When Mayor McFarland ran for office one of his campaign slogans was to make Murfreesboro one of the nation’s “most livable” cities. That will be no easy task, as the city’s population is projected to grow from 124,745 at the end of this year to 228,090 by 2035. The county’s population will increase from about 309,000 to about 509,000.

Thursday night, city council members got a midterm report on a two year effort to plan for the mass of humanity that is headed this way. There was a mind-blowing amount of statistical data laid out by the city’s consultant on the two year planning effort — the Texas-based Kendig Keast Collaborative. The one message that came through was we will all have to start thinking in new ways on a lot of things, because business as usual just won’t cut it.

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Guiding growth to the best areas

The first issue cited by Aaron Tuley, senior associate who made the presentation, is the traditional pattern of building single family homes on quarter-acre lots. Tuley warned that if development continues as it has Murfreesboro will fall 1,500 acres short of the land it needs to provide housing everyone who chooses to live in the city. There is a little more land within the larger Urban Growth Boundary, he added, but much of it is constrained by such things as sinkholes, flooding, shallow soil above bedrock and steep terrain.

The obvious answer is that growth will have to come with more housing density.

“You can see that areas to the north, areas to the due west and to the east are projected to grow the most in population,” he said. “But again when you look at the environmental restraints, I think we need to reevaluate whether or not this is where we want to be focusing growth. … The areas to the north and the areas to the west do represent the areas where it is going to be the most expensive to develop.”

Au revoir to the little home in the suburbs

He said nationally there is a trend away from the traditional single family home in the suburbs. A larger percentage of the population is no longer interested in having a family or at least not having a family until middle age. A significant number of young mothers don’t plan to marry, and there are young professionals who will come here with the idea of living alone. Murfreesboro’s current housing stock may not match the housing needs of people who want to live in the city rather than on the outskirts.

Development, Tuley said, should take place first along the city’s existing major water trunk lines, as it will be the cheapest to build there. He added that the city might consider building high density, mixed use “villages” in various spots around the city to accommodate those residents who want shops, restaurants and other businesses within walking distance.

Another place to accommodate growth lies just south of city hall. Tuley said the area is full of low intensity uses and recommended offering incentives to anyone willing to redevelop it. He called on city leaders to balance greenfield growth along the edges of town with growth inside the city, where the needed infrastructure is already in place.

One concern is that a significant number of residents are spending more than the 30% rule of thumb guideline for housing. When that happens, they have to dip into disposable income and that impacts local businesses.

A new attitude toward drinking water

Tuley said the population explosion Murfreesboro faces will require creative thinking on drinking water, sewage and solid waste disposal. It may take some educating, but people are going to have to get used to the idea of one water. That means drinking sewer water that has been purified so much that it is indistinguishable from the bottled water many of us carry around now. Residents of Wichita Falls, Tex., are already drinking such water. It’s the same thing astronauts on the shuttle drank.

The city should also consider whether it wants to continue with a centralized sewage treatment system or move toward a step system in which sewage gets initial treatment at the source.

Solid waste is another problem, which the residents at Walter Hill near “Mount Trashmore” are acutely aware of. The hated landfill has a shelf life of only about seven more years. Diversion won’t be enough, Tuley added. The answer, he said, may lie in burning solid waste and converting the heat to power. With today’s technology, he claimed, the pollution resulting from the burning is virtually non existent.

The city is going to need about 2,000 additional acres of parks to support a population of 337 by 2035 within the Urban Growth Boundary. Tuley suggested one way of providing more recreational space on the cheap would come from agreements to use school facilities after 5 p.m. The community park system, is pretty good, he added, but the city has fallen short of providing enough neighborhood parks.

One councilman looks for policy guidance amid all the statistics

Councilman Rick LaLance said he feels buried in the mass of data the consultant has provided. He complained that it is hard to give direction to the consultant on how to proceed because it is hard to see where we are and where we are headed through all the facts and figures.

“There are some recommendations, there are some ideas — I don’t even know if you would call them recommendations.,” he said. … “If there is a list of these are the directions we’re going, I’d love to see that so that we can say no, or yeah, or let’s go in a different direction. … I just don’t know what the directions are we’re talking about. … I don’t want to get a year from now and go ‘no that’s not where we really wanted to go with this.’ And then there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Tuley said the data is a foundation for the analysis that will come. He said the initial aim is to point out the consequences of continuing to grow in the current manner. He also promised that the land use chapters and the implementation phases will lay out the direction LaLance seeks.

August will bring a chapter of the study on land use and September will be devoted to to economic development. November’s chapter will address mobility issues. The first two months of the new year will involve working out the implementation phase and writing an executive summary. The goal is to get the completed document to the city by February or March so the planning commission and council can take action before spring is over.

You can read the chapters written so far at http://www.murfreesborotn.gov/index.aspx?NID=764

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