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Tightening up the zoning code

The saga of tweaking the Lebanon zoning code to eliminate a loophole that developers had been utilizing came to an end on Tuesday evening.

The Lebanon City Council approved a change that eliminated the loophole that allowed developers to utilize multi-use zoning to build apartment complexes in properties zoned as commercial neighborhoods (CN) and commercial service (CS).

“I think the CN and CS ordinance is a step in the right direction,” ward 4 council member Chris Crowell said. “Will it be something that we’ll revisit in the future? I’d say that it’s very possible that we will. It’s something that we’ll use to make the city a better place.”

The ordinance was approved on the second reading on Tuesday night.

“When this first came up, we talked about how there’s unintended consequences,” ward 6 council member Phil Moorehead said. “I think there’s more unintended consequences as a result of the original zoning being CS than what we thought as far as the number of apartment buildings going up. While I agree in that I don’t think that it’s perfect in its state as proposed tonight, I think it gets us a lot closer to where we want to be. If we need to revisit it down the road to tweak it, I’m all in favor of that as well.”

The ordinance was revised after the council received feedback from the community last Thursday.

Crowell made a motion to amend the ordinance to strike section 6 of the ordinance, which reads “that all Ordinances in conflict herewith are repealed to the extent of said conflict.”

“Section 6 does pertain to the property where Publix is on 109, the entire property” Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell said. “As a staff, as we were going through revisions last week, one of the things that we really thought about was that (this) was a development that we invested in as well, and it’s already in motion. There’s one phase left. I think that if everyone who had a CN development did (their development) like (Publix) did, this ordinance may not even be in front of you. They did a true mixed-use.”

The amendment was approved.

“This is a property that’s in ward 4,” Crowell said. “The thing that I would add in addition to that is that if this property had been proposed as an SP (specific planned district), which is usually my preference in the area that I represent, I would not have been in favor of the multi-family component, which this would allow.”

The change to the Lebanon zoning code was also approved and went into effect upon its approval.

Picking up the pace

On my Wednesday morning commute into the office, I kept to the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit as I made my way down Highway 109.

By that afternoon, I was in the back of a pace car, moving at 115 miles per hour in an oval at the Nashville Superspeedway.

As I waited my turn to ride along for a few laps, my nerves had me bouncing on the balls of my feet.

I awkwardly crawled into the back seat of the pace car, sitting behind Hartsville Vidette sports correspondent Jerry Richmond, and buckled myself in before NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Ben Rhodes took off.

We climbed in speed as we headed for the track. My nervous anticipation quickly faded into exhilaration as we sped along the concrete.

As the pace car zipped around the curves of the track, I felt my body pull to the side as we took our first turn. In front of me, Rhodes was explaining how some people can pass out from the g-forces created by the rapid acceleration.

We completed our first lap and headed back for round two. At some point during our laps, Jerry turned to Ben and let him know that the speed was getting to him.

Ben began to pull back towards pit road, and for a moment, I thought that our ride would be cut short. Then, Jerry told Ben to keep going, and we zoomed past the waiting crowd.

A short time later, the car pulled back into pit road, and we stumbled back into the media center, our legs wobbly like we’d just gotten off of a roller coaster at Disneyland.

Those hot laps on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-April will soon become much more heated when the NASCAR Cup Series ALLY 400 returns on June 25.

With a little more than two months to prepare, Nashville Superspeedway was available for a track preview day on Wednesday.

Members of the media were invited as Nashville Superspeedway General Manager Matt Greci, along with Rhodes and fellow NASCAR drivers Chris Buescher and Josh Williams, fielded questions.

“I’m just excited about this being our third year and (having) the ability to keep entertaining fans, also to be building a culture and community around sports and entertainment in the Nashville market,” Greci said.

Events like the track preview day help prepare the Nashville Superspeedway for events like the NASCAR Cup Series ALLY 400.

“This is a smaller-scale event, but with that comes logistics and planning and communication, which every event starts with, whether it’s small, medium or large,” Greci said. “These are good events to go through with a team to see what you need to do from an opperational standpoint. We’ll keep doing more of these. We’ve got a lot of events this year on our calendar, and we’ll keep building those.”

With the race coming up, there’s more preparation going into it than just hosting preview days.

“A lot of it is communication with our existing fans, attracting new fans, communicating our track times, our kids tickets, our opportunities for premium hospitality, camping, entertainment and what we have to offer as a venue,” Greci said.

This is Gerci’s first year as senior vice president and general manager of Nashville Superspeedway, having been appointed to that role last November.

“The year’s been hectic and busy, but rewarding” Greci said. “We’ve got a great team and our NASCAR weekend coming up at the end of June is one we’re planning heavily for. The culture and community and being in this area of Wilson County is important to us, even beyond our NASCAR event.”

