Lebanon has a unique and proud heritage. Since the city's beginning in 1801 as an agricultural/livestock community, Lebanon is now the heart of Wilson County, the second fastest growing county in Tennessee. We are blessed with new residents and longtime residents, good people who continue to pioneer a solid base for families and businesses.
Time has come for transitioning into a 21st century with planning and zoning ordinances and regulations designed to serve the general welfare and meet the needs of a this thriving and expanding city. Growth cannot be helter-skelter. Growth cannot be driven by short-sighted desires to fill our open spaces. Our leaders must raise their sights to a new vision which encompasses a longer term growth strategy via a much more detailed planning and zoning effort.
We have valuable land and valuable people in Wilson County. We have survived the economic downturn started in 2008. The economy is reviving again in this region. We can afford to be selective and deliberate in our growth plans. We have put our Planning Commission in a straitjacket allowing only a "yes" or "no" vote without the chance to express any discretion in situations where a development might meet the basic code regulations and ordinances but might not fit in with the surrounding properties. The proposed Five Oaks apartment development points out the need for a well thought out, tiered approach dependent on the location within our city. Our current codes do not adequately address many issues including planning notifications, setbacks, density, required landscaping point systems and low to high zones within zones.
Recently the Planning Commission was begging to find a way to do what is right on the positioning of the Five Oaks apartments, but the mechanism to do that was not available to them. The Commission knew the apartment development was not the right fit so near to one of the more exclusive neighborhoods in Lebanon. The residents knew that as well, and that is why their opposition continues. Why was this property not zoned to allow for only single-family homes matching those within the Five Oaks subdivision? If not single family homes, why not less dense developments like The Villas at Five Oaks? Why must the apartments be built so close to Five Oaks Blvd? Why cannot the development have the main entrance and exit onto Lebanon Road? Why did the city not notify the residents of these plans before they came up for what would have been a vote without citizen input?
We need to fix this via a new set of rules allowing for discretion without bias and avoiding arbitrary exercise of government power. We need to have regulations to help the Planning Commissioners, City Council and the city engineers to do what is right for the existing residents and the future residents. Proper zoning will help bring about orderly growth and change. It will control population density and help create attractive, healthful residential areas. In addition, better zoning helps assure property owners and residents that the characteristics of nearby areas will remain stable. New regulations must prescribe in great detail the ingress/egress locations, building styles and types, exterior building materials, locations of utility lines, building setbacks, landscaping, green spaces and more.
A Notice of Site Plan ordinance must be instituted immediately. That ordinance should require 30-day notice of any site plan review prior to a hearing of the planning commission. Notice should be accomplished in three ways: newspaper notice not less than 30 days before the hearing date before the planning commission; U.S. mail notice to all property owners within 2,500 feet of the proposed development; and finally placement of signs along the property itself announcing the fact that the proposal will be heard by the planning commission on the hearing date. Furthermore, there should be a fee charge to the developer in conjunction with the site plan application to cover whatever expenses may be involved with the notice requirements. Many communities allow placement of the signs on the properties by the developer. Wilson County and Metro Nashville have a number of sign companies who will make the signs, and the developer can buy those signs and place them on the property. The expense of the signs, mailing of the notices and the cost of a newspaper notice can be added to the fee for the application. The idea is simply not to cost the city anything in this process.
City leaders must step forward now and appoint a commission to design these new ordinances. Once complete, these new ordinances must be adopted and implemented immediately.