City Council approves north Murfreesboro rezoning

JONATHON FAGAN, Post Contributor

In a rare display of concerted opposition at the Murfreesboro City Council's meeting Thursday evening, a third reading for annexation of property adjacent to James Ridley's historic Evergreen home was just as contentious as the first.

Owner Jerry Alsup is seeking annexation and rezoning to commercial fringe for property at Memorial Boulevard and Cherry Lane in north Murfreesboro.

Councilman Eddie Smotherman noted the property in question is located only a few feet from the historic site of Dr. Thomas C. Black's office, who was caught hiding Confederate soldiers in the ceiling of his 1822 home in the lead up to General Nathan Bedford Forrest's raid on the Rutherford County Courthouse.

The 190-year-old home is designated as an historic property by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

"Mr. Ridley is simply concerned with the commercial zoning so close to the property," Smotherman said. "I question what this council would think of putting a Kwik Sak on the ball fields next to Oaklands (Historic House Museum)."

Smotherman said he had talked to both Alsup and Ridley, and recited some of the history of the property.

Black and the soldiers were marched by Union Army detachments to the courthouse and were scheduled to be hung at dawn when Forrest heard the news as he passed through Woodbury.

Forrest's raid remains a subject of study for any serious military tactician, and it saved Black and the other prisoners from certain death.

His home was later acquired by James and Polly Ridley, both longtime advocates for the Oaklands museum during the 1960s, and they preserved its historic aspects, gaining federal and state historic site designations in the process.

Ridley could not attend any of the readings due to health problems, but Smotherman said he did not have problems with the annexation portion of the request.

Councilman Shane McFarland then began a discussion among the City Council and City Attorney Susan McGannon concerning the enforceability of the proposed deed restrictions on the property.

"That is a legal issue between the property owners alone," McGannon said, noting unless the Murfreesboro seeks to become a third party through legal means, which is "currently untested," the city has no enforcement ability.

Although McFarland, Smotherman, Mayor Tommy Bragg and Councilman Tobey Gilley attempted to come to some compromise between simple deed restrictions and planned development zoning with planning staff, no solutions were forthcoming.

"I just wish we could dispense with the onerous planned developments with all the drawings and pictures and come to a middle ground that can be enforced by the city," McFarland said.

"We need another tool in our tool box," he concluded.

"We almost tore our courthouse down to have more parking and we nearly demolished Oaklands as well," Smotherman concluded. "We may see it as just an old house, but in retrospect, we may regret what we did here today."

Smotherman said Alsup had told him there are no plans for the property.

Gilley questioned Bill Huddleston, an engineer hired by Alsup for the request, as to what deed restrictions were actually recorded, but Smotherman said it was improper for him to address the City Council unless it was a public hearing.

Huddleston then handed Planning Director Joseph Aydelott a stack of paper and Aydelott relayed the information to the council, noting the deed restrictions had been properly recorded and included a provision for Ridley himself to amend them, which is highly unusual for such restrictions.

McFarland then made a motion to approve the request, and the measure passed 5-2 with only Smotherman and Councilwoman Madelyn Scales-Harris voting in the negative.

Plugging the leaky lake

Members of the City Council then tackled the case of the leaky lake.

Gateway Island, a man-made lake with a center gazebo intended for events such as weddings, was constructed as part of the Gateway Overlay Project, and has been leaking thousands of gallons of water daily into the underlying bedrock, requiring constant refilling.

City Engineer Chris Griffith informed the council that an engineering firm has determined the leak points and has suggested a polyethylene liner and additional clay to plug the holes, at a cost of $300,000.

"I understand that a certain local genius was able to stop the Stone Man Quarry from leaking several years ago by buying old Daily News Journal newspapers and dumping them into the quarry until they made a paper mache lining that sealed the holes," Bragg noted jokingly. "You can buy a lot of old papers for $300,000."

"I'm not suggesting you actually do that," he added.

"This will be the third time we have attempted to fix this," Smotherman said. "Do we have any guarantee that this will finally do the job?"

Griffith noted the same procedure was successful in plugging the leak in the Old Fort Golf Course pond.

"I think this is a feasible approach for the funds we are looking at," he said.

After some discussion concerning whether to pay for the project with stormwater funds or the general fund, motion was made to approve the measure commensurate with proper consideration by staff for the proper source of funding.

"We need to be concerned about the (stormwater) fund balance going up and up and up," McFarland said.

City Manager Rob Lyons assured him it would be investigated by staff, and the measure then passed unanimously.