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Rezoning issue draws Lebanon citizens' concerns

Camille Burdine

Jeni Lind Brinkman

The matter of housing density once again emerged as a contentious issue during the latest Lebanon City Council meeting on Tuesday evening.

This time, the scope was pointed at a potential rezoning to make way for a development near Carver Lane. Prior to the public hearing, the item was actually dropped from the meeting’s agenda to be revisited at a later date.

Despite the deferral, those who came to city hall to express their concerns about the townhome development still took the podium to air those grievances.

Former Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said that he felt like the area near Carver Lane already had a sufficient number of town homes, remarking, “more than any other place in the city.”

Many of the comments seemed centered around a deviation from a long-term development plan passed by the city earlier this year.

“What happened to the future land use plan the city passed six months ago,” asked Wayne Oakley, a Lebanon-based architect and resident of this neighborhood. “We’re just asking you to do what you said you would do with that plan.”

Rezoning proved to be the crux of the voices from the crowd. One complainant, James Barlow, said that he lives inside Farmington Woods, a neighborhood that would be impacted by the development of the townhomes.

“We’re not against development ... we’re against rezoning,” Barlow said.

The matter even stirred Wilson County Commissioner Rusty Keith to get up and speak out against the rezoning. His take was that infrastructure improvements should come first before any new development.

Once the microphones returned to the councilors, they sought to set the record straight about this development and the general development approval process.

“People think we are the only ones voting on this, but it goes through several stages to get here,” said councilor Camille Burdine.

Burdine was referring to the Lebanon Planning Commission process of recommending or not recommending a proposed development. In this case, the planning commission had voted unanimously to recommend denial.

Burdine also noted how that many of the aggrieved had shared their feedback and then left. She encouraged those with concerns for the city to come to the planning commission meetings and learn the process through which projects like these are either approved or denied.

“I didn’t understand how a lot of this stuff works either until I joined the city council,” said councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman, confirming Burdine’s point that civic engagement isn’t a one-way street.

Other city news

The second reading of an ordinance that would remove automotive repair and cleaning from allowed uses to the conditional uses in the general commercial zoned district also passed.

“We all know we have enough car washes as it is,” Burdine said.

This measure had been championed by Burdine after the market for these businesses got, in her words, out of control.

Another move by the city established a demolition moratorium on structures in areas being considered for historic preservation districts and landmarks. This bill was proposed by Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell and the chairman of the historic preservation commission, John Foutch.

Bell explained during the meeting that it would not be a permanent moratorium but that it would move to protect such properties or landmarks under consideration for preservation until it could be determined if such measures were warranted.

The demolition of a site on the town’s historic driving tour in September sparked an uproar. When the Nathan Green House on West Main was torn down, organizations like Historic Lebanon and the city’s historic preservation commission began working with the city to establish this protective barrier for houses deemed historically significant.

Both measures passed with full council approval.

A holiday home run

If two is better than one, then, three must qualify as an extravaganza.

That’s what the Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce is thinking.

Lebanon will have many of its favorite holiday events mesh together over one weekend as its Tis the Season Weekend Extravaganza will take place on the Lebanon square from Dec. 3-5.

“There’s something for everyone on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce President Melanie Minter said.

In the past, the Christmas tree on the square was lit on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, followed by the Christmas parade on the first Sunday in December and then the Christmas on the square retail experience on the Saturday after the Christmas parade.

Now, all three of those events will take place during the weekend extravaganza.

“We’ve never gone to this extreme before,” Minter said. “We’ll kick it off with that Christmas tree lighting. The mayor (Rick Bell) will come out and light it.”

Minter came up with the concept of combining it all into a weekend event, approaching Bell with the idea in February.

“He was totally on board,” Minter said. “We talked about what the Chamber contributed and what the city contributed. They’re going to be doing a lot with the decorations and the public safety. We couldn’t do this without them doing that.

“With him being on board with having the total weekend to highlight the city, it was extremely encouraging.”

The tree lighting will take place at 5 p.m. on Friday, followed by a choir performance at 5:30.

Then, at 7 p.m., country music artist Wade Hayes — who has two gold albums to his credit — will be in concert.

Saturday’s activities will include photos with Santa from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., shopping at the area retail outlets throughout the day, music by the C-Dock Boyz at 1 p.m., music by Janelle Arthur (a Nashville recording artist who was a top-five contestant on “American Idol”) at 4 p.m., Historic Lebanon’s Historic Places Tour from 5 p.m. until 8:30, and a viewing of “Home Alone” at the Capitol Theatre beginning at 8 a.m.

Both Arthur and Hayes will perform a mix of Christmas favorites and their top hits.

“This is promoting what we have to offer,” Minter said. “It’s promoting our square, our stores and the entertainment we can provide. It’s bringing the community together at a different level … and they can choose their time.

“It’s just kind of a cool weekend to prepare for the rest of the holiday season.”

On both Friday and Saturday, the agricultural learning center will be open in addition to a live nativity scene and an ice skating rink, and on Saturday, there will also be a kid zone, carriage rides and an IMAGINE THAT! Art Studio set-up.

On Sunday, the Jingle Jog Fun Run returns for the first time since 2012 and will start at 1 p.m.

“The Jingle Jog is an extra feature,” Minter said.

Life-long Lebanon resident Susie Hunt James — the WANT FM 98.9/WCOR AM 1490 radio station owner — will serve as the grand marshal of the Christmas parade at 2 p.m.

Individuals can also write letters to Santa all weekend long.

