We know it’s a lot of work to prepare your speech, dress up and come to a council meeting for your three minutes of speaking fame. And more often than not the council members or planning commissioners listen politely and then ignore you.
Well, we’re here to end all that. Today we’re unveiling our long-awaited guide on how to win friends and influence people when you speak at city hall.
Brickbats from the chicken
Well no , bird, I don’t know how to influence anybody. I’m afraid I oversold this story in a shameless bid to get people to read it. It’s a time-honored journalistic tradition. I can only tell you that most people fail when they bring their concerns to the council. And I don’t have the best track record myself.
A tale of two activist groups of residents
You know I can’t put the outcome at the bottom of the story, bird. That would violate the sacred principle of putting the most important stuff at the top. Besides, there are few surprises when residents speak at city meetings. They usually leave empty handed.
Case No 1: Traffic woes on Blackman
“I’m not sure what you can ask the developer to do on the front end when making your decision, but I always think things are better to be done on the front end as opposed to us being told that they might be done on the back end.” — Crystal Mallery, who lives in a subdivision next to the one proposed to the planning commission Thursday night.
* * * * *
The first tale involves a petition the city received to annex 291 acres now in the county between Blackman Road and Florence Road and just north of SR 840.
Parks Development (PRD), which has a contract to purchase the property was seeking a rezoning, when the land comes into the city, to a planned residential development on 242 acres of those annexed for as many as 771 single family homes.
In a PRD, the staff basically throws out the zoning book and works out a plan in negotiations with the developer. That plan becomes, in effect, the zoning for the site.The density would be 3.2 living units per acre, which is between the city’s two largest residential zones — RS12 and RS15.
None of the residents opposed the developer’s request. Instead, they described the traffic nightmare Blackman Road is now and urged the city to make road improvements before adding to the problem with new homes. No one on the planning commission doubted their tale of woe.
A strong leadoff hitter for the residents
County Commissioner Joe Gourley said Sheriff’s Department reports show there have been 100 accidents on Blackman Road in the past four years or 25 a year. He added that at the busiest times the road is clogged with commuters, parents taking their kids to or from school and trucks from the Rogers Group sand and gravel operations.
“Let’s work with the county,” he told the planning commissioners, “to improve it (the road) so that both the residents there now and in the future will be happy.”
The homes will only add to an already bad traffic mess
Jay Sloan, who lives on Foothills Drive, said if we assume each new homeowner in the development uses his car once a day, that is 1,542 tips added onto a narrow, curving road where the situation is already bad.
“I want us to be proactive (in solving the traffic problem) rather than retroactive,” he said.
David Hill said he and his wife were involved in a head-on collision on the road and are lucky to be here.
Up on the roof
Crystal Mallery, who lives on Laurel Mountain Road, said in one case a car landed on somebody’s roof. In another, residents were so concerned about their home they put huge rocks in the front yard to protect it. She urged the commissioners to take a trip out to Blackman during peak traffic times before making a decision.
Lamb: “Something must be done.”
Chairman Bob Lamb said he agreed totally with the residents’ traffic complaints, adding that he has close friends in the area who have told him about the safety issues on Blackman. Unfortunately he added, the city’s hands are tied at the moment.
Bob Parks, the developer, will put in left and right turn lanes into and out of the development and is willing to contribute right of way if the city wants to widen Blackman. The issue, however, is a bottleneck outside the city between this property and a four-way stop at Blackman, Manson Pike and Bunt Knob Road.
Mallery doubts turn lanes will work
Mallery said the planned turn lanes will be virtually worthless in rush periods because they can only hold three to four cars. Those cars waiting to get into the turn lanes will still be backed up. She likes the poposed landscaping along the project’s Blackman Road border, but suggsted that land might be better used to widen the road.
The bottoleneck between the development and the four-way stop at Manson Pike and Burnt Knob Road is the key issue. The county isn’t taking land forcibly from property owners for road improvements, and under state law the city can’t annex about 14 to 15 parcels within the bottleneck unless the property owners agree. And some have homes so close to the road they may not have right of way to give.
City has not studied four-way stop
Planning Director Gary Whitaker said the four-way stop at Blackman, Manson and Bunt Knob Roads was not part of a city study of the area. He added that it might be good to ask the developer’s traffic engineer to look at the intersection.
“We don’t just put lights up. We have to have studies done,” he said. “In those studies there are certain factors that determine whether you add traffic lights or not. When and if it is warranted, then I am sure we would look at doing that sometime in the future..”
He said the houses may not even be completed for 10 or 15 years, depending on how the economy goes. Mat Taylor, speaking for Parks, said construction will start sometime in 2017.
