When Project Sam came before Mt. Juliet city commissioners last we and the commission debated whether certain sticking points were the mayor's way of squeezing extra offsite commitments out of developers.
Project Sam plans to develop a building of 3.6 million square feet, promising 1,200 new jobs, both white and blue collar. As the biggest building in Middle Tennessee and among the largest in the state, the development plan comes with a plethora of offsite commitments to its immediate area -- Golden Bear Gateway, Athlete's Way and East Division Street.
Offsite commitments in this case are city needs not directly on the property being developed. Commitments made by the developers include funding just under 2 miles of extension to a preexisting sewer line that runs both on and off the property. The developers, the Panattoni Group, have also committed on behalf of their client to install street lights at the Golden Bear interchange to brighten it at night as well as three new traffic signals and an extension of a preexisting Greenway trailhead near the property.
Mayor Ed Hagerty requested that the trailhead extension stretch farther than the plan originally proposed so that it could connect with the trailhead along the side of FedEx's property. The additional extension requested was for 2,000 feet without any understanding of how much it would cost developers to build it due to first needing to study the grading of the trail itself to determine how much each extra foot would cost.
Hagerty requested developers add a dedicated right-turn lane from Lebanon Road onto Golden Bear Gateway. He said it was necessary because of the sheer volume of employee traffic as well as his opinion that the intersection is "at failure" already. He confirmed that the intersection is 3 miles offsite, but he maintained that the impact of a facility of this size would affect traffic as far as Lebanon Road.
"I don't like the idea that the city of Mt. Juliet is going to extort anything from you, and that's what this is kind of leading and moving to," Commissioner Ray Justice told developers, disagreeing with the mayor's request for a dedicated right-turn lane from Lebanon Road onto Golden Bear Gateway.
Representing Panattoni Development's legal needs, Tew Law firm attorney Tom White has been vocal at both planning and commissioner meetings thus far. In response to the mayor's requests, he took the podium to say, "In fairness, what the law requires is that the improvements are driven by the development itself. Just because you want to improve an intersection 5 miles down the road or go across the city limits is not legally enforceable."
White reassured the board that his client was prepared to negotiate further on what should and should not be required. He clarified his comments for the News to explain that considerable "negotiations about the appropriate infrastructure improvements" are to be expected from any major development project, especially one of this scope. He added that they "expect the commissioners to be as protective as they should for the city of Mt. Juliet."
Hagerty also proposed requiring developers to make improvements on East Division Street going west. Panattoni had already committed to make roadway improvements to make the street safer in the area of the property site, stopping at Old Lebanon Dirt Road, but the mayor's suggestion was that improvements extend all the way to Mt. Juliet Road, which Vice Mayor James Maness described as
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tripling the span of improvements.
Other requests the mayor made garnered more unanimous support from the commission, such as that of the inclusion of more windows in the design of the building. This suggestion began with the Planning Commission as a means to break up the facade, which is already largely constructed of material uncommon in Tennessee.
Despite expecting some of these negotiations, though, it's clear that developers don't agree that proposed infrastructure improvements should be quite so far-reaching. The mayor conceded that he doesn't expect to get developers to accommodate each one of his proposals. In lieu of how distant commissioners' and developers' starting points in negotiation are, White told the News, "I can't believe we won't get this accomplished."
At both the planning and city commissioners meetings, citizens have been vocal with a wide range of concerns. Most notably, former candidate for Jennifer Milele's commissioner seat, Gerard Bullock, and local petitioner of the same district, Brian Criswell, both voiced differing opinions at the City Commission meeting.
Bullock warned early in the meeting that the city should revisit its code and charter for aspects that prohibit the kind of growth this new development represents.
"Some of the things that we have adopted when we were talking about buildings back in, let's say, 2005, 2006, don't really apply to some of the buildings that are now 3 million square feet or upwar," he said.
Criswell warned in contrast that he felt job growth by new development could threaten the area's existing employers.
"I think, when we add jobs like that, we could do so at the detriment of current employers in the community."