Some Lebanon business owners are voicing their concerns about a proposed redesign for the Square.
The proposal – which is currently on hold – would eliminate all parking from the center and create parking quads in front of the businesses.
“I’m not against safety, nor am I against trying to make the Square look better,” said William Farmer, whose law offices are on West Main near the turnabout. “However, the present design of what I call the ‘Whip Around Gen. Hatton’ is going to cause a problem for the merchants on the Square.”
Farmer said his primary concern with the proposed renovations was that they would take considerable time to complete, and the interruption could be too much for several of the businesses to handle.
“You’re going to impact these small businesses, and these shop owners will go out of business,” said Farmer.
Carolyn Markham, owner of Markham’s Shoes, and Jack Cato, who owns several properties in Lebanon, both agree.
“If you shut down our traffic and there’s no parking spaces, where’s our business going?” ask Markham. “When you shut us down then, you might as well close our doors.”
Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce president Sue Vanatta, who served on the committee that worked with Tennessee Department of Transportation officials to develop the proposed plan, indicated she didn’t expect the Square to close to traffic entirely.
“TDOT has never said that the Square will be closed down for the entire project,” said Vanatta. “They’re saying that sections will be closed down, but the traffic will always flow.”
She said she did not believe the project would harm existing businesses on the Square.
“If I believed that, I would not be for this project,” said Vanatta. “My daughter has a small business right here on the Square. If I was going to be concerned, don’t you think I’d be worrying about that?”
Markham and Cato said that the loss of parking spaces -- from the existing 108 to 75 – would also harm businesses.
Markham said if the parking quad in front of her shop were full, some of her older customers would just shop elsewhere because they wouldn’t be physically able to walk from another section of the square, and they told her they wouldn’t ride any sort of bus.
While Vanatta said the driving rationale behind the proposed changes is safety, Markham and Cato said they believe the proposed design would not only be more costly but would be more dangerous because people will could back out of parking spaces simultaneously and possibly hit a pedestrian.
They said a simple and less costly solution would be to post stoplights at each intersection with pedestrian crossing signs and the speed limit prominently marked.
“You put that red light there and a stop sign, they’ll stop,” said Markham. “That will fix our danger problem.”
“The city has tried that before,” said Vanatta. “Signage has been changed several times in the last 21 years that I’ve been here, but truthfully, if you stand out on that Square a few days – when they come in from 231, they’re not looking at signage.”
Farmer suggested stop signs might help, but he also said the current 15 mph speed limit needs to be posted more clearly and enforced more strictly.
“The biggest item is to have the police enforce what they should be enforcing,” said Farmer. “I think if you did that, you’d save a whole lot of taxpayers’ money.”