Planning and Common Sense

"Good night and good luck!"


Today we provide you with two posts. Chicken Little, our editorial page editor, discussed Thursday night’s heavy industrial rezoning, which affects homeowners in the Elam Road area, including the Sommersby development. Meanwhile, our aging jazz critic showed up at the Mufreesboro JazzFest last night and forgot to take good notes. But he did provide us with a pictorial essay. These two posts occupy the spaces to the right of this one.



By Chicken Little

(We hired Chicken Little as our editorial page director after our critics said our complaints about heavy industrial zoning near homes amounts to yelling that “the sky is falling”. Chicken has been a model employee.)

“The sky is falling.”

It’s the same act all over again — just a different verse. Residents who live along Elam Road turned out in force Thursday night to persuade City Council members not to rezone a 233-acre parcel near their homes to heavy industry. And the play followed the usual script: the council members listened politely and voted unanimously for the rezoning.

It’s almost as if the council members were wired at the hips to the development community, which donates generously to some members when they run for reelection. A vote that is not unanimous is extremely rare on this council.

To their credit, city planners found a way to eliminate the most obnoxious uses in heavy a heavy industrial zone, which is like the wild west of zoning. It’s a developer’s dream. Aside from some setback requirements, you can do almost anything there.

Matt Taylor of the SEC consulting firm made an economic argument, not a planning one, for the rezoning. He said the railroad running past the tract has agreed to put a spur line in to serve the industrial development. In other words, this tract is more valuable for industrial uses than for homes.

The rezoning eliminates the most obnoxious uses possible under heavy industrial zoning — explosives, fireworks, composting, leather products, paper mills. chemical plants, petroleum and coal products refining, radioactive materials and junkyards. (I’m laughing as I type this.)

It’s hard to exclude these uses legally, but city planners came up with a way. They plan to attach a list of these uses that will be banned to a plat map for the project. The developer, who seems like a very reasonable businessman, supports the ban on these toxic uses.

It’s kind of a backflip to rectify a flaw in the zoning ordinance that I pointed out two years ago. Developers have been unable to put many benign industrial uses near homes — like the NHK automotive seat plant — without requesting heavy industry zoning. Finally the council is taking up a proposed general industrial zoning district that would be far cleaner.

The vote ignores the recommendation in the city’s comprehensive plan for light industrial in the north of the parcel and medium density residential in the southern portion, where the existing homes are.

For those of you keeping score at home, in July of 2014, the city hired the consulting firm of Kendi Keast to prepare a comprehensive plan for dealing with the next 20 years of growth, which could double the city’s population. The council vote appears to make that document a worthless piece of paper. Every developer who doesn’t like what the plan recommends will cite this decision as a precedent.

Former city manager Rob Lyons, who resigned in December 2017 while in his eighth year as city manager, told me at a 2035 pep rally that his aim for the study was to come up with some sort of binding plan like general plans in use elsewhere. They can be amended, but it takes a formal action and a public hearing to do so. This plan apparently can be brushed aside with a flick of the wrist.

Councilman Bill Shackett brushed off the controversy, saying the city’s comprehensive plan is a “living document” that is subject to constant revision.

The residents’ concerns boiled down to four issues — the size of a buffer zone, noise from  the industrial development, drainage (the area apparently has flooding problems) and traffic on Elam Road.

As usual, the council asked staff members to address these concerns, satisfying no one in the audience. They did get one sop. Normally, the city’s most stringent buffer is a whopping 20 feet — about the length of my living room. They will get what amounts to a 60-foot buffer,

Meanwhile, residents are toying with the idea of forming a permanent group to push for real planning here instead of what we are getting now. Critics would say that this council officially welcomes public participation but prefers operating in an empty room. If you want to complain don’t start out by clearing your throat. The clock is running, and you only get three minutes. If you are interested in real planning here instead of empty theater, consider joining a group to push for it.



We got one night of gorgeous jazz at least



If life has been hectic and maybe disappointing lately,  you had a chance Friday night to forget about your blues and listen to THE Blues and jazz in the city’s courthouse square . And the music was great by all groups that appeared. If you are a swing fan and worry that big band music is close to disappearing, this should give you hope. And after listening last night, maybe you’ll want to give support to school music and art programs, which always seem to be the first to get cut.


City Considers New Industrial Zone That would Ban Most Obnoxious Uses In Heavy Industrial

(I apologize for an error in this story. The Murfreesboro planning commission meets on the first Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. and on the third Wednesday at 1 p.m. I am used to working as a reporter in towns where both city council and the planning commission meet at night. The 1 p.m. time for today’s meeting was clearly listed on the agenda, and I somehow read past it. I’m getting too old for this game.)

We just got the best news on the planning front since Davy Crockett walked the streets of Murfreesboro.

The planning commission Wednesday will consider a new zoning district that gives developers plenty of leeway without attaching so many toxic uses that are associated with heavy industrial zoning.

John Harney, a major developer here, has used a formula to get the heavy industrial zoning he wants while tossing a sop to residents. If the council will rezone a parcel to heavy industry, he signs a commitment not to put any of the really nasty heavy industrial uses ( like fertilizer plants, petroleum and coal products refining or  nuclear materials facilities) on the land.

