Mt. Juliet Hunting Hills neighbors galvanized and invited city leaders to attend a meeting Saturday evening to introduce them to their neighborhood where a proposed 1-million-square-foot warehouse could be built in "our backyard."
Resident Lori Peek organized the "non-threatening meeting" on the heels of what she termed a "quick and surprising" turn of events that very well could bring a Panatonni-developed industrial warehouse near their neighborhood - if city leaders approve the annexation and rezoning of 55.76 acres for the warehouse near 538 Hunting Hills Drive, just up the hill from the road's cul-de-sac.
The possible new development is called Beckwith North and would also be in the general vicinity of the massive Under Armour facility currently under construction.
Peek, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, said she invited Mt. Juliet city commissioners and was disappointed none showed up, however she did say perhaps it was too short notice for some.
"We wanted those who will make this decision to see our neighborhood and how pretty it is," she said. "We wanted to get more information and give them information as well."
Peek and other neighbors said the project seem to come quickly with very little notice to neighbors.
"Nobody really knew about it," she said. "That's a sticking point. I don't think people know or realize how major this is.
"A sure fire way to not have opposition is to not really let people know."
Resident Ray Dunn has a petition against the project with more than 100 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm not a huge supporter of the warehouses being in Mt. Juliet at all," Dunn said. "I understand that all cities have a mix of businesses, and the existing warehouses play into that mix. However, this development is much different because it encroaches directly into a residential neighborhood that has existed for 40 years. Several of our neighbors would be dramatically impacted by this development and would see a dramatic reduction in their property values."
Neighbor Jerry McKenzie concurs. He said even while city officials did not attend the Saturday evening meeting held in the cul-de-sac that faces the proposed site, about 40 neighbors pulled together to discuss strategies to oppose the project, as well as share hotdogs and pizza.
He's the closest to the proposed warehouse and lives in a large house on five acres. Retired, he said he hoped to live out his life on his peaceful place that has recently been bombarded with construction noise from the nearby Under Armour project.
"Do you know the Beckwith North building by itself will be 23 acres?" he asked. "That's 220 football fields, and would be just a half a football field away from our home."
He said he understand there will be parking for 2,000 employees, and on one side of his property 122 trailers will be parked, if approved.
Planning Commission gave negative recommendation
The project recently received a 4-4 tie vote, which is effectively a negative recommendation from the Mt. Juliet Planning Commission, but still tracks to Mt. Juliet City Commission to be heard most likely April 13.
Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty voted for Beckwith North at the Planning Commission meeting.
However, he said, "all said," it's a "tough call."
"It's balancing the possibility of a 1,000-plus jobs against encroachment in a neighborhood," Hagerty said. "In the very end, the neighbors need to look ahead. With Beckwith North there will be no access to Hunting Hills Drive. The landowner does want to sell. The next option may be hundreds of homes with access to the street. It's a trade off."
He reiterated, "It's a tough call all around." He noted because the city knows Panattoni, "When they say the will do sound buffering, I know they will do it."
And while more than half dozen Hunting Hills residents spoke against the project at that planning meeting, they will be more organized and in force April 13, along with possible legal representation, McKenzie said.
As far as notice of the project, McKenzie said there was posted "a single sign, three-fourths a mile away." And "some type of letter was mailed," but he said he believed there was "no mention of annexation," and most neighbors thought any correspondence was related to the Under Armour project.
While the project is not in Mt. Juliet City Commissioner Ray Justice's jurisdiction, he said he's had some calls and plans to visit the neighborhood Saturday. He missed this past weekend meeting because he was working.
"It bothers me," he said. "But, I need to go out there and hear the concerns and see what's going on. I have concerns, especially about industrial zoning and the size and scope of it all. It's overwhelming. It needs strict buffering that we might not have access to."
'David versus Goliath'
"We just feel neglected to some extent," McKenzie said. "We feel like its David against the City of Mt. Juliet's Goliath."
Part of their strategic plans to fight the project include legal representation, visuals to show commissioners the extent of the project so close to their homes, T-shirts, yard signs, the petition and a letter writing campaign."
McKenzie said he was told the city had to send certified letters to neighbors that should be received by today or tomorrow regarding notification of another meeting about the project.
Many said they had planned to "live and to die" peacefully in their invested homes on Hunting Hills Drive without "encroachment."
"We hope they do the right thing," McKenzie said. "And not use their annexation and rezoning authority at our expense. We want to appeal to their better nature."
At the planning commission meeting, developers said they would provide an "extensive buffer" and install a 7-foot-high fence to shield the project, as well as other buffering and traffic measures.
"The area where the proposed building site has been zoned residential for 40-plus years and the city is annexing and rezoning just enough to slide the warehouse in, but not annexing the neighbors in an effort to protect their interest," Dunn said in his petition. "Overall, this warehouse will do very little to compliment the positive image that Mt. Juliet has and the process shows little regard for long-time residents in the immediate area."
Peek said she was organizing another meeting in the neighborhood for Saturday, and she sent invites to city leaders.
Calls to other city leaders and a Panattoni representative were not returned by press time.
Writer Laurie Everett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.