Still a ways to go

When people pass by the future site of West Wilson Middle School on North Mt. Juliet Road in Mt. Juliet, the progress made on construction looks promising.

However, according to school officials, there’s still a ways to go before the school can reopen its doors.

“While the views from North Mt. Juliet Road look very encouraging, there’s still lots of construction to be done,” Wilson County School District Public Information Officer Bart Barker said. “When you’re talking about a near 186,000-square-foot structure — that includes the existing wing salvaged by the storm and Stoner Creek Elementary utilized while their school was being rebuilt — it takes some time to construct this massive building. Nonetheless, really great progress has been made since construction really took off late last year.”

While the progress on the outside is coming along, there will still be interior items, such as wiring and cables, that need to be installed once the exterior construction is complete. After those items are installed, fixtures, furniture and other tasks need to be done before the building can accommodate teachers and students.

The process of creating a new building to house West Wilson Middle School has been an ongoing project since the March 2020 tornadoes.

“Following the storm in March of 2020, many months were spent on clean-up and then working through financial channels to secure reconstruction funding — FEMA, insurance and county government,” Barker said. “Also, the school board was provided with multiple rounds of construction-proposal presentations and considerations when deciding the best course of action in rebuilding the school. The board worked very closely with local design and architectural representatives in making those decisions.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in the project, the demolition phase began in the summer of 2021.

“Being a large school, that process took some time as well,” Barker said. “However, throughout the course of last year, construction steam really picked up. About a year ago, in May, the board awarded the construction bid to R.G. Anderson Inc.”

The construction cost for the new West Wilson Middle School will be more than $51 million.

“With ground prep serving as a big part of last year’s work, walls started going up during the latter portion of 2022, and that type of structural development work is still going strong today,” Barker said.

The new structure will have a capacity of 1,500 students.

“The old West Wilson was a classic school structure build decades ago, and even though this building will certainly have classic school similarities, it will be a brand-new school with much more modern design features, including an incredible media center, a wonderful commons/gym area, an upgraded cafeteria and brand-new classrooms with really great layout and technical capabilities for instruction,” Barker said.

Mt. Juliet rejects 349-home subdivision

The Mt. Juliet Planning Commission rejected a nearly 350-home subdivision during its meeting on Thursday evening.

The commission gave a negative recommendation to forward a preliminary master development plan for Treymor, a 349-home planned unit development on the east side of Benders Ferry Road, to the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners.

Civil Site Design Group (CSDG) — a Nashville-based civil engineering group and Treymor’s developers — requested to classify the development as a low-density residential unit so that they could match Mt Juliet’s requirements for low-density zoning at the request of district 1 commissioner Ray Justice.

They plan to go over Treymor in six phases for over five years.

The population estimate from the development is 698 people.

Treymor would have more than 32 acres of improved open space and amenities, such as paved and earthen trails, a tot lot for kids, a community garden, a dog park, picnic areas, ball fields, and a 4,000-square-foot pool and deck with a 2,000-square-foot amenity area.

CSDG requested additional turn and deceleration lanes on Benders Ferry Road and upgrades to Polecat Road so that it can be used as a secondary access for Treymor.

During Thursday’s meeting, Mt. Juliet Planning Commission Chairman Luke Winchester questioned the development’s two-mile distance between the city limits of Mt. Juliet and the county limits of Wilson County.

“I don’t know if we have ever seen a development with such a large gap between our city limits and county limits like that,” said Winchester.

Planning commission member Rebecca Christenson was concerned that if the developers incorporate a secondary exit on Pullcat Road, it would cause residents to be stuck when facing severe weather, including tornadoes.

Christenson also thought that Treymor would negatively affect West Elementary School because Wilson County Schools cannot build new schools to keep up with future developments.

She noted that the school is so full at capacity that it has portable classrooms to accommodate to the growth.

Numerous residents spoke out against the subdivision during Thursday’s meeting.

Noelle Goodin — the owner and founder of Music Therapy Nashville, an organization that provides wellness services, mental health care, and medical and neurological rehabilitation services through music — said it feels like residents like her are being intimated with the development.

Goodin, whose family owns a farm on Benders Ferry Road, said that it does not seem fair for their farm to be potentially demolished if the planning commission approves Treymor. She said that the development will negatively affect nesting bald eagles, pelicans, and all types of wildlife and nature surrounding the site of the subdivision.

“I have been close to this farm for over 30 years, and we really care for the field that is out there,” said Goodin. “Our sense of Mt. Juliet is this beautiful, rural place where we can see eagles and where people can visit our city and see why we are shepherds of this city.”

Goodin conveyed that the city of Mt. Juliet needs to start making great decisions for its rural neighborhoods, just like the city is already doing for its urban neighborhoods.

Mt. Juliet's Easton Krenzke races around the bases on a first-inning triple to deep center field at Wilson Central. It was the start of his 4-for-4 Wednesday night.