An opinion piece  by Chicken R. Little

"I just can't make up my mind."
“Next speaker please, and three minutes only.”

Andy Warhol, the pop artist, once said that in the future everyone will have 15 minutes of fame.

In this city, when you take your concerns to the  council or planning commission, you  get three minutes of fame on the Murfreesboro CityTV channel. Your words are listened to politely, and if you have a question, the meeting moderator asks the city staff to provide an answer.

But more often than not, you have wasted an evening coming to city hall. You can get the same result by watching the meeting on TV and talking back to your TV set. Basically, you are playing a bit part in a little drama that usually unfolds according to a script set in stone.

If you’re tired of hearing this, I’m tired of telling it

Wednesday night’s performance took place before the planning commission, but it could easily have been city council. It was a routine annexation hearing for a 5.96 acre parcel off Foxfire Court, about 3500 feet from Blackman Elementary School.

Thanks for coming to talk to us

After listening politely to the residents, who don’t want traffic from any development on the parcel dumped into their neighborhood, the commissioners voted to recommend approval of the annexation to city council. The unanimous recommendation ignores the citizens’ concerns about traffic.

How immediate is immediate?

According to the city staff report, the applicant, Linda Smith, has no immediate plans to develop the property. She only wants to to avail herself of city services, they add.

Her neighbors think otherwise. They claim the statement about “no immediate plans to develop” is valid only until the annexation clears. Then, they say, she will seek a rezoning, possibly to multi-family. The residents worry that they might have as many as 40 units going in opposite their subdivision, which remains in an unincorporated area of the county.

It’s all about a driveway off Foxfire Court

The heart of the controversy is the current driveway access to Ms. Smith’s property off Firefox Court. It feeds into the residents’ neighborhood.

Since Ms. Smith did not file a companion rezoning request, which is typical with many annexations, the property would come into the city as residential with 15,000 square foot minimum lots. That would permit her to put about 12 homes on the parcel. The residents fear that with a subsequent rezoning request, Ms. Smith might wind up putting 30-40 living units on the property.

Right now there is a single, one story house of about 1,000 square feet toward the back of the property. The only access is by a long drive off Foxfire Court.

The city is requiring a second access to the property

The only problem city officials have with the annexation is that long drive off Foxfire Drive. With Ms. Smith’s house in the city, she would be the one property on Foxfire that isn’t in the county. That could be confusing to emergency service vehicles, whose personnel would not know immediately whether to serve her home in an emergency.

As a condition of the annexation, city planners insisted that Ms. Smith provide access from Maya Drive, a stub street that serves a subdivision already in the city to the west of the Smith property. In addition, she would have to change her address to Maya Dr.

Don’t ruin our quiet little neighborhod

The residents want the old driveway off Foxfire Court closed as another condition of the annexation. According to the staff report,  Ms. Smith has said she is willing to do that, but the residents want more assurance. They didn’t get it.

“My concern is if the property is developed will you allow traffic from there to enter the county subdivision (on Foxfire Court),” said George Russell, who lives on Foxfire. “We have a nice peaceful neighborhood.  We don’t want the development connected to our community.”

Theresa Farmer, who lives right across from the property on Spike Trail asked if Ms. Smith could later change the zoning to get more density on her property.

She can ask for a rezoning at any time

Matthew Blomeley, one of the city’s principal planners, said Ms. Smith has the right at a later date to request a rezoning, and the city council would make the final decision after holding a public hearing.

The residents left the meeting visibly upset, which is a story often repeated at city hall these days. They vowed to come back when the issue comes before the council with a bigger turnout from the neighborhood. Pardon my cynicism, but good luck!

I spoke to a city planner after the meeting about closing the drive off Foxfire. Obviously, if the city could require access from Maya Court as a condition of annexation it could add that the Firefox Drive be closed.

In general, however planners prefer multiple points of access to a development. This planner merely said that the issue before the commission was whether the city could serve the area if it were annexed. That made access off Maya Drive important, but the drive off Firefox was irrelevant.

What planning study?

In other business, the commissioners approved annexation of about 53 acres along Blackman Road and State Route 840 and a companion rezoning. Under the rezoning, about 10.4 acres that borders a residential area would be zoned Commercial Fringe as a buffer. The balance would be zoned Commercial Highway.

Commercial Fringe uses are neighborhood friendly. Commercial Highway zones, however, are the city’s most liberal commercial district and are intended for parcels along major thoroughfares like Old Fortress Blvd at Thompson Lane.

[In an earlier piece, I mistakenly listed the acreage to be rezoned as 70. That is actually the acreage of the area involved in a staff annexation study of the parcel and surrounding streets. Both figures were listed on the agenda and I picked the wrong one. Reports about my alleged senility do not seem to be exaggerated.]

Don’t bother us with details

When the commissioners voted unanimously for the rezoning, there was no mention of an earlier planning study of the area that recommended office uses for the site. The authors of that study contended that Murfreesboro could be a hot office community, but it currently lacks much office space. The property’s visibility from State Route 840 makes office development the “highest and best use” for the land, the study’s authors contended. I just hope the study didn’t cost that much since the city appears to be  ignoring it.

Finally, a request for an amendment to a planned residential district of 236 homes along Veterans Parkway was deferred. The change was requested because the developer found drainage constraints in part of the property. As a result, that area will be left as common open space. To retain the 236 lots, the developer is requesting an amendment that would increase the number of 8,000 square foot lots planned from 99 to 141. To make this possible, there would be one less 10,000 square foot lot, 18 fewer 12,000 square foot lots and 27 fewer lots of 15,000 square feet or more.

An unpleasant suprise

The lot size change was not an issue. Several commissioners were concerned about provisions for visitor parking in the proposed development because the streets are fairly narrow. Toby Tobias, land development manager for Beazer Homes, contended that the problem is addressed by deed restrictions attached to the lots.

He said there will be visitor parking areas in the development and that the deed restrictions will require that homeowners leave enough space in their garages to park their cars there instead of on the street. He left the meeting surprised that an apparent routine amendment to a planned district is going to be more time consuming than he had planned.