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A fond 'fair'-well

They don’t call it the Volunteer State for nothing, and the Wilson County Fair — Tennessee State Fair is no exception.

Helen McPeak is the executive director for Wilson County Promotions, the nonprofit organization responsible for putting on the fair each year, and she said it simply could not happen without the tireless effort of the fair’s 1,600 volunteers.

Joe Holbrook is one such volunteer. He’s actually been associated with the fair even longer than Wilson County Promotions.

Holbrook oversees the motorsports arena on the fairgrounds and all the events that take place on the dirt course, such as the demolition derby and the various tractor pulls.

On Friday, Holbrook said, “It’s not like coming in and just setting up a tent. We have a different event out here every night.”

After each event, Holbrook said the arena has to be repaired for the event scheduled to take place the next day. “With all the rain, it can sometimes be a problem, but we’ve been able to have most of the events we scheduled.”

While certain volunteers are assigned to different committees around the grounds, Holbrook said everyone assists where they can. “If someone isn’t busy, they’ll come over and ask how they can help out.”

“To make this happen and happen on time, it takes everyone working together. It’s an effort between everyone on the ground.”

Holbrook’s time with the fair dates back over 40 years, and it’s a love he has passed down to his sons, Michael and Greg. The transplant from Smith County has lived in Wilson County since 1969 and said that he’s glad he can bond with his sons over something they’re all passionate about.

The most rewarding part for him is “seeing everything come together.”

“People around me are dedicated to making things happen,” he said.

“Whatever your hobby is or whatever you’re interested in, whether it’s art or crops or what have you, we try to provide a place for them to display or view that interest. That’s what makes the fair such a success.”

While Holbrook’s role largely centers on one area of the park, another volunteer, Lynette Taylor’s responsibilities encircle the entire grounds. The 25-year fair veteran is in charge of supervising volunteers handling the entrances and admissions.

“We like to have at least a minimum of five volunteers working per entrance,” she said Friday, which works out to about 45 volunteers per day for all the different gates.

For a 10-day fair, manning all those entrances every day is no easy task. “It takes a very large committee of individuals.”

Taylor said the most important task she and her committee of volunteers face is streamlining the entrance process for guests, something made easier by an electronic ticketing system that she said she is thankful for, “especially this year, since it allows guests contactless entry.”

It’s not just entering the fair either, as guests are welcome to come and go. Managing that kind of volume in a timely manner isn’t easy, but Taylor recognizes the importance of making it seamless. “Most people’s first impression is a lasting impression. We want to make sure to get them in and into the fun.”

Her work hardly starts when the fair opens though, as she and her committee start planning months in advance to develop things they see as a need or interest.

“A lot of different factors go into the discounts we offer, but it allows us to have a reasonable cost of admission to offer families,” she said.

Attracting volunteers to help put on the fair has never presented much of a problem, but Taylor said they still like to incentivize those who do donate their time to the organization. For every volunteer who commits 20 hours and officially becomes a committee member, they also get a season pass for their family members to come and enjoy the fair.

“We want it to be family friendly for everyone, including our volunteers.”

Taylor said that assigning volunteers to specific roles and responsibilities is usually based upon their interests.

“We want them to express their interest, and we do our best to put them where they want to be.”

She commended the volunteers for their loyalty and all their hard work. “It’s a living group. You have to be flexible and take things on a day to day basis as needs arise.”

It’s all worth it in the end though according to Taylor. “We just want our guests to come enjoy what we have to offer whether it’s the entertainment, food or the rides.”

Today is the last day, too, so don’t miss a chance to see Tennessee’s largest fair for yourself. Go to www.wilsoncountyfair.net for more information.

TCAT students place at national competition

Kenton Smith

For the first time ever, students from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Hartsville campus have won medals at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference.

Kenton Smith of Castilian Springs took home a gold medal in his competition, related technical math. Smith studies machine tool technology at TCAT and is currently doing an internship in Mt. Juliet at DESTACO, working in the machining field of the engineering department. His instructor William Butrum said, “Kenton is an excellent student and we are very proud of his accomplishment.”

Lebanon’s Amber Overstreet took home a silver medal in the customer service competition. Overstreet is a student in TCAT’s administrative office technology program.

Overstreet said Thursday, “It is a blessing to be recognized on a national level. I honestly went into the results just thanking God and my peers and family I had gotten as far as being a top-10 finalist.”

She said when her name was called that she couldn’t believe it. “I was overjoyed and completely shocked that I got second place.”

For Overstreet, the recognition felt like the culmination of a lot of hard work. “I feel like four months of customer service training definitely paid off,” she said. “I was able to put that training and hard work into real world experiences.”

Overstreet added, “I couldn’t have done it without the help of my instructors, Angie Anderson and Sheila Anderson. Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible.”

The competition may have been much steeper at the national level, but Overstreet called it an honor despite being “nerve-racking.”

Sheila Anderson, the SkillsUSA lead advisor at TCAT Hartsville, said in an email Friday, “It took lots of planning and coordination to gather and evaluate the technical standards needed from career professionals to recognize the talent of so many contestants.”

The 2021 SkillsUSA National Conference was held virtually from June 7 to June 22 and the live awards session aired on June 24. In total, 23 Tennesseans competed across 18 events bringing home 10 gold medals, four silver medals and nine bronze medals.

While this is the first time TCAT Hartsville students have placed in the top-three of their respective categories, the school has had several students in the past compete at the national level.

The standards on which the competitors are judged remain the same as they are at the state level, according to Anderson. To qualify for nationals, competitors had to place first in their category at the state level which Overstreet and Smith both did earlier this year.

