The Lebanon Planning Commission approved a site plan Tuesday that would see the city’s Kroger location expanded to roughly 100,000 square feet, a move officials hope will boost the local economy.
“If all goes as planned we hope to begin construction by the end of the year for an early 2021 completion,” Kroger’s Nashville Division Corporate Communications Manager Melissa Eads said in an email. “We also plan to expand the fuel center at this location. The project should create around 30 new jobs.”
Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash estimated in January that the expansion would bring in $1.5 million in payroll and 50 new jobs, in addition to property and sales tax revenue increases. Although Kroger is now projecting fewer positions, the city has since scrapped talks about offering tax relief for the project.
“We haven’t done incentives for retail ever, I don’t think,” Ash said. “So we made up our minds not to do that.”
Kroger’s site plan also includes a new pharmacy drive-thru and store entryway, and is slated to go before the Lebanon City Council with a positive recommendation.
The commission also recommended against rezoning roughly 200 acres of residential property on Tater Peeler Road and Cainsville Road to industrial in the city’s Future Land Use Plan after a motion to approve failed 2-6.
Multiple area residents spoke against the rezoning during the meeting, including Maliea Oakley, who raised concerns about a lack of information on companies that might locate there.
“When you all make a decision tonight, you all are going to go home and you’re not going to have to deal with this any more,” she said. “However, the neighbors that are around this property, we’re going to have to deal with noise, with traffic, with blasting, with damage to our homes due to that blasting and problems with affecting sinkholes and that kind of thing. We’re going to have to deal with the repercussions of what it does to our property values.”
Joe McKnight, a realtor representing the project developer, said an automotive group had recently shown interest in the property but backed out of a contract because of COVID-19.
“It is very difficult to find large pieces of industrial property in Middle Tennessee, and when they’re available they tend to generate significant interest from a variety of developers and users,” he said. “We have several groups that are currently circling the property right now.”
McKnight said the rezoning could also generate significant tax property tax revenue for the city, estimating that a 650,000 square-foot facility would bring $90,000 annually based on nearby industrial properties. That figure does not account for the county’s potential share of any earnings, which McKnight’s estimate places around $260,000 per year.
After a motion to deny the rezoning tied, a majority of the commissioners ultimately voted against the measure.
“I oppose this and I’ll be voting against it,” vice-chairman Mack McCluskey said. “I just think it’s wrong to rezone property to industrial when it’s a primarily residential area.”
Chairperson David Taylor also voted against the rezoning and recommended the developers hold a public meeting with landowners, while commissioner Chad Williams said the body has typically voted against putting unknown industrial properties near residential homes.
“I think that it’s a bad thing to do to surrounding residents to put a zoning in that we could have lots of noise, lots of light pollution,” Williams said. “I just don’t think that it’s fair to put an industrial zoning next to a residential zoning because the residents have been there, some of them their whole lives. If we want to put a residential neighborhood beside an industrial that’s fine and dandy because you know what you get when you move in, but these people who have these farms and homes that they’ve lived in for years and years, you’re going to have some issue with either extra traffic or noise or light pollution.”
The Lebanon City Council retains the final say on the rezoning and will receive a negative recommendation from the planning commission. Ward 3 Councilor Camille Burdine, who also serves on the planning commission, expressed support for the item.
“I think when you’re talking residential, we have to put kids through school and the tax base isn’t as high as what industrial is,” she said. “I think with the timing of COVID, we do need jobs. I sit on the Joint Economic Development Board for Wilson County, that’s one thing they talk about every month is we do not have any site ready for industrial. So we’re very short on that. I feel very strongly that for economic development purposes … this would be in Lebanon city’s best interest for our citizens and our tax bases.”