Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles examining the city of Lebanon’s new comprehensive plan.
Growth is the name of the game in Lebanon, and the playbook for managing it could come before the city council in just a few months.
The Lebanon Forward 2040 Comprehensive Plan would be the city’s first since 1984 and began its development process in late 2017. Residents can attend a virtual open house and weigh in online at https://prospecthilldigital.com/Lebanon/ throughout the month.
Everything from economic development to parks and recreation is covered in the document, but the backbone is a large-scale update to the city’s Future Land Use Plan. City officials are hoping its zoning changes in key areas can transform the city into a thriving entertainment hub.
“That’s something we heard over and over again,” Lebanon Planning Director Paul Corder said. “’We need more things to do in Lebanon, we need more restaurants, we want more activities,’ so there’s areas where that’s appropriate, and when you want those you need to have the rooftops in place to attract the businesses. We can’t make the big stores come, they’re going to come when the demographics are right — and that means the right number of people within a close proximity.”
The city has identified four areas it wants to be major business hubs: Leeville Pike, South Hartmann Drive, West Main Street and the public square. Each of them represents one of the city’s four interstate access points, and they have growing residential demographics nearby.
“A Dave and Buster’s type thing, indoor trampoline … places that have a mix where the whole family can go, where you can have a kid’s birthday party, that’s come up quite a bit,” Economic Development Director Sarah Haston said regarding community feedback on entertainment. “A place in Nashville’s been referenced a lot, Pinewood Social. It’s adult in the sense where you can order a drink, but still something to do like a social activity.”
Community feedback was a major part of the process, which began with residents on a Visioning Committee appointed to provide direction and goals. The Comprehensive Plan Committee took over from there, and many other residents weighed in through random survey samples.
“We worked on this for nearly three years and we feel like we’ve got a good product,” Comprehensive Plan Committee Chair T.A. Bryan said. “The entryways into Lebanon, we need to be sure they’ve open for development and housing. You can drive anywhere out there and see new subdivisions going up.”
Focusing business development on those key areas would also allow the city to preserve its more rural sections and maintain its small-town feel. Gardening and farmers’ markets were among the most popular activities among survey responders, signaling the importance of rural areas to the community.
“The more people build out there, the less they’re going to be in close to the economic activity centers,” Corder said. “Our city limits are so big that growth over at (State Highway) 109 doesn’t really affect the market in the downtown area, so by having these activity centers and designating areas where we really don’t want to see growth … it’s going to preserve areas where we can have some more of the parks and rec and activities that people want to do for leisure, but it also gets people living where they need to so we can do the economic recruiting we need to do.”
Haston said businesses often use Walmart to gauge an area’s economic activity, and she wants stores like Home Depot and Publix to be that benchmark in other parts of town. The goal is for residents in those areas to drive up business interest, and eventually open up opportunities for family activities beyond youth sports leagues.
“We talk about the population explosion a lot, how much it’s grown in the recent years and how it’s impacted schools,” Haston said. “When you have that many new families coming into a town, you want to have something for everybody. We know that depending on what stage of your life you’re in, you need different things, and as a city we have to make sure we have that for everybody … I think right now it’s very clear that we have a gap for these younger families with children.”
Corder said one of the city’s goals is to prop up existing local businesses while working to meet that need, citing Cracker Barrel’s growth into a nationally recognized chain as an example of the payoff.
“Our small businesses, I think are trying really hard to fill those gaps,” Haston said. “Like our bookstore on the square, Harper’s Books — they’ve created club activities and they have people come in for book club, for game club, on all levels … sometimes it’s a really easy answer to say, ‘oh, I need a Dave and Buster’s,’ but really when you look at what you have and you drill into the business retention side of it, we have so many small businesses here that can fill the needs if you just look at it a little different.”