South Maple Street residents are hoping for a miracle ahead of Tuesday’s Lebanon City Council meeting, during which councilors are set to vote for a second and final time on a rezoning that would pave the way for apartments go up in their neighborhood.
“I hope the city council will reconsider,” said Christine Smith, a neighborhood resident, said in a letter. “I encourage anyone interested in slowing down high density residential zoning and development in Lebanon to attend.”
On Tuesday, the council will vote for the second time on a resolution that would rezone the property at 940 S Maple St. to a specific plan or SP. An SP is a narrow scope rezone the city can implement if designated zoning doesn’t fit the desired use of the property.
According to Lebanon’s planning director, Paul Corder, SPs allow the city council significantly more discretion over how a site can be developed, but they aren’t the norm. In this case, the SP that was approved by the city council included a compulsory landscaping barrier as well as reducing the number of units permitted in the complex. The council set the total at 42.
The manner in which the council passed this resolution’s first reading strikes at the heart of the problem, according to residents of the neighborhood, called South Maple Chase, who see this as trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Smith, who lives on June Street, has led the charge against the development, but found traction to be easily garnered once neighbors realized what was at stake.
“Zoning for apartments right next to single-family homes contradicts the mixed housing overlay, over the downtown area, that the planning commission just passed in the new 2040 comprehensive plan,” Smith wrote.
The site is a 1.9-acre lot currently zoned as medium-density residential per Lebanon’s future land use plan, which says future growth should be “focused in proximity to planned or existing activity centers.”
Zoning for medium density residential permits “duplexes, condos, multi-family units, including townhomes, flats and cottage-court style developments, as well as traditionally sized single-family lots.” The zoning also limits how many occupants can reside on a certain property dependent on its acreage.
Besides the higher density the SP would bring, neighbors have several other grievances related to the development.
June Street residents have long enjoyed a picturesque 2-acre lot that runs the length of their street. Jeremiah Jackson said it’s one of the reasons he bought his house at 305 June St. last year.
Jackson said that in the morning, when sleeping deer start to stir but the dew still lays like a thick blanket on the wild grass, there is no better place to be than his back porch.
“If they build these apartments, that all goes away.”
Jackson bought the house with his wife, Jessica, last year so the couple could set their roots down. They had previously rented an apartment in Mt. Juliet. They felt their infant daughter, June, would be better off with more space in a traditional community and opted for their new home. They never expected the land behind them to be auctioned off within the year.
Jackson’s house sits 70 feet from his back property line, but he sees that distance shrinking very quickly if multi-story apartment units are built on the adjoining site. The concern over proximity and privacy has been raised by more families than just Jackson’s. It’s been one of the primary reasons listed by those opposed.
C.J. Murrell of 615 Design, the project’s designer, said that when they began the project, they had a meeting with the residents whose property backed up to 940 S Maple St., and that after issues of privacy were raised, it prompted his team to revisit the site plan and include a privacy fence.
Neighbors in South Maple say this would hardly suffice, citing the proposed multi-story dwellings as evidence for a fence’s shortcomings.
Additional concerns relate to traffic. Property owners on June Street, the South Maple Chase subdivision and even residents on South Maple Street offshoots like Holloway Street and Ligon Drive, have all pointed to traffic as a growing threat to safety.
Jessica Jackson said, “During rush hour, you can’t get out of the neighborhood as is. What happens when these units are full and all those vehicles are now added to the traffic problem?”
Additionally, stormwater runoff, a major problem in Lebanon already, could also be impacted by this development. The Jacksons said that whenever a heavy rain falls, several of the lots that back up to the proposed apartment complex already experience significant flooding issues. They worry that seven new buildings on top of a 60-space concrete parking lot, would drastically impact water infiltration and lead to even more flooding.
Unusual route to approval
Last month, during a Lebanon City Council meeting, the development was approved on a vote of 4-1, with Councilor Fred Burton abstaining, and Councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman dissenting, despite being sent before the council with a negative recommendation from Lebanon’s planning commission.
The planning commission opted for the negative recommendation after so many people in the community took to a Zoom meeting to object. Ward 3 Councilor Camille Burdine is on the planning commission and also represents the residents of South Maple Chase. Burdine did vote to recommend the rezoning during the planning commission meeting, but couldn’t get enough votes on board to pass it along favorably.
Several residents have said they feel Burdine is not listening to them and that their concerns are falling on deaf ears.
“It’s like we’re just being ignored,” said Jessica Jackson.
Corder said that although negative recommendations being approved by the city council are rare, they do still happen from time to time. He confirmed that over the past two years, three items recommended for denial were ultimately approved by the city council.
As Corder also said that as long as property owners follow the rules, the city has little recourse to dictate what is built outside of the zoning regulations that he says are intentionally vague to account for unexpected growth.
The owner of the site, Naren Patel, said that he doesn’t want to step out of bounds with the city.
Patel said that as a fellow member of the community, he understands the concerns. As he sees it, he’s just doing something he thinks will be good for the city.
He also said, “I have respect for everyone that lives here. So if the city holds me off, then I won’t do it.”
The property owner said that he has a vision to see that area of town grow but that they want to play by the rules. He also owns the Golden Bear convenience store (formerly Zips) nearby.
“We want to do everything the right way,” he said.
For the first time this year, Tuesday’s city council meeting will be held in person, as COVID safety protocols are rolled back. The meeting takes place at 6 p.m. in the City of Lebanon Administration Building, 200 N Castle Heights Ave.