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PUD approvals may be put on hold
Jan 30, 2007 12:00 am
A developer's lawsuit against the city for denying a large subdivision on Bethlehem Road has prompted a city councilor to propose allowing no new Planned Unit Development projects until the lawsuit is settled.
COST Enterprises, developer of the proposed Chestnut Ridge project, sued the city in December, claiming the City Council arbitrarily and capriciously denied the 116-acre development and asks the Wilson County Chancery Court to overturn the City Council's decision and leave the final decision to the Lebanon Planning Commission. The Planning Commission passed it in February 2006.
A planned unit development (PUD) generally allows for denser residential lots than the underlying zoning allows, adding in common green spaces and allowing for mixed-use developments. Per the city's charter these must also be approved by the City Council, whereas most developments using the standard zoning need only the nod of the Planning Commission.
Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer said the possibility of control of PUDs being taken out of the hands of city councilors and into the hands of an appointed board justifies holding up new PUDs until the court rules on the issue.
His resolution calls for the Council not to consider any PUDs submitted after March 1 "until the legal authority issues … have been resolved."
Any PUDs filed before that date, Farmer said, would not be affected.
"If [the Planning Commission] has final say on the PUD, why should we be involved?" Farmer said. "The law requires that we have to agree. The Chestnut Ridge lawsuit basically says we were arbitrary and capricious … because we didn't adopt what they adopted."
Preventing introduction of PUDs does not necessarily hamper development, Farmer said.
"We need to concentrate on bringing jobs," Farmer said. "Jobs bring rooftops,and rooftops bring in retail development. And I mean meaningful jobs, not jobs for fast-food."
Lebanon Mayor Don Fox said PUDs are the most-requested proposal for residential areas and said a blanket resolution stopping all PUDs until the court resolves the issue could have a devastating effect on development in Lebanon.
"That's sending a message to your Targets … to all your big-box retail that we are recruiting, schmoozing to get them to locate here … that they don't even need to invest in looking at our city because we're not as development friendly," Fox said.
Fox said the ability of PUDs to blend medium and high-density residential along with commercial property appeals to developers.
City Planner Magi Tilton said there were three PUDs currently at some stage in the planning process, with one up for second reading at the next City Council meeting.
More than a dozen PUDs have been considered in the past two years. Tilton said there likely "would be a negative impact [on residential growth], but the ones in the pipeline will go through."
Filed earlier this month, the suit asks the Wilson County Chancery Court to overturn the City Council's denial of the planned unit development (PUD) and give final approval authority to the Lebanon Planning Commission.
The company, Cost Enterprises LLC, also seeks attorney fees "for a violation of [Cost's] constitutional rights."
The business deal with Chestnut Ridge – a proposed development on 116 acres located at Bethlehem Road – involves Assistant to the Mayor Debbie Jessen, whose role in the project is currently under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and 15th Judicial District Attorney General Tommy Thompson.
The proposed Chestnut Ridge development, which passed the Planning Commission upon first consideration in February, has been deferred by the City Council several times, citing possible stormwater issues and the ongoing investigation. Councilors finally denied Chestnut Ridge in November.
The suit states an independent engineer was hired to review the project's plans to ensure they comply with city requirements. However, the suit states the Council's Nov. 21 denial of the project "was illegal, arbitrary and/or capricious."