That’s called “contract zoning”, and it is a dumb way to run a city. It’s unclear whether Harney’s commitments would bind future owners of property in the zone. It’s a question to ask at the meeting. If not, they represent a kind of “ticking bomb” that could go off in the future if the existing owners ever sell their properties. This was the maneuver Harney used to get a heavy industrial rezoning he wanted on the Amazon side of Joe B. Jackson Parkway next to Magnolia Trace.. That contract zoning formula is also being used on a pending rezoning request to heavy industry for 233 acres of land south of Rutherford Blvd and between the Sommsrby residential development and Butler Drive.

The new zoning category, called “general industrial” seems like a win-win for developers and homeowners. It would ban:

— Manufacture, Storage, Distribution of:
• Asbestos Products
• Automobile Dismantlers and Recyclers
• Chemicals
• Composting Facility
• Fertilizer
• Leather and Leather Products, Tanning and Finishing
• Lumber and Wood Products
• Mobile Home Construction
• Paper Mills
• Petroleum, Liquified Petroleum Gas and Coal Products except refining
• Petroleum and Coal Products Refining
• Primary Metal Manufacturing
• Saw Mills
• Scrap Processing Yard
• Scrap Metal Processors
• Scrap Metal Distribution and Storage
• Secondary Material Dealers
• Refuse Processing, Treatment and Storage
• Landfill
• Junkyard

Each of the above uses would still be allowed by right or by Special Use Permit in the
H-I zoning district. Adult oriented businesses would be barred from the G-I
district, but would continue to be allowed by right in the H-I zoning district subject to certain
distance and separation requirements.

Hopefully, the new zone would eliminate heavy industrial zoning near homes.

Continue reading “City Considers New Industrial Zone That would Ban Most Obnoxious Uses In Heavy Industrial”

Art Of The Deal: They Got A Higher Wall, And The Developer Will Pay For It

“An eight-foot wall isn’t high enough. All we want is a fair shake. Treat us with some respect.” Barney Drake, a Magnolia Trace resident.

A light industrial, office and commercial development, which has gone through ownership and other changes, moved closer to reality Wednesday night.The planning commission recommended that city council members approve the amended planned industrial district off Joe B Jackson with one major change.

It’s a season of walls

Thanks to Councilman Eddie Smotherman, who is also on the planning  commission, Drake got an extra foot on a wall between the development and his home. Maybe it wasn’t all that he wanted, but even that result was a surprise to this jaded observer.

In all, residents living in the adjacent Magnolia Trace subdivision got some concessions but came away dissatisfied from Wednesday’s planning commission meeting.

Word from the bird: It's smart not to buy a home of the edge of a subdivision.
Word from the bird: “Don’t buy a home here on the edge of a tract.”

“We know we can’t please everybody,” Vice Mayor Doug Young, who sits on the planning commission, told departing residents.

The sad truth is that the neighborhood meeting and negotiations would be unnecessary if city leaders would only recognize a simple planning principle — residences and industrial uses don’t go together. Other communities know this.

Continue reading “Art Of The Deal: They Got A Higher Wall, And The Developer Will Pay For It”

Playing Kick The Can Down The Road With Influential Developer Bob Parks

There are some people in town who oppose growth entirely and would like to go back to quieter days — 1970 perhaps.

That has never been the view here at this site. Growth has brought us world class medical care, marvelous shopping options and events like the recent JazzFest on the square.

Planned vs. haphazard growth is issue

The real issue is whether we can grow in a planned way that doesn’t degrade our quality of life. Specifically, the question is whether we will provide the roads this growth requires or merely superimpose new housing on the existing infrastructure. That is the unfortunate path New Jersey followed in the area around New York City. Rapid growth there simply overwhelmed the roads and public services.

City council members confronted this issue last Thursday when two families petitioned the city to annex 285 acres of farmland so Parks Development can build  771 homes on 242 of those acres.

Continue reading “Playing Kick The Can Down The Road With Influential Developer Bob Parks”

Your City Contact List For Making Comments About The Former Church

Mayor Shane McFarland: Phone: 615 642-9244; email:

Jennifer Moody, assistant city manager: Phone 615 849 2629; email:

Vice Mayor Doug Young: Phone: 615 893-7721; email:

Councilman Ron Washington: Phone: 615 890-0097; email:

Councilman Eddie Smotherman: Phone: 615 653-6103;

Councilman Rick LaLance: Phone: 615 631-6368; email:

Councilman Bill Shacklett Phone: 615 893-2369; email:

Councilwoman Madelyn Scales Harris: Phone: 615 808-8955; email:

City Seeks Your Ideas On Redeveloping Franklin Synergy Block It Now Owns

Now that the city has acquired the block between where Franklin Synergy Bank is located, it is asking for your advice on how best to redevelop the property.

Assistant City Manager Jennifer Moody outlined a program for city council last week to reach out to citizens for their views on the future of the block rather than passively waiting for people to email comments to city hall.

Continue reading “City Seeks Your Ideas On Redeveloping Franklin Synergy Block It Now Owns”

Pay No Attention To Claim Site Is Going Dark; I’m Using Nixon Option

At the risk of sounding like Richard Nixon after he lost the Calfornia governor’s race in 1962, this will be my final post on this blog. Well, maybe not.

(As that wise philosopher Emily Litella once observed: “Never mind.”)

Continue reading “Pay No Attention To Claim Site Is Going Dark; I’m Using Nixon Option”

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