We have a great record on impovements
“The city’s got a great track record, as we’ve annexed property, when warranted. We do go in — sometimes in conjunction with the county; sometimes the city just does it in the county, and we upgrade roads. We have an excellent history of doing that when it is warranted,” Whitaker said
“I’m actually trying to set this up so in the future we could come back, if need be, annex that to upgrade that 1,600 feet — when it’s warranted.” he added. “When that would be I don’t know. We don’t have a study on that currently.” He said the decision to do a study would have to come from city council.
Lamb stressed that unless the city can annex the 14-15 parcels in the botltleneck it is going to be hard to remove the problem. And with state law as it is, it would require the owners’ consent to be annexed. Whitaker said in the future as other area properties seek to be developed, they might want to come into the city and donate the right of way the city needs to improve the road.
The safety of our families
David Hill, another resident, said the concern is not about the houses but “about the safety of our families” He added that it is not just a question of improving the 1600 feet but also the most dangerous part of the road, stretching back to Stewarts Creek High School, Almaville Road, One mile Lane, and Bass and Baker Roads.
Florence Road, on the other side of the projected development has been widened to three lanes almost to Broad Street except for the overpasses over 840 and I-24.
“This is a good opportunity for… the county and city to get together and look a it and maybe at least improve Blackman Road from Baker Road on down to the four-way stop,” said Councilman Doug Young, who also serves on the planning commission.
Parks gets his rezoning; Mallery get’s the back end promise
The commissioners voted, with Kathy Jones abstaining, to recommend the rezoning that Parks seeks for his homes. Mallery walked away with her promise of what might be done on the back end.
* * * * *
Case No. 2: “Not in my neighborhood!
“As a business owner, I am not inherently against development. .. . but it must be well thought out, planned and responsible. Unfortunately, i don’t think that is what’s happening here. The planning commission and the council are approving development left and right with no regard to the quality of life of individuals and families that already call Murfreesboro home. Our roads are not ready, our schools are not ready and every stitch of grass has something being built on it” — Melissa Stevens of Oakton subdivision.
* * * * *
The issues here are fairly simple. The residents of the Oakton, Princeton Oaks and Blackman Meadows subdivisions had expected to have single family homes with large lots on an 11 acres of county land next them. Instead, David Alcorn, who has purchased the property, is seeking a rezoning that would allow him to build 88 two-story townhomes there — ranging from 1,500 to 2,100 square feet.
We aren’t being listened to
Stevens complained that when she and he fellow residents appeared before the planning commission the commissioners dismissed almost jokingly their concern that the proposed townhomes would hurt their property values.
She said at the planning commission the “developer was given every opportunity to address any concerns that you had, but when it came time for us to address our concerns they were dismissed.”
She said some of the commissioners “even joked and laughed at our concerns about out property values, saying their property values weren’t going down so that was a silly concern of ours.”
“I dare say they don’t have condos in back of their property,” she concluded.
The residents’ demands
Virginia Griffith, who lives on John Lee Lane, spoke for all three neighboring subdivisions, presenting their requests for concessions from the developer.
- She said their are no places in the development for school buses to turn around, meaning kids would likely be picked up on Manson Pike. She urged the developer to put in several cul de sacs.
- Setbacks from the rear property line should be increased from 20 to 30 feet.
- No vinyl siding on the rear of homes facing the neighboring properties.
- Traditional and landscape screening should be placed around the entire property.
- Keep existing trees of the property in place.
- Rear units should be moved to the front of the property and an open space area that doubles as a retention pond with a walkway around should be switched to the back.
The developer surprises everybody
As Rob Molchan, representing the developer, got up to reply, Councilman Ron Washington asked if he had met with the neighbors. Molchan said he hadn’t but suggested they might be pleased with what they were about to hear.
He said there is no need for bus turnaround points because the main street in the development is a loop.
The developer has agreed to the setback request and the demand that there be no vinyl siding on the rear of back homes on the property. Although the developer didn’t agree to put in the fencing, he did promise to increase the width of the landscape buffer from 12 to 15 feet.
Molchan said it has always been the intent of the developer to preserve as many of the existing trees as possible. The only exception is if a tree stands in the way of putting in underground utilities.
Water won’t flow uphill
He said the one condition the developer couldn’t meet is moving the open space waste retention pond to the back. He said the lowest point on the site is at the front, and a pond in the back would be useless.
Young, who also serves on the planning commission, is the commissioner who questioned whether the development would hurt the residents’ property values. He apologized to the residents and moved to defer the item. Looking at Molchan, he told him to spend a couple of weeks to arrange a meeting with the residents and to put his promises in writing.
I asked Griffith if she were pleased with the results. She replied that she was and is anxious to meet with Molchan.
As the meeting tuned to minor board appointments and beer permits, I decided to duck out. As I stepped out into the hallway, Molchan and the residents were already having a friendly meeting.