When you go to a city council or planning commission meeting, all the trappings of democracy are in place. But in reality, you are watching regional theater.

People bring their concerns to these bodies thinking if they just present their evidence and speak well, it will do some good. The truth is they are wasting their breath and their time.

"The choreography is fabulous!"
“The choreography is fabulous! It’s almost as if they are wired together.”

There are two types of people who speak at these meetings. There are the people who contribute to the winners’ political campaigns and there are ordinary residents with their concerns. The former usually win on every point and the latter leave the meeting upset and frustrated.

“We vote for the team.”

I’ve been going to these meetings since last April Fools night. I can remember at least one exception, but 99% of the time the votes are unanimous. What’s more, the people are boxed in on their right to address their elected representatives. The council only schedules oral communications once a month. It’s before the TV cameras come on in case you might say something subversive.

Aside from that, you have the right to speak for a measly three minutes at a public hearing. But if your concern isn’t exactly on the subject of the public hearing you are boxed in. That’s what happened at Wednesday night’s planning commission meeting.

We need a front door onto New Salem.”

Cornerstone Development wanted to rezone 6.6 acres of its property along New Salem Highway from Commercial Highway to a multi-family zoning allowing 16 units per acre. Right now about 60 acres are zoned Commercial Highway and about 35 are zoned for multi-family development. The proposal would rezone 6.6 acres of the 60 to give the multi family development visibility along New Salem Highway.

Speaking for the applicant, Matt Taylor of SEC Engineering, said high-end developments of this type need a “front door” along a main arterial.

In general, residents of the neighboring Salem Cove Crossing weren’t opposed to the multi-family project or even imaginative “front door” concepts. What bothers them is a plan to connect Mershon Drive in their community to the new multi-family project.

Catch 22 or speak only when spoken to

The residents live on Berryside Drive, the only entrance to their development off St. Andrews Drive. Berrysde is shaped much like the home plate end of a baseball stadium, and Mershon, which dead-ends now, forms the outfield wall.

The problem is the residents never had a chance because the deck is stacked. The public hearing was only on the rezoning request. When the master plan for the development and the related traffic issues come up later, the residents won’t be allowed to speak. It’s your democracy in action.

Ed Davis, who lives on Berryside, said his concern is the plan to extend Mershon Drive so that it can serve as one of the entrances and exits of the multi-family development.

He said this is the third time he and his neighbors have come  before city officials to plead against extending Mershon Drive.

A racetrack

“We don’t need any more traffic going in and out of our little neighborhood,” he said. “There are going to be so many apartments over there it’s (Mershon) going to be like a racetrack. We’ve got some kids there, and we just don’t want (more) traffic coming through. There’s plenty of egress (for the multi-family development) off New Salem.”

“I”m also opposed to Merson Drive being an exit of this complex,” said E.C. Coe, who also lives on Berryside. “We have 68 units in our complex. Our street comes straight in (off St. Andrews Drive) and makes a loop out. That is the only entrance and exit we have. I’m not opposed to the (multi-family) project itself as long as they don’t use Mershon Drive. Many of you know how bad St. Andrews is anyway. You can’t get up and down it because of the traffic and the cars parked on it.”

Margaret Ann Green, one of the city’s principal planners, said “it’s good for service delivery and traffic flow” to have Mershon extended. She added that the rezoning doesn’t affect the traffic issue, which will come before the commissioners at a later time.

Time to relocate, Mr. Hawk

The commissioners voted — you guessed it — unanimously to approve the rezoning.

I didn’t even bother to get the spelling of the name of a lady who complained that another housing development planned on Osborne Lane would endanger the habitat of a hawk. She and the hawk were doomed from the start.

In other business, the commissioners voted unanimously. of course, to::

  • rezone about 3.4 acres in a block along Lytle and Maple Streets to a planned development that will make a county judicial building and parking garage possible. Construction on the six-story building is expected to begin early next year and finish two years later. Speaking for the project, Matt Taylor said the judicial building at one end of the old city and the civil plaza at the other will give definition to this part of town as it redevelops. He added that the architect has gone out of his way to use landscaping and design features to soften what will be a six story building. He said there was an effort to incorporate elements in the building’s design that give a hint of other prominent places in town, such as the Oaklands Manson’s arches and the existing courthouse’s cupola. (I would love to provide a sketch of the building, but I hate dealing with lawyers from the Murfreesboro Post, WGNS and DNJ. You can find them yourself on Google Images.) The current courthouse will remain, possibly for offices and storage space.
  • make an amendment to a planned unit development plan, moving an assisted-living complex from one portion of the property to another. The original location chosen would have been costly to develop because it had wetland constraints.
  • approve an annexation petition for 12.6 acres along Osborne Lane and to rezone it to minimum 12,000-square-foot lots. This is the project that might uproot the lady’s hawk. Her plea for 15,000 square-foot-lots and safety for the hawk fell on deaf ears.
  • recommended rezoning 3.4 acres on Summit Court from minimum 15,000 square foot lots to a duplex designation. All but one of the homes there now are duplexes. But if they were destroyed they could not be rebuilt as anything but single family homes under the existing zoning.