** We talked to planners in Tennessee’s Top 20 cities, and Mufreeesboro came in last when it comes to protecting  homes from the negative impacts of nearby heavy industry.  . You can comment at the bottom of this article.  All comments and my replies also appear on our community forum page at http://wp.me/P5ZA8p-7h   Join the conversation.

Granting a request Thursday to rezone a 21.6 parcel on Joe B. Jackson to heavy industry would be out of step with what Tennessee’s  other 19 most populous cities are doing.  A survey by this blog showed that the state’s other cities are guiding industrial development away from homes. And some said they try to promote planned industrial districts, which give city planners more say about specific uses that will go in on a property.

Clearly the decision on a 21.6 acre parcel next to the Subway restaurant can’t be justified on planning grounds. Placing heavy industry so close to so many homes undercuts the mayor’s goal of making Murfreesboro one of America’s most livable cities.

We shouldn’t have to accept noise, smoke and vibrations to get growth

First, this rezoning goes against the city’s own zoning ordinance by eliminating the buffer between heavy industry and homes that light industrial zoning provides. If the council grants this rezoning, it is sending a message to everyone that you can opt out of light industry zoning simply by asking.

Light industrial zoning protects nearby homeowners from noise, smoke, odors and vibrations. Heavy industry protects residents from nothing. It is where toxic uses go when they are  allowed nowhere else in the city. Well managed cities place their industrial areas well away from where people live and make sure that residential growth doesn’t encroach upon these areas.

Ignoring the city’s consultant

Second, the request for a straight rezoning to heavy industry undermines the ideas of the city’s own consultant, who has proposed that  Murfreesboro promote business parks.

This rezoning is another piecemeal measure that legalizes a long list of uses that are by nature toxic to homes.

The consultant is recommending the creation of business parks in the industrial area, which give the city  more control over the uses that go in. A business park in a campus-like setting on Joe B. Jackson could bring in high tech businesses and provide the kind of white collar jobs Councilman Smoherman says the city has failed to attract. But the chances for such a development fade if the council closes out the possibility through a series of ad hoc rezonings to heavy industry.

To see how Murfreesboro compares to the other top 19 cities in Tenn, I interviewed city planners in each. The basic question I asked was: “How do you handle industrial development and what steps do you take protect homeowners from the negative impacts of heavy industry.  Specifically, how would you react to a rezoning proposal to put heavy industry in an overwhelmingly residential area?

A failing grade in our Top Twenty survey

What follows is the responses of top planning officials in the state’s other 19 most populous cities. Two interviews (Franklin and Chatanooga) were conducted in person. The others were done by phone. I give the responses in the planners’ own words You can judge for yourself whether my conclusion is valid.

Originally, I intended to rank all the cities on how well they protected homeowners from industrial development, but this proved impossible. Rather than insult cities that can argue they deserve a higher ranking, I made the order somewhat arbitrary. One thing is clear to me, however. Murfreesboro places dead last. Unfortunately, the article is long. The best approach is to pick any city in the survey and see if you could justify placing Murfreesboro above it.  Here are the survey results.


“We think the best way to control (industrial) land is to own it.”

Germantown: We share a border with Memphis. We don’t have any heavy industry zoning here. We are a good location, however, for corporations that might have warehouses in Memphis and want to put their corporate headquarters here. The closest thing we have to industrial zoning is high tech office, light assembly and laboratory. All our zoning regulations setbacks and buffers are in the municipal ordinance. Heavy industry would not be permitted if it wanted to locate here. We do try to attract lighter industry. — Marie Lisco, economic development manager.

Bristol: We have a couple of ways we deal with industrial development. We have a land use plan that guides industrial development away from residential areas. Second: our industrial parks are publicly owned. We think the best way to control land use is to own it. We are currently working on a waste-to-energy project which will be located in an industrial park away from residential areas. — Shari Brown, economic and community development director.

“We aren’t like Murfreesboro. We’re a bedroom community”

Franklin: We don’t encourage new heavy industrial uses to be located adjacent to residential uses. But we do have some heavy industry that backs up to housing, which likely existed before we had a zoning ordinance. We would not encourage any proposals to rezone to heavy industry near single-family zones. We try to transition from heavy industry to light industry to office/commercial and then residential. Under current zoning most heavy industry areas are near Columbia Ave. The board has not rezoned anything to the Heavy Industrial District (HI) since I came here in 2008. The only heavy industry we have that I am specifically aware of is a rock quarry, but there are some other heavy industrial uses located in the vicinity. –Emily Hunter, Planning Supervisor/ Dept. of Planning and Sustainability.

