Once again, residents pushed back against allowing developers to add high-density housing in Mt. Juliet’s core citing already suffering streets and schools they say are becoming overcrowded.
On Jan. 9, commissioners voted unanimously to not allow the Villas at Tuscan Gardens to be built by denying the developers a switch in zoning to high-density housing for roughly 50 acres near Park Glen Drive and Park Knoll Lane to accommodate 313 townhouses.
The Villas at Tuscan Gardens came before the commission with a negative recommendation from the city’s planning department. According to Mt. Juliet Planning Department staff notes, the project would be the third multi-family development proposal on the north side of Mt. Juliet in recent years.
Still, members of the community around the project showed up to voice opposition mostly because they believe Mt. Juliet is growing at such a fast pace. Concerns are that the project will add to congestion on Lebanon Road and Golden Bear Gateway and the cut-through traffic through neighborhoods contiguous to the project would worsen.
Briana Bays, who has spoken on behalf of a group called the “Northtown Mt. Juliet Says No Group,” came again to oppose the development.
“Our infrastructure cannot hand the increase volume of traffic,” Bays said. “Our schools cannot handle the increase in student enrollment. I do realize that is a county issue and not a city issue, but I feel it must be mentioned.”
Bays said the traffic backs up in Park Glen, Tuscan Gardens, Woodlawn Place, Stone Hollow and Timber Trails “daily” because the roads throughout those developments were already crowded.
“The traffic volume associated with townhouses will be much higher than it would be with single family homes … Any green space or other improvements offered by the developer will benefit a select few, most likely those purchasing the townhouses,” she said.
Bays’ husband, Jeffrey Bays, came to the podium and gave an emotional speech about the job and life he left behind in New York for what he considered would be an increase in the family’s quality of life in Tennessee.
“I sold my wife on picking up my family and moving down here,” Jeffrey Bays said. “It was based on good education, close to schools,” he said. “What do you know, nine months into it we are rezoned out of our elementary school literally three or four minutes from my house … the amount I have sacrificed for my family to have a stable lifestyle is thrown out the window because some builder says, ‘Yea, I can get an extra couple of hundred thousand dollars.’”
Danny Wamble with Wamble and Associates, the Nashville-based civil firm engineering the project, told the commission the plans were to build a community that would not impact the area negatively.
“The majority of the opposition comments to engineering that I have heard have centered around drainage and traffic. The project would be designed according to the city’s floodplain management requirement,” said Wamble. “We have done a traffic study already. This traffic study states that with the installation of the traffic light on Lebanon Road at Park Glen Drive, there are no other improvements required.”
Wamble asked commissioner to approve rezoning but also to give the engineering firm advice on a redesign if they could not.
Jennifer Brannan, managing member of developers Camco Investments, said residents were not taking into consideration that the development would raise property values because townhome owners pay a homeowners association fee to keep the exteriors in good condition, as opposed to single-family homes.
“First, we would like for you to put out of your mind what you normally think of when you think of a townhome development or townhome community,” Brannan told the commission. “What we are proposing is to build in The Villas of Tuscan Gardens is not anything quite like what you are familiar with. What we propose is a truly unique product that will provide benefits to every homeowner that aren’t found in a typical townhome development and certainly aren’t found anywhere else in Mt. Juliet.”
Brannan said later she was concerned the process did not allow for the development to be discussed because the project was pulled from the planning commission’s September meeting where the public was allowed to tell their views on the townhomes, but the project’s developers were not.
“We wanted to present our plan then, and we were not allowed to do so. Residents were able to give their comments, but we were not,” Brannan said. “We were under the assumption that we would be able to present, but we were not given the opportunity to show the community or the planning commission the benefits of our proposed plan.”
Commissioner Ray Justice, who was opposed to the development in the past, said he had received calls throughout the day, including one from developer Brent Campbell, from people who wanted feedback on the project.
“I told him that there were not going to be 313 townhomes built over there, and so I don’t know what part of that he didn’t understand … Unless he wants to come here with the zoning he has currently, then there is just really no need for it to be discussed,” Justice said.
By Colleen Creamer
Special to Mt. Juliet News