The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners is continuing its search for a new city park after residents Richard and Laurie Lyons withdrew their 22-acre property on South Rutland Road from consideration on Sept. 28.
Commissioners had previously deferred a $2.3 million sales agreement for that property on Sept. 14 because of financial and land usage concerns. After the Lyons family’s withdrawal, they authorized Mt. Juliet Parks Director Roger “Rocky” Lee to negotiate on a 63-acre space along Old Lebanon Dirt Road valued closer to $3 million, known as the Hollis-Hassett property.
“In our opinion, land with better usage started coming up and we stepped back and said, ‘hey, let’s put it out there,’ ” Lee said. “After a week we did get one more hit, so we took the land committee and the parks board and we took them to task Thursday night. We had 12 items that have shown up … we looked at them, we went down, we went pros and cons.”
The city was approached with the Hollis-Hassett property the day after that meeting, and a conceptual rendering presented to the commission showed space for several athletic fields, a similar facility to Lebanon’s Jimmy Floyd Center and 35 to 40 acres of walking trails.
“It’s three tracts, it’s 63 acres and it’s adjacent to the McFarland property, which is the dead center of downtown,” Lee said. “And it can accommodate everything we’re looking for. It’s got the woods, it’s got the open spaces, it’s flat and none of it is flood plain.”
The 47-acre McFarland property previously came with the highest recommendation from the city’s land committee and parks board and is valued at roughly $2.3 million. The city sees the land’s flood plain as its biggest drawback but it remains in consideration.
“There is a way to bring that out of flood plain,” Mt. Juliet Public Works Director Andy Barlow said. “You can cut and balance the field in there, and so it would create some room if we wanted to establish some buildings on that property.”
That process itself could cost a few million dollars, and Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty floated the possibility of buying both the McFarland and Hollis-Hassett properties to create a large-scale centralized city park instead. If that purchase were approved, it would take roughly $5.3 million of the city’s $6.7 million park budget.
“Personally, I think it’s too much money for both properties,” District 4 Commissioner Jennifer Milele said. “I would like to see it negotiated at a lower price.”
Although members of the commission are wary of the financial risks, they opted to approve the negotiations because it does not represent a commitment to buy.
“If we do move ahead with a parks plan on this, a lot of these improvements on Lebanon Dirt Road that would normally be handled by developers on this is going to fall back on the responsibility of the taxpayers,” Vice Mayor James Maness said. “I am still curious to see what negotiations can render from this.”
The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners’ next regularly scheduled meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 12, at the city’s administration building on 2425 N. Mt. Juliet Road.