Ethan Steinquest

Special to the News

Wilson County residents could soon have the ability to build accessory homes on their properties, which could be used for purposes such as long-term rentals or housing elderly relatives.

The Wilson County Planning Commission discussed a zoning ordinance that would allow for those structures at its meeting Friday, ultimately deferring action until February.

“There have been concerted efforts over the years by our different zoning administrators to make sure people don’t have above-garage apartments and other things on the property, largely out of fear of people causing trouble with those,” Wilson County Planning Director Tom Brashear said. “I think we’ve reached a point in our demographic and cultural progress that with the growing expense of health care, we need to have a way for people to be able to put up their mom by having an apartment garage or something to that effect, and given how the regulations are right now we’re hurting more people than helping by not allowing that.”

Under the current draft, accessory dwellings would be allowed on properties zoned as rural residential, suburban residential, agricultural or agricultural preservation districts.

“They must have adequate septic or sewer capacity to accommodate the additional one bedroom before we would allow it,” Brashear said. “They must be no more than 900 square feet in size, they must have permanent connections to all utilities and they must comply with all permanent foundation requirements put in place.”

The ordinance would also prevent those spaces from being used for purposes like short-term rentals or bed-and-breakfasts without approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

After some discussion, the commission opted to have the item rewritten to streamline the process for families. Most of the questions raised dealt with which organizations would be responsible for inspections or code enforcement.

“Let’s try to write this where it’s easier, where we can allow people to take care of their elderly parents, sick sister or brother,” commission member Terry Ashe said. “Maybe we need to go back before we vote on this, unless we’re under a time constraint, to try and clean up every question … to make sure the people that need to be taken care of, we’re taking care of the families.”

The commission also narrowly voted to deny final plat approval for a subdivision development on Hearn Hill Road in Watertown, 4-4 with one abstention. Although the property would have allowed approximately 15 lots, the commission only had authority to vote on nine of them due to their acreage.

“I will point out to folks that they have an inherent right, without coming before this board, to make five lots out of these 25 acres,” chairperson Gene Jones said. “It will not have to come before any regulatory board.”

Residents in the area had been battling the proposal for months, citing concerns that the population growth would bring dangerous levels of traffic. District 9 County Commissioner Sara Patton, who represents the area in question, also spoke out against the development at the meeting.

“You’re out there on Hearn Hill Road and you’re going to multiply that population by about four times what’s there,” she said. “You don’t have a red light, you don’t have a stop sign, all you’ve got is curves and drop-offs. Every single school child that risks on that bus … they’re risking their lives. That’s what this is about.”

The developers had meet the requirements and recommendations set forth by the planning department, and those supporting the project cited promoting growth through development.

Commissioners Randall Hutto, Margaret Dixon, Roy Major and Gary Nokes voted to deny, while commissioners Johnnie Ricketts, James Woods, Terry Ashe and John Jewell voted to approve. Commissioner Eric Thompson abstained from the vote.

The Wilson County Planning Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Feb. 21, at the Wilson County Courthouse located on 228 E. Main St. in Lebanon.