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MJ no longer considering construction moratorium

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MT. JULIET -- You shorten a “bad word” to just its first letter, and that’s what happened to the word “moratorium” at Monday night’s City Commission meeting in Mt. Juliet.

The commission decided not to impose “an ‘M’ word,” as Mt. Juliet-West Wilson County Chamber of Commerce President Mark Hinesley called it, on new construction of multi-family residences, such as apartment complexes, until more infrastructure to serve them can be built.

In an eventful meeting, the commissioners also voted to amend the city’s beer-license ordinance to help possibly recruit a major hotel to Mt. Juliet; passed the first reading of amendments to a 2012 ordinance establishing a “First Amendment area” in Charlie Daniels Park for political campaigning; and gave second-reading nods to Beckwith Crossing subdivision and Premier Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep of Lebanon, bringing the city its second new car dealership.

The commission did not even have the proposal on its agenda Monday night to hire the private ambulance service Medic One as the city’s primary emergency medical responder, so apparently that ongoing issue has been deferred for the moment.

But a proposed apartment-construction moratorium drew the most public response Monday night, and there was some confusion as to the possible effects of the ordinance, which was proposed and eventually withdrawn, without the commission ever voting on it, by District 1 Commissioner Ray Justice.

The ordinance would not have affected any business or commercial construction, nor would it have affected any single-family home construction.

Hinesley spoke at a public hearing before the commission meeting officially opened to ask that the ordinance be removed from the agenda. He pointed out that Mt. Juliet has consistently ranked “at or near the top as fastest growing, most business-friendly, and even safest” in the state.

“Even the mention of the ‘M’ word could plummet us to the very bottom of these lists literally overnight,” Hinesley added.

However, two members of the Planning Commission, Bryan Abston and Lori Landry, spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying that while they favor growth, they want it to be responsible growth.

“The infrastructure is not available,” Abston said. “We will need more police officers, firefighters and schools for multi-family development. Mt. Juliet has been built on community and family, not on cramming as many people as we can in as small a place as we can.”

Landry added, “As a resident of a rapidly-growing part of town, I would urge you to look at the big picture.”

Justice spoke of Mt. Juliet’s history, pointing out that when his mother was asked in 1986 to have her home annexed into the city, it was with the promise of services such as roads and sewer. When she died in 1997, those services were still not provided in her part of the city, he said.

That’s why Justice decided to become involved in city government, he said: “I wanted the blue-collar people to have a voice.”

He went on to point out that since 2005, the city has issued over 6,000 building permits, and 33 percent of those were for multi-family housing. These kinds of statistics are what made him decide to propose the moratorium, Justice said: “Our infrastructure is at the breaking point.”

Mayor Ed Hagerty said the issues with growth are not new. “The growth debate started in 1986 with the vote to provide city sewer,” he said.

That vote guaranteed growth and higher density, Hagerty added. But the city has spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies to decide what it should do about the problems related to growth, “on plans we haven’t used,” the mayor said.

“What we need is the political will to implement the plans we already have,” he said.

When Justice asked what the commissioners need to do to get those plans moving, the mayor told him it would take money.

Hagerty also said some of the plans have been completed, and others like the Eastern Connector road are being worked on now. “These projects are not cheap, but they need to be done,” he said.

In the end, Justice asked that the moratorium ordinance be taken off the agenda, but he added that voters should hold city officials accountable on the issue. “If we don’t do what we should, vote us out of office,” he concluded.

The commissioners also voted unanimously, on first reading, to approve changes in the city’s beer-license ordinance that would allow major hotels to sell beer by the drink even if they don’t sell food as well.

The original ordinance called for holders of beer licenses to sell $5 worth of food for every $1 worth of beer they sell. The changes will allow hotels with 70 or more rooms to also sell beer for consumption on the premises.

The change came in response to a request the mayor received from a major hotel chain which is considering locating in Mt. Juliet. It was in an attempt to “court” this same hotel chain that the city lowered its hotel/motel tax earlier this year.

In a 4-1 vote, with Justice opposed, the commissioners also approved the first reading of amendments to the 2012 ordinance creating a “First Amendment area” in Charlie Daniels Park.

“I thought the whole state was a First Amendment zone, not just a little chunk of Charlie Daniels Park,” Justice said.

The amendments would not allow unoccupied vehicles with political signs to be parked in the Farmer’s Market lot or in the Mt. Juliet Police parking lot. They would also prohibit unoccupied, signed vehicles from being parked in the first four spaces on either side of the road entering the park.

The amended ordinance would allow two signs per candidate to be placed in the “First Amendment area” and two signs on vehicles parked in other areas of the park. The signs would have to be placed an hour before the polls open and removed within an hour after polls close. No signs would be allowed to remain in the park overnight.

The commission also approved, on second reading:

  • The annexation, preliminary plat, and plan for services for Beckwith Crossing, which will have 99 single-family homes on 43 acres off Beckwith Road at Stoner Creek
  • The rezoning from residential (R-40) to Commercial Mixed Use (CMU) with a Planned Unit Development (PUD) of 8 acres currently owned by the city, which will be sold to and developed by Premier Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep of Lebanon as a new car sales business to be located on Old Pleasant Grove Road near I-40 and the Mt. Juliet Walmart
  • The annexation, rezoning, preliminary plat and plan for services of approximately 260 acres on Eastgate Boulevard from Wilson County R-1 to a Mt. Juliet Industrial Restricted (IR) PUD, to be developed as Beckwith Farms West. The plan calls for five industrial/warehouse buildings ranging from 450,000 to 1 million square feet on 261.05 acres between Eastgate Boulevard and Hunting Hills Drive.

In another planning-related vote, the City Commission approved, on first reading, the rezoning of 7.48 acres on Lebanon Road in the Greenhill area from two forms of residential and two forms of Planned Unit Development (PUD) to Commercial Residential Center (CRC).

At the June meeting of the Planning Commission, neighbors opposed the rezoning as intruding on an otherwise “residential pocket,” but the area has already been partly developed commercially by Dave Braunschidel, the same landowner who requested the rezoning of the 7.48 acres to a PUD.

Braunschidel has already developed two commercial buildings across Tate Lane from the PUD site, where he said he wants to build three office/retail buildings. The rest of the land between the two roads would be residential, with lots measuring about an acre, so the Planning Commission members voted 5-2 to recommend the change to the City Commission.

Area resident Tom Bontrager, who said he represents about 30 of his neighbors, appeared before Monday night’s City Commission meeting to continue opposing the change. “Zoning without people’s approval is not progress,” Bontrager said. “Could the back half, at least, remain residential?”

Correspondent Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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