“The planning that has gone into this has taken over six months,” Minter said. “We decided to do this for tourism purposes and for people in surrounding areas to come so that we can show off what we have in Lebanon. We’re really excited about that. We are excited that it’s on three days. You can come on Friday or Saturday or spend a whole weekend. If people know it’s one weekend, they’re more than likely to spend their time. Whether they’re in the city, out of the city or in the county, they’re going to want to come and be a part of what we do in Lebanon. We hope that people invite their friends and family.

“It just gives the community a time where they can support businesses and can also have a wonderful, family, Christmas experience.”

Cumberland receives generational donation

Cumberland University has been around for 179 years. In all that time, it’s never been on the receiving end of a donation like the one it announced last week when an alum pledged $5 million to the Phoenix.

Millard Vaughan Oakley and J.J. Oakley of Livingston committed the money, which will be used to name the school of humanities, education and the arts fund an expansion to the entrance of the Memorial Hall building and to support the needs of the school for years to come.

“Administration and faculty of the (new) Millard and J.J. Oakley School of Humanities, Education and the Arts are in the planning process for determining how to best use this gift to benefit the school,” said University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Bill McKee.

Far from strictly structural upgrades, the donation should assist in talent retention and financial-aid availability.

“We do know that this gift will fund student scholarships as well as assist the university in retaining our best and brightest faculty,” McKee said.

For Cumberland University President Dr. Paul C. Stumb, having such a distinguished alumnus make a gift like this fills him with gratification.

“We are so very proud of Millard Oakley, his accomplishments as an attorney, businessman, entrepreneur, and public servant and honored to list him as a graduate of our university,” said Stumb in a press release. “We are most appreciative of this truly transformative gift to which he and J.J. have committed.”

According to Stumb, the contribution was made out of Oakley’s philanthropic approach to life.

“Millard (Oakley) has told me that we should put more into society than we take out,” Stumb said.

The president added that he expects the donation will serve to “improve the educational experience for generations to come.”

Mr. Oakley graduated from Cumberland School of Law in 1951. He practiced law in Livingston for nearly 20 years before serving as general counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Small Business from 1971-1973.

From 1975-1979, Oakley served as insurance commissioner for the state of Tennessee. Since 1980, Oakley has been engaged in business investments and real-estate ventures.

That’s a long resume for someone who claims they “weren’t a very good student when they attended Cumberland.” Oakley’s wife J.J. cosigned the gift

For a man who operated a shoeshine stand at age 15 in his hometown to even be able to afford room, board and tuition, being able to give so much back now means the world.

“Cumberland provided me with a very good education, but it also opened doors of opportunity and created valued and lasting relationships,” said Oakley.

Oakley stressed the importance of higher education and said that he and his wife were “grateful to be able to give back to future Cumberland students.”

Mrs. Oakley holds a degree in nursing from West Virginia University, as well as a masters of nursing and law degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Mr. Oakley was recently on campus along with former Vice President Al Gore, participating as a speaker in the Peace Forum kickoff event that honored former U.S. Secretary of State and Cumberland alumnus Cordell Hull. His remarks were about the importance of hard work and the development of close personal ties with others.

The school of humanities, education and the arts is the last of Cumberland’s three schools to be named by a donor. Cumberland’s Labry School of Science, Technology and Business was named in 2002 by Edward Labry and the Rudy School of Nursing and Health Professions was named in 1991 by Jeanette C. Rudy.

Betting on a sure thing

Lebanon’s Empower Me Center is daring guests to roll the dice with them for a good cause at its annual casino night event tomorrow.

It all takes place at 6 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre, located just off the city square.

Empower Me Center Executive Director Michelle Hill said that Dice and Dreams Casino night is one of her organization’s main fundraisers.

“The money helps us be able to provide activities and opportunities to individuals with disabilities,” Hill said.

The Empower Me Center in Lebanon offers six weeks of summer day camp, single-day camps scattered throughout the year, annual festivals and events, in addition to recreational and adult programs.

It also hosts a Christmas camp, snowball dance, and basketball league, with each program specifically adapted to the physical and intellectual abilities of the participants.

These professionally-led programs provide a safe, positive learning and social environment for children and adults while also educating the larger community about how individuals live with disabilities and encouraging overall inclusiveness.

Some of the adult programs instruct participants through arts and crafts, recreation and field trips. Each program in some way helps advance those participants’ life skills, like ordering from a restaurant or checking out at the grocery store. Those programs can also include household tasks like cooking, self-care and pet care.

Without events like the Dice and Dreams casino night, those services might not exist.

According to Hill, the casino night typically helps the organization raise up to $20,000. She called the event a “welcomed blessing” for what it enables the Empower Me Center to do.

Dice and Dreams is hardly the center’s only fundraiser. An annual golf tournament has become a center mainstay, and earlier this year for the first time ever, the center held a luncheon in April. Hill said that the turnout at the luncheon was even better than they had hoped, and she expects it to serve as a major fundraiser moving forward.

Entertainment and offerings

Numerous casino games will be available for guests to play. Those include poker, blackjack, craps and roulette. The price of admission also grants guests $10,000 of casino money to bet with.

An open bar and hors d’oeuvres is also included with the price of admission. Town Square Social will be preparing the food.

A silent auction for signed memorabilia and other items await winning bidders, with additional casino prizes available for the luckiest winners of the evening.

The event has been held at the Capitol Theatre since it began 5 years ago. Of the partnership, Hill said that theatre owner Bob Black has been great to work with.

“We are very fortunate in Lebanon to have such a wonderful facility to host events like this,” Hill added.

How to get involved

There are two different ways to volunteer at the Empower Me Center, directly and indirectly. The former involves direct engagement with the center’s participants, so one would act as a buddy to assist in various activities.

Indirect volunteers work on things such as the Dice and Dreams fundraiser, serving on various committees and assisting with the publication of the center’s newsletter.