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Planning commission denies request to use emergency gate at LHS
Oct 10, 2012 4:20 pm
The Lebanon Planning Commission gave a decisive thumbs down Tuesday to allowing traffic from Lebanon High School to exit the campus onto Hickory Ridge Road.
Another plan on the table was for the city to make two lanes entering the campus from Hartmann Drive from 7:20-7:45 a.m. each morning to increase the traffic flow and cut down on cars backing up on Hartmann Drive.
The commission held the meeting to review the county school system's formal request that parents who drop off children at the beginning of the school day be allowed to exit left only onto Hickory Ridge Road between 7:20-7:45 a.m. with a school traffic officer on duty to open, close and lock the gate at the designated times.
Jim Harrison and Gillian Fischbach with Civil Site Design were at the meeting representing the school system's request to open the emergency gate at the new Lebanon High School to allow parents dropping off students to exit the campus into the residential neighborhood.
Residents of Hickory Ridge Road and surrounding streets came to the meeting to voice their concerns and opposition to the plan. They were particularly upset the school system wanted to open the gate when they had been assured the gate would only be used for emergencies when the school plan was first approved.
Wilson County Schools Director Mike Davis had requested that a traffic plan be put in place on a trial basis through Dec. 31, and during that time traffic counts would be made to determine how many vehicles use this exit and the effect on Hickory Ridge Road and surrounding streets could be evaluated.
Planning Commissioner Pam Black questioned the Civil Design pair about the possibility of traffic using the emergency gate at the same time there was an actual emergency.
Several residents of neighborhoods surrounding the school spoke in opposition to the plan.
Larry Oakley, of Westland Drive, said he didn't believe there had been a traffic study conducted near his home at 7 a.m.
"We can't back out now," he said. "Don't just put a Band-Aid on the problem, make the school system fix it."
David Gibb said he worries about the future when 20 acres behind his house are developed. He said it will mean even more traffic in those neighborhoods around the school.
"The school agreed to one way in and one way out," Gibb said. "As far as I'm concerned, they can live with it."
Tommy Knowles said one of his neighbors has had three cars in her yard as a result of drivers taking a Hickory Ridge Road curve above the speed limit. He also questioned the part of the plan that had a traffic officer making sure only parents used the gate.
"Don't give us more traffic; get it fixed," Knowles said. "Who's going to stop every car coming out and ask 'Are you a parent?' How else are they going to do it?"
Janice Phipps summed up the feeling of the neighbors in attendance.
"Don't let them open that exit," she said. "You made us a promise, don't break it.
Larry Hubbard took an opposing view to most of the audience.
"Why isn't this school allowed to use a public street like all the other schools can?" he asked. "That's just life when you live near a school. The people going to that school pay taxes."
County Commissioner and Planning Commissioner Joe Hayes didn't mince words when he explained the difference.
"They agreed not to use this thing," he said. "That driveway is not fit to come out of. It's a poor, poor design."
Planning Commissioner Beulah Garrett also responded to Hubbard.
"They came to us, and we made a promise that we wouldn't allow them to use Hickory Ridge Road," she said. "We have to stick to that now."
Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead said it was best to "divide the question" into approval of changing the lanes and another motion to address opening the gate.
"The biggest concern of the city is Hartmann Drive and making it safe," Craighead said, adding that future growth on Hartmann Drive might make it possible to build another access road to the school.
Commission Chairman Robert Schmidt agreed the two items should be voted on separately. The first motion was about whether to open the emergency gate. The commission voted unanimously to forbid the gate being used for school traffic. The second motion was to re-stripe the lanes on Hartmann Drive to allow two lanes to enter the campus in the morning, but Schmidt said that had already been approved by the commission at an earlier meeting.
Commissioner Rick Jones then moved that the traffic engineers return to the commission in January to update them on how the traffic plan was working. The commission voted to do just that.
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 444-3952, ext. 45 or firstname.lastname@example.org.