Citizens flood meeting over drainage concerns

Connie Esh, Murfreesboro Post, February 8, 2016

In a rare five-hour meeting Wednesday night that lasted past midnight, the Murfreesboro Planning Commission deferred action on a West Thompson Lane development opposed by about 20 of its neighbors who attended the meeting and spoke.

The antebellum Springfield House stands proudly in a grove off Manson Pike on land where a developer is seeking to build up to 277 apartments. The lights in its windows made it appear to be occupied Saturday evening.   (JOHN BUTWELL /The Murfreesboro Post)

The antebellum Springfield House stands proudly in a grove off Manson Pike on land where a developer is seeking to build up to 277 apartments. The lights in its windows made it appear to be occupied Saturday evening. (JOHN BUTWELL /The Murfreesboro Post)

However, protests by preservationists and others who commented failed to sway the commission from approving a 270-unit apartment complex on the property containing the antebellum Springfield House which served as a hospital during and after the Battle of Stones River in the Civil War, 153 years ago.

Commissioners were apparently convinced by the developer’s plan to renovate the historic mansion and use it as the property manager’s residence, and now it will go back to the city council for final approval – like it did previously when the council turned it down for making no provision to preserve Springfield House plus a number of other concerns.

‘Landing’ draws foes

The West Thompson Lane General’s Landing project was another matter, however. The project plans for 178 single-family residences, with 31 of those being single-family detached homes and the remainder being townhouses. All the homes are intended to be owner-occupied. The developer has no plan to rent any of the units.

Vice Mayor Doug Young, who as vice chair of the planning commissioner presided over the meeting in Chairman Bob Lamb’s absence, told the concerned residents told the concerned residents that “this may be one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen.”

And the commissioners saw a lot – pictures from John David Floyd and others of backyards flooded like lakes, inundated driveways, and just water, water, everywhere.

The trouble is that there doesn’t seem to be anything they can easily do to fix the insufficient drainage problem in the area except, possibly, to approve the General’s Landing PRD.

‘Want it in writing’

The commissioners, informed that the city is stymied by a lack of easements in the area for municipal drainage projects, seemed to be leaning toward accepting engineer Bill Huddleston’s claim that the drainage the developers will install on the proposed project itself could help solve the flooding problems that neighboring residents were complaining about.

However, they want to see it in writing. Huddleston responded that would be no problem – his firm, Huddleston and Steele, will “shoot the elevations” to get topographic data on the property and return with written specs for the drainage system they plan to install.

Apparently in the mood for considering the development a possible solution rather than the further problem that neighbors envisioned, the commission unanimously voted to defer the project until Huddleston can return with more data at the next meeting, and the protesters applauded.

‘Could actually help’

Senior Planner Margaret Ann Green told the commission that it wouldn’t be reasonable to ask a developer to submit a detailed site plan before getting preliminary approval for a project’s rezoning, but that maybe the developer in this case would submit a drainage plan – and that’s what Huddleston has promised to do.

He pointed out to the commission that he can’t build anything on other people’s land, so he can’t be held responsible for draining it – but that the drainage he plans to install at General’s Landing may help drain “at least some” of his neighbor’s flooding.

He envisions a ditch four feet deep and 12 to 20 feet wide, Huddleston said, also promising to comply with a neighbor’s concern that an existing fence be left standing.

‘House to be dwarfed?’

The Springfield House concerns brought before the commission focused not on drainage but on its historicity. Opponents said that even if the antebellum white-columned house – built more than 205 years ago between 1805 and 1810, is renovated and preserved – it still will seem out of place and dwarfed by the neighboring Springfield Luxury Apartments.

They also fear the development could desecrate the historic cemetery near the front of the property, along Manson Pike, if only by being erected too close to the graveyard. Not only is it historic, it’s still in use and was the scene of a recent burial, one of the protesters told the commission.

Nor do the opponents trust the developer to follow the proposed plans. Sandy Lewis spoke at length about another developer who had promised, but not in writing, to preserve a historic property and then didn’t. Young finally asked her what relevance her story had to Springfield House.

She said she fears the Springfield developer will do the same thing, but it is not the same company.

Cave ‘protected’

Geologist Jake Richards spoke about a cave system underlying the property, but said the developer’s plans appear to be protecting that area. The developer has moved one building which would have been directly over the cave, and created a 100-foot buffer at the back edge of the property to protect the entrance.

The project is designed to avoid being developed over any karst or caves, Huddleston assured the commission, and the cave entrance area will be fenced off.

In the end, Young said that while this may not be exactly what everyone wants, “it is an opportunity to preserve the house and the cave.”

Commissioner Eddie Smotherman pointed out that “it could have been developed in ways that would be much worse” and moved to approve the development as proposed. His motion passed unanimously.

Rezoning to allow a new daycare/preschool to be called the Academy at Siegel across Thompson Lane from Siegel also was approved even though neighbors protested that it would increase traffic congestion and is unneeded.

Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at [email protected].

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