MT. JULIET -- The number of apartments in Mt. Juliet will double when the ones currently under construction are completed, and the number will triple if the apartments which developers are currently proposing are approved and built, according to City Planner Bo Logan.
The City Commission recently considered and rejected imposing a moratorium on building new apartments in Mt. Juliet, on the grounds that the city’s infrastructure needs time to catch up with providing services for all those new residents.
But Mark Hinesley, president of the Mt. Juliet-West Wilson County Chamber of Commerce, said that concern simply doesn’t hold water.
There’s plenty of space for new apartments all over town, Hinesley said – not only in Providence, where the proposed construction of the Meridian apartment complex drew fervent opposition from neighboring residents before the City Commission approved it along with requested upgrades.
Furthermore, apartment construction is going on all over town and more is being planned all over town, Hinesley said and Logan confirmed.
“Apartments are rooftops, and rooftops are good for our local economy,” Hinesley told members of the Chamber’s Economic Development Council at its August meeting.
All the multi-family units, which include apartments, townhomes and duplexes, are part of the city’s future land use plan, Logan said in an interview Wednesday. It’s a matter of where these homes should be built to fit into the city’s vision for its future, he explained.
“Because of the plan, sometimes I have to tell developers no,” he said. “In fact, I’ve had to tell three developers no in the last week. Even though I had to say no, I also told them that they build quality products, but there is an appropriate place for them to go.”
Logan also said he strongly believes it’s his job to ensure that the wishes of the city leaders, as expressed by the Future Land Use and Traffic Plan, are followed.
“It is my emphasis as a planner to follow the land use plan,” he said.
However, that plan is not a static document. It periodically is revised and updated, a process which Logan is currently involved in, along with other members of a 16-person steering committee.
Those members include representatives from the Planning Commission such as Commissioner Brian Abston, representatives of the City Commission such as Mayor Ed Hagerty, real estate agents, developers and other private citizens.
Planning Commission Chair Luke Winchester said he attends the meetings, but only to listen from the back, where he usually sits. “I’ll get to express my opinion later,” he said.
That will take place when the steering committee’s recommendation is given to the Planning Commission, and the revised Future Land Use and Traffic Plan is approved or amended by the commission sometime next spring.
Unlike zoning changes and site development plans, which are given either a positive or negative recommendation by the Planning Commission, then voted on by the City Commission, with the land use plan, the buck stops with the Planning Commission. It makes the final decision.
However, ongoing developments under the existing land use plan will play a major role in the future face of Mt. Juliet, too, Logan pointed out.
He said he expects to see numerous new multi-family homes in areas other than Providence, pointing out that Nichols Vale in the northwest section of the city is already approved for several townhomes.
“Hickory Station on West Division will be starting work on some townhomes, too,” Logan added. “And there is a multi-family development being planned for the Nonaville Road area.”
Logan and City Engineer Jessica Gore both said they expect to see more high-density or apartment homes in areas near I-40, such as near the Beckwith interchange and, as soon as it’s built, the proposed Central Pike interchange.
Those will be the next boom areas, Logan predicted.
For an example of this type of development, Gore pointed out the apartment buildings along I-40 near Hermitage.
“There are several multi-family complexes near I-40 there,” she said. “They don’t have as much trouble with the traffic because there’s more than one route to I-40. They can enter either at Old Hickory or at Stewart’s Ferry.”
Gore also said she thinks adding the Central Pike interchange will help with some of the traffic problems now being experienced in the south end of Mt. Juliet.
She and new Assistant City Engineer Andy Barlow have been studying what other communities are doing about traffic impact fees as well.
“His area is traffic engineering,” Gore said. “So we’re using his expertise to help us update the traffic segment of our future plans.”
Gore added that her city department, Public Works, is also considering the possibility that traffic impact fees could allow Mt. Juliet to create a “bank to build new streets and sidewalks as we need them.”
Logan stepped up as city planner six months ago, and Gore took on her job four months ago, so she pointed out they both are “still brainstorming about solutions. The last thing we want is, in five years, for someone to say we were asleep at the wheel.”
She explained that each new development has to go through a number of steps to prove its worth: “We require traffic studies, and studies to determine the impact on sewer capacity. We also try to get developers to build in upgrades so they will be there when they are needed.”
When citizens have come to recent City Commission and Planning Commission meetings to express their concerns about new development in town, Logan and Gore were able to answer most of the concerns – but some people were still not sure about the effects of added population, including fire and police issues.
But Assistant Fire Chief Jamie Luffman said he thinks the Fire Department will see the city’s burgeoning growth, including all the new apartments, as an opportunity.
“We’re going to double down on fire prevention,” Luffman said. Since Fire Marshal Dwayne Hicks works with developers, he makes sure new multi-family units have fire alarms and sprinkler systems to lower the risks, Luffman explained.
“We are here both to prevent and to protect,” he said.
One other issue raised by residents in the Providence area is that some of the apartments could deteriorate over time and become an eyesore.
But Dennis Buchanan, the city’s community relations director, responded to that issue by pointing out, “These are high-end apartments, renting for $1,700 to $1,900 a month. You don’t make that kind of investment in a project and then let it get run-down. The managers will have strict rules to be sure that doesn’t happen.”
Logan and Winchester both suggested that citizens wanting to have more input into what types of housing can be built in their neighborhoods attend the public meetings about updating and revising the land use plan. In fact, Winchester strongly urged citizens to get involved.
“The steering committee will meet again in mid- to late September,” Logan said. “They will take input from people who attend those meetings and recommend a plan to the Planning Commission. Then the commission will vote on what the plan will say, and then we have to abide by that plan.”
Correspondent Connie Esh may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.