Hendersonville:  We aren’t like Murfreesboro. We are more like Frankllin and Brentwood, a bedroom community. We have hardly any industrial land. Although we recently prepared a new land use plan and zoning map, we did not add any industrial areas. If we were to add industry we would try to stay away from homes. We would seek to transition down from heavy industry to office/commercial or neighborhood commercial. Or we might buffer with a wooded area.

We do have a couple of small light industrial areas.   One is adjacent to a few scattered houses.  If an industry were built adjacent to residentially zoned property, a 30-50-ft buffer of trees and evergreen shrubs would be required.

We would like to have additional light industrial property so that we might attract these jobs. However, we just do not have any suitable areas for such.  If we had found an area for light industrial zoning, it likely would not have been next to residential, at least not without a fully wooded area or  an office district as a buffer.  But I do not think we have an area such as Joe B. Jackson, so I cannot say for sure what we would do if faced with such a rezoning request. — Fred Rogers, Planning Director for Hendersonville.

That rezoning to heavy industry wouldn’t fly here.”

Nashville: First, I don’t want this to read as if I am telling Murfreesboro what to do . A proposal like that (rezoning to heavy industry near homes) would have trouble getting through our planning commission. We are very careful up here. We link everything to the character of the neighborhood, which is very important to us. We have a long-range plan going to our Planning Commission later this month (June), which will update many of those policies. If you want to know more, our Community Plans page is a good place to start. — Craig Owensby, public information officer for Nashville’s planning department.

Jackson: Our heavy is I-3. We just don’t recommend it often. If a proposal is heavy (industrial) we try to locate it away from existing residential areas. We would hardly ever rezone a parcel to heavy industry if it backs up onto a residential area. Normally we try to transition down from heavy industry to light industry to commercial/office. If there were a situation we had to deal with (of heavy industry near homes), we would require more than a 20-foot berm. — Stan Pilant, director of planning, city of Jackson.

“Most of our industrial zone is not adjacent to residential areas”

 Collierville:  We have a land use plan with two industrial classifications – light and heavy. We have areas across the city broken down not only by use but with requirements as to how the site will look. We have standards for (industrial) district landscaping and lighting. No smokestacks or outside storage are allowed. Our buffer is 30 feet, but it is not likely heavy industry would ever go in near homes in the first place. We transition down from heavy to light to office/commercial and then residences. We are similar to Franklin. —Jaime Groce, town planner.

Knoxville: We have four industrial zones. The heaviest is I-4. I-1 is a planned industrial district. I-2 is restricted manufacturing and warehouses. We would only see I-1 and sometimes I-2 near a residential area. Of course anyone can ask for anything, but the planning commission and council are unlikely to approve I-3 and I-4 near residential neighborhoods. Most of our industrial zone is not adjacent to residential areas. — Mike Brusseau Senior Planner, Knoxville.

[Editor’s note: The I-2 zone in Knoxville is close to Murfreesboro’s Light Industry classification. Noise, odor, dust and glare must be completely confined within a building. Examples of permitted uses are: a bottling works, electrical equipment assembly, warehousing and furniture making. I-3 is the city’s general industrial district. Permitted uses include: building materials sales yards, bulk oil and gasoline storage, and manufacturing only when it is enclosed completely within a building. A good example of a use this zoning permits is NHK Seating here on Joe B. Jackson. I-4 is like our heavy industry zone and contains uses that by definition have an adverse impact on neighboring properties. Permitted uses include the making of acetylene gas, asphalt plants, chemical manufacture, iron, steel or copper fabrication and making plastics.]

Columbia: We have a couple of industrial parks near the railroad tracks. Our buffering and building setback requirements vary with the intensity. We transition down from heavy to light. Heavy uses must be at least 1500 feet from a residential use. The only really heavy industry we have is a concrete and asphalt plant, and it is not near houses. We don’t have any noise problems. We would require landscaping for any heavy use that went in. We always try to reach a compromise with an applicant rather than just saying no right out of the gate. Some proposals, however, we will just say “no, we just can’t do that.” — Paul Keltner, economic develoopment director, Columbia.

