in this case, “It was pretty clear there wasn’t an appetite for it…. There wasn’t anyone necessarily clamoring for a 100-acre park out in Hardin Valley. Really, the only people we heard from were citizens in the Ball Camp area, and they were pretty clear that they were not interested in losing that piece of parkland.”

As proposed, the grocery store would have eliminated one of the park’s two soccer fields and a small parking area at the park and affect the walking track. The adjacent playground, softball fields, and AYSO soccer fields would have remained intact. The park land swap was envisioned as a way to serve a fast-growing section of the county with little park space, providing a couple of soccer fields plus walking and biking trails in Hardin Valley. The trade would have required state approval because federal funds (filtered through the state) originally purchased the Nicholas Ball Park land in 1978.

Gusto has the same address as Chattanooga-based Hutton Co., which custom-builds stores for national chains like Family Dollar and AutoZone. Gusto is one of several LLCs with almost identical names seeking to build grocery stores in Tennessee. Other LLCs also affiliated with Hutton, most of them with names including the word “Polestar,” are building dozens of grocery stores across the South; those that have been identified are all Walmart Neighborhood Markets, a smaller model that Walmart is promoting heavily as sales slide at its superstores. 

Another Hutton-affiliated company recently abandoned plans to develop another Walmart Neighborhood Market in the face of community opposition. That North Broadway location called for the demolition of a century-old Craftsman home, the Howard House. Another neighborhood market is apparently in the works for the intersection of McKamey Road and Western Avenue.

Updated 11/10/15: Added quotes from Mayor Tim Burchett and Beth Souders.

S. Heather Duncan has won numerous awards for her feature writing and coverage of the environment, government, education, business and local history during her 15-year reporting career. Originally from Western North Carolina, Heather has worked for Radio Free Europe, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London, and several daily newspapers. Heather spent almost a dozen years at The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., where she spent most of her time covering the environment or writing project-investigations that provoked changes such as new laws related to day care and the protection of environmentally-sensitive lands. You can reach Heather at

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