MJ planning panel OKs high-end auto dealership

The Mt. Juliet Planning Commission gave a positive recommendation to Velocity Motors’ preliminary master development plan Thursday. The matter now goes to the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners.

Velocity Motors is described as a by-appointment only, fully enclosed auto dealership for high-end luxury and exotic cars located. It will be located on Northwest Rutland Road and will feature a 50,000-square-foot building with a showroom, a parts and services center, and an auto spa on the first floor, and an open-air patio on the second floor.

C.J. Murrell, managing partner for 615 Design Group, a Smyrna-based civil engineering group and Velocity Motors’ developer, said Velocity wanted their dealership to be in a secluded location. He said Velocity has outgrown its current location in Nashville and wants to move its headquarters to Mt. Juliet.

He said there will not be any test driving around NW Rutland Road.

“Most of the people that are purchasing these vehicles already know what they want when they get there,” said Murrell.

Access to the site is proposed to be on Mt. Juliet Road through an access easement via the Bob Parks Realty building, and near NW Rutland Road via the parking lot of Pinnacle Bank. A roundabout is also proposed, on site, with a stub street to the west.

Resident Thomas Birdwell said he and his wife Mitzi are both concerned over potential traffic issues. The Birdwells, whose property is adjacent to the Velocity site, said the access points will create a tight squeeze for those trying to enter from Mt. Juliet Road.

“I’m not an engineer, but when they pull in to try to go between Pinnacle Bank and Bob Parks, it looks like anybody coming out of Bob Parks will walk into a truck if one is coming,” said Birdwell.

He requested that the commission add a 6-foot privacy fence as well as higher trees on Velocity’s property.

Public Works Director Andy Barlow said the optimal place to have a fence for Velocity would be closer to the curb line.

Birdwell pointed out that this dealership sits at a higher elevation than his property.

“We want to block their property so when we sit on our back porch, we don’t look over and see their brick building siting out there,” said Birdwell.

Birdwell also requested to have his property monitored for damage if the developers blast on Velocity’s site.

Planning Commission member and District 3 Commissioner Scott Hefner assured that the Birdwells and other neighbors near Velocity will each receive both pre-blasting and post-blasting inspection if the blasting comes within 500 feet of their properties.

Murrell said the dealership will not use an intercom system for their services and will only use text messaging.

“Velocity Motors is going to bring people to Mt. Juliet, especially those who would not normally come here,” said Hefner.

Appeals board approves B&B at Circle S Farms

The Wilson County Board of Zoning Appeals approved plans for a bed and breakfast facility in Lebanon during its meeting Thursday, but denied a commercial operation’s continuance in a residentially zoned district.

The Damelyn Rose Farmhouse will feature a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom floor plan and will be located on a 31-acre tract on Gwynn Lane, part of the Circle S Farms also known as the Graves-Wright Farm. According to the Circle S Farms’ website, the farm has been run by the same family since before the Civil War.

Where the proposed bed and breakfast will be is less than a mile away from owner and operator Donnie Steed’s homestead on Old Laguardo Road. The property consists of 5.02 acres and is zoned A-1 Agricultural.

In addition to the basement and storm shelter, there will be multiple accommodations including a moderate sized kitchen and an open-floor living room. There is also a roundabout in the yard where parking for up to six cars will be available, and a fully-functioning platted private sewer system.

Steed plans to list the property on AirBnB, a company that operates an online marketplace for lodging, primarily homestays for vacation rentals, and tourism activities.

Steed does not plan to offer breakfast, per his proposal to the board, but guests will have access to the kitchen to cook freely for themselves.

Wilson County Planning Director Tom Brashear said the reason this had to come before the board of zoning appeals was because it’s considered a “use permissible on appeal,” which means it wasn’t previously denied by the Planning Commission, like many cases the board normally hears.

Sneed’s proposal met unanimous board approval, but Board Member Perry Neal did add to the requirements for that approval a noise ordinance that would be in effect from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. as well as a limit on guests per stay to six.

The limit on guests pertains to the sewer and septic capacity on site as outlined in county bylaws.

The use was approved for a year, after which time, the board will revisit it for renewal so long as there aren’t any major disruptions caused by its presence.

Double E’s gets the axe

Another commercial entity’s owners didn’t get the outcome they were hoping for after the board struck down a lawn service and tree cutting company’s request to continue operating on a site zoned residential.

Double E’s Dirtworks and Tree Service is a small family owned business that operates out of a property on Nonaville Road in Mt. Juliet. The property is approximately 10 acres but because of its zoning, several of the surrounding parcels feature residential homesteads.

The owner of the property, Patricia Albino, officially filed the appeal for approval to continue using the site, but the company is run by Evan Edwards, her son. The appeal would have allowed for the property’s use as the site of the company and for the burning of the foliage brought back from off-site jobs.

Brashear said that complaints about the company began last year, and included large equipment launching from the property each morning, large fires from a burn pit, and loud noise from a wood chipper on site.

Speaking on behalf of her constituents, County Commissioner Lauren Breeze said, “What they are running is something that should be done in a commercial or industrial zone.”

Brashear said his staff recommended denial on the grounds that the zoning prohibits the operation of a commercial business in that district.

Edwards did not dispute that his company stores equipment on the property, but asked the board how it was any different than other homeowners keeping a tractor or lawn mower at their house.

The board did not see it that way, and agreed that while it may have started as a small business, its growth to its current stage prompted their denial of the request.

In a phone call Friday, Edwards said that he does intend to comply with the board and will seek another property elsewhere in a properly zoned district to conduct his business.

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