“No one has sought to use our heavy industry zone.”

Oak Ridge: We have three industrial designations – light, medium and heavy. We would direct an applicant to the appropriate district and point out the available parcels in that district. We have had a few industrial proposals in Ind 2. We have not had any in Industry 3 (the most intense). Any proposal would have to go through either BZA or City Council, which could set conditions Industry 3 is more problematical. No one has taken advantage of Industry 3.

The general planning trend now is to integrate commercial and residential uses, sometimes within the same building. But not with industry. We look for areas for heavy industry some distance away from homes. I can’t be more specific on distance (setbacks). It all depends on the intensity of the use. — Kathryn Baldwin, community development director for Oak Ridge.

“A Meat packer would not be allowed near homes.”

Smyrna: We have one heavy industry district for these types of uses, and it is not near any residential areas. Typically our heavy industry is located in areas where people normally would not be living Within the zone we have setback requirements. The distance between heavy a industry and a public drive must be at least 100 feet. Between any industry and another property the minimum distance is 50 feet. We also have noise, odor, glare and health standards. In addition, there are state and federal regulations on air quality that applicants must meet, but we have nothing to do with this.  —  Kevin Rigsby, town planner

Morristown: We refer all calls (about industrial proposals) to the chamber of commerce . We have three large industrial parks. Within the zoning ordinance we have various types of uses allowed. A meat packing plant would not be allowed near residential areas. In addition to our land use plan, we have landscaping requirements for heavy industry parcels. — This interview appeared to be with a planning clerk, who declined to be identified.

“We rarely get straight rezoning requests.”

Memphis:  You’ll find that New Jersey is stricter in general than we are in Tennessee. In most instances, industrial development here requires a special use permit and a site plan. We look at it first to see what negative impacts it might have and whether it is in the right location.

The city’s zoning code puts uses that have off-site impacts, such as noise, odor, etc. in the heavy industry zone These impacts need to be assessed and therefore require a special use permit. The process includes a public hearing before the Land Use Control Board and then another public haring before either the Memphis City Council or the Shelby County Board of Commissioners. Uses within the heavy industrial zone include such things as factory production and industrial yards.

What we refer to as straight zoning,  a request to change the zoning district from a more restrictive district  to less restrictive  district,  (like residential to commercial or commercial to industrial) is  rare. What usually happens is that people file to develop an entire site as a planned development. It gives us the opportunity to approve or reject specific uses. We would not ordinarily approve uses such as a mulching yard near homes.

Planned developments more likely to win approval

I would go so far as to say,  that if there is any residential or any other sensitive population like  a school or  housing for the elderly in close  proximity to the site,  the best chance for an industrial use to get approved would be to use the Planned Development.  That is not a guarantee by any means.  But straight rezonings include all of the uses that are  permitted by right in that  district, and some of those uses might not be acceptable to existing uses near the subject site.  

A Planned Development secures the zoning entitlement based on a site plan and a set of written conditions. Reviewing bodies like the PD because it gives them a better sense of what they are voting on and a chance to address the issues that the public might be opposed to. — John Jones
staff planner

“Heavy industries want to locate on the periphery of town.”

 Cleveland: We have some parcels here zoned industrial as pre existing uses. We had heavy industry here long before there was such a thing as city planning. Our major industry is Whirlpool, which has been here forever. They are doing actual doing actual metal stamping in their plant, but you can drive by and not notice anything. There is no impact on nearby homes.

We have industrial parks around the periphery of town, not inside.  Part of what economic development people tell us is that heavy industries want to stay away from parcels with residential areas next door anyway. They don’t want to deal with complaints or with heavy state and federal regulation. They like to move out to the periphery of town by the railroad tracks. They want large, flat parcels. This works both ways. We don’t want industrial land encroaching on residential areas or residential areas encroaching on good industrial land near a railroad or major highway. Murfreesboro is blessed with more flat land than we have.

Cleveland has a buffer requirement that is based upon the intensity of land uses, with single-family homes being the least intensive and heavy industrial uses being the most intensive. The buffer requirement is greatest where there is the most disparity in the intensity of adjacent uses. The most extreme case (unlikely) would be that of a heavy industrial use seeking to locate adjacent to a single-family neighborhood. That would require a 40 foot buffer with two staggered rows of shade trees on 35’ centers, two rows of evergreen trees on 10’ centers, a row of evergreen shrubs on 5’ centers and an eight-foot solid fence. — Greg Thomas, senior planner and Metropolitan Planning Organization Coordinator.

