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MJ planners OK apartments despite protests

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MT. JULIET -- After nearly 3 hours of discussion, the Mt. Juliet Planning Commission voted 4-3 Thursday night to approve the final master plan for Meridian at Providence Trail, a proposed 11-building complex of 225 apartments on about 14 acres behind Providence MarketPlace.

The meeting room at City Hall was crowded mainly with Providence-area residents who were there to oppose the construction of yet another apartment complex in their neighborhood.

One neighbor, Susan Youngblood, expressed her concerns this way: “Everybody’s laughing at Providence now. We outgrew what we meant to do. Now it’s too crowded. We need more stable development.”

Others agreed, saying the development of more apartment complexes is negatively affecting Providence residents’ quality of life.

District 4 City Commissioner Jim Bradshaw also asked the Planning Commission to turn the new construction down due to the population density in the area, which he represents.

“There are 1,046 apartment units now,” Bradshaw told the commission, noting “1,182 more are being built. Six hundred nine – including these 225 – are pending approval, and about 1,200 more are proposed, all in this area.”

Bradshaw also said that since the plan was already approved in earlier stages by the City Commission, this would be the final vote. “It’s up to you,” he said.

Another area resident, Julie Lambert, said, “Most of the neighbors are opposed to this. Homeowners take pride in their property. Renters don’t.”

Bonnie Beach, who lives directly across Providence Trail from the proposed apartments, said that seniors are very concerned about the population density in the area.

“We are highly opposed to any more apartments,” she said.

 Tiffany Vaughn, also a Providence resident, said she wants the developers to consider including more retail space in the development, which is zoned as Commercial Mixed Use (CMU).

“We would approve a 50-50 mix,” Vaughn said. “The entire first floor could be retail, with apartments above.”

But Rob Porter of Civil Site Design Group, representing developers Rochford Realty and Construction Co., responded that the developers have made the changes that the Planning Commission requested when Meridian was brought before the commission last month.

“We are committed to improving the architecture,” Porter said, adding that the developers are including more retail space, too.

The older plan had three small retail bays totaling about 3,200 feet, he said. “We’ve added two more spaces for a total of 5,000 square feet, and we’re setting aside a 400-square-foot area for a police substation at the request of the city.”

Nevertheless, planning commissioners Brian Abston and Art Giles, who also represents District 3 on the City Commission, both requested that additional criteria be met.

Abston asked Rochford to consider paying for a traffic light at the corner of Belinda Parkway and Providence Trail; to pay an additional $2,500 per unit in impact fees; and to pay $100,000 for added police officers, $250,000 to the schools, and $250,000 for added fire protection.

Giles’ request was smaller. He asked Rochford to consider building some sidewalks along Belinda Parkway, even though Meridian wouldn’t front on Belinda Parkway. He requested the sidewalk because he said that children from the proposed apartments would walk along the thoroughfare to and from local schools.

All these requests were turned down. Porter pointed out that Rochford is already paying about $900,000 in impact fees to the city for sewer service. He added that the development would pay county property taxes, which pay for schools.

Porter also said that conversations with City Manager Kenny Martin led him to believe the city police and fire protection would be adequate.

Planning Commissioner Phil Smartt added that the original agreement with the city concerning the entire Providence development overlay was that the city would pay for traffic lights as they were needed.

Then Tom White, attorney for Rochford, told the commissioners that legally, they had a responsibility to approve this development.

“Legally, it meets the conditions in the regulations,” the developers’ lawyer said. “Legally, it needs to be approved.”

After City Attorney Gino Marchetti confirmed that White was correctly representing the laws, Commission Chair Luke Winchester said that while he understood the concerns of the residents, the commission is required to follow the regulations.

At which point Providence resident Gary Cates came to the microphone to ask, “What if they put it in your backyard, would you approve it then?”

Commissioner Lori Landry responded, “No disrespect, but you are in my backyard. When you came here, we didn’t want you, either, but now we’re glad to have you. There was a 1,000-acre farm where you live. It’s not that we don’t hear you or understand you. This is in my backyard, too.”

Finally, Abston said that he’s fully aware of the law and the consequences, but he would vote against the plan. He then made a motion to turn the plan down, saying, “There needs to be a time when we stand for what we want, and we want to turn this down.”

But while commissioners Giles and Kelly Morgan voted with him, the other four commissioners did not, and Abston’s motion failed, 3-4. Then a second motion made by Smartt to approve the development was passed, 4-3, with the same three commissioners voting no.

In other action, the commissioners also approved a site plan for the Community Help Center on North Mt. Juliet Road to double the size of its building, waiving the requirement for sidewalks along Hatfield Lane, which is a dead-end, one-lane street.

They also approved the final plans for Windtree Trace on Nonaville Road and for Beckwith Crossing on Beckwith Road.

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

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Meridian at Providence Trail, Mt. Juliet Planning Commission
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