October 29, 2020 Scott Broden, The Daily News Journal
Murfreesboro officials stopped the proposed Clari Park development with 890 residential dwellings after neighbors in the Gateway area raised concerns about traffic and drainage.
The rejected mixed-use plan would have been near Interstate 24. The plan included 600 apartments, 290 townhomes and commercial development across from The Avenue Murfreesboro shopping center.
“I would really appreciate it if you would consider the density of the homes you’re being asked to put in this place because it’s going to do nothing more than add additional traffic,” Richard Lyles told the Murfreesboro City Council during a recent public hearing.
Councilman Rick LaLance persuaded all but Ronnie Martin and Bill Shacklett in a 4-2 vote to reject the zoning request from developers with Hines Acquisitions LLC for 78 acres between Medical Center Parkway and Wilkinson Pike and along Robert Rose Drive and Willowoak Trail.
“Traffic and drainage are important and are big deals and obviously are problems,” said LaLance, who also questioned if the development’s walkability would make a difference. “How many people have I ever seen walk to across Medical Center Parkway from Henley Station (580 existing apartments) to The Avenue? I literally think it’s zero ever.”
Martin wanted to defer vote
Fellow Councilmen Kirt Wade, Shawn Wright and Mayor Shane McFarland joined LaLance in the majority. Vice Mayor Madelyn Scales Harris abstained because she wanted more information about Clari Park.
Prior to the decision to reject the zoning, Martin suggested the council defer the vote to give the developers more time to improve the plan with city staff.
“I think the project would be good for the city,” said Martin, who was part of a unanimous Murfreesboro Planning Commission that recommended the Clari Park development. “There’s a lot of value to a mixed-used property.”
Although the plan was rejected, the 78 acres remain in a mixed-use zone that would permit 25 apartments per acre, or up to 485 dwellings, to be built on 25% of the land.
City plans to widen Wilkinson Pike
LaLance noted costs the city will face by paying for schools, teachers and police to provide services for people moving into high-density developments.
“I’m fearful of a pattern,” said LaLance, adding that there are 4,900 apartments within 1.5 miles of the 78 acres in question. City records also show that 2,806 apartments that exist or are under construction in the Gateway Design Overlay District, including 1,578 east of I-24.
Wilkinson Pike area neighbors also told the council about drainage problems and the sounds of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars using the street because Medical Center Parkway is backed up or has wrecks.
“You’ve got to do something with Wilkinson Pike before you do anything, as well as Medical Center because Medical Center is a nightmare,” Lyles said. “Some mornings I have to wait at least 15 minutes to get out of West Park Drive onto Wilkinson Pike because there’s so much traffic off of Medical Center and off of Thompson Lane.”
The Murfreesboro government expects to start construction to widen the two-lane Wilkinson Pike with a continuous center turn lane by 2024, said Sam Huddleston, executive director of the city’s Development Services Division. The road project will take 18 months and include curb and gutter for underground drainage, a sidewalk on the south side and a multiuse path on the north side that leads to the Stones River National Battlefield.
Battlefield, county mayor mention noise, flooding concerns
Stones River National Battlefield Superintendent Brenda Pennington also spoke to the council.
“The park is interested in maintaining some level of that rural character along Wilkinson Pike,” Pennington said. “It’s one of our historic roads, and it played a key role in the Battle of Stones River.”
Gateway developments are degrading the ability of park visitors from all over the world to imagine the two-hour-long battle at the battlefield’s Slaughter Pen area, Pennington said.
“We’re hearing more noise congestion, and that is an issue for our visitors,” Pennington said.
The battlefield superintendent and neighbors also asked the city to enforce a berm with plantings that was promised along Wilkinson Pike by previous developers by fall 2017 to serve as a landscape buffer on the 78 acres owned by the Bill Gatton Foundation.
The Wilkinson Pike area neighbors who spoke to the council included Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron.
“Wilkinson Pike is the corridor that all local residents travel,” Ketron said, “because you don’t want to stop at seven lights on Medical Center Parkway.”
Ketron also said drainage is a major problem.
“It floods my yard,” said Ketron, adding that more approved rooftops will add to the problem. “It’s only going to get worse.”
Reach reporter Scott Broden at email@example.com or 615-278-5158. Follow him on Twitter @ScottBroden.