“We encourage industrial park development.”

Kingsport: M-1 is light industry, and M-2 is heavy. There are not many uses in M-2 that you would want near homes — for example, steel fabrication and a tannery  would be unpopular.  No one wants to live near most M-2 uses. The question is where do you put these uses. The planning commission has been good at sticking to the plan. In the past it has only deviated where it made sense. For the most part, high intensity uses are away from single and multi family dwellings. The exception is Eastman Chemical which is a pre existing use. The company built houses near the plant so workers would be close to work. If someone wants to rezone to industrial the proposal would be reviewed closely by the planning commission. We would not recommend a rezoning to M-2 near a residential area.  — Ken Weems, zoning administrator, city of Kingsport

Bartlet: All industrial development takes place in planned industrial parks. If a park abuts a residence we require a 30 foot buffer with landscaping. Our industrial area is on the south edge of the city and is buffered by office warehouse and commercial uses. I would say 80%-90% of our industrial uses are in this industrial park. Uses in this park include manufacturers of fax machines and office printers and snack food makers. There is nothing that intense which would have a negative impact on a residential area. We encourage IP (industrial park) development. — Sam Harris, planning clerk

Clarksville: We have separate regulations depending on the type of industry. For example, how the structure is arranged and its distance from the property line. Our buffer would be 200 feet from the property lines and 1000 feet away from neighboring parcels, such as a residential area.

I don’t know why anyone would propose an oil refinery here. They are located around the Great Lakes and Louisiana. For a steel mill the physical separation would be 1,000 feet. For a radioactive storage facility in excess of 1000 feet. There are no sites like that here now. Plants dealing with explosives and chemicals plants would require separation of more than 1000 feet. — David Ripple, economic and community development director for the Clarksville-Montgomery County Regional Planning Commission.

When you get put on hold in Chattanooga, they play “Chattanooga Choo Choo”

Chattanooga: The city has four industrial zones — M1 through M4. M1 is a manufacturing zone, M-2 light industrial; M-3 warehouse and wholesale zone and M-4 outdoor storage. Such uses as a blast furnace or processing of meat, fish and poultry must be at least 1,000 feet from any residential use. Light industry (M-2) can include electrical machinery assembly, furniture making and lumber yards. Steel fabrication and assembly are permitted but not the processing of raw materials into steel or other metal products.

I interviewed a senior planning official in person at the offices of the Regional Planning Agency for Chattanooga-Hamilton County. At the end of the interview, he/she asked that I not use his/her name in anything I published. Normally I would not agree to ground rules that are established at the end of an interview. Since I showed up without an appointment, however, and this person was good enough to talk to me, I am agreeing to the request. I only showed up rudely without an invitation because a planner there was not returning my calls. Here is what the person I talked to said in the interview:

When considering a rezoning proposal, the planning commission considers:
– What is the nature of the use?
– Where is it located?
– What uses are in proximity to this one?
– What do our land use plans recommend?
– What are the potential impacts.
Chattanooga/Hamilton County is different from other counties in the state in that city council can rezone a property with conditions. For example, the council might identify mitigating conditions it would want to attach to a rezoning.  Proximity to residential areas might lead to conditions on noise, light and truck traffic, for example.  [Editor’s note: Murfreesboro is able to set conditions for some heavy industry uses (but not all) in the use-permit process.]

Johnson City: We would not allow heavy industry within a residential development, but heavy industry could exist adjacent to residential. It would have to have access off a collector street. We would require a 20-foot buffer of evergreens. We have little heavy industry that abuts residential development. When we have a rezoning it is usually from industrial to commercial. The older parts of town are more commercial than industrial. — Steve Neilson, Development Coordinator for Bartlett.

** Murfreesboro: This is the one ranking I am sure of. The city will approve heavy industry next to a home with only a 20 foot buffer between them. This is only two-thirds the width of a football end zone. The setbacks are 42 feet from the front of the property, 20 feet from the rear and 10 feet from each side. This is easily the least restrictive and the least friendly policy to nearby homes of any city we’ve looked at.

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