Thursday's meeting of the Murfreesboro City Council included an impromptu discussion of a new Wal-Mart in north Murfreesboro making its way through the site plan approval process.
Because the proposed location for the new store is already zoned commercial highway, the issue will not come before the City Council for review. It must merely have its site plan reviewed and approved by the Murfreesboro Planning Commission without a required public hearing.
This fact concerned Councilman Eddie Smotherman, who urged the city planners to open the site plan approval process to public comment.
"I have several concerns with the site plan, including traffic concerns and drainage concerns," he said.
Councilman Shane McFarland echoed Smotherman's comments concerning drainage issues.
"I got a call from the NHC Adams Place director, who had 6 feet of water in their basement during the last large storm," he said.
The site plan was submitted Monday afternoon to the City Planning Department, and Planning Director Joseph Aydelott said Wednesday his department "hadn't had a chance to review the plans in detail."
From Aydelott's first impression of the plans, he said the store appears to meet the city's parking, landscaping and setback requirements, but officials haven't taken a hard look at drainage and traffic requirements.
Smotherman urged changing the date of consideration for the site plan from Wednesday, Nov. 21, to Wednesday, Dec. 5, in order to give area residents more time to review the plans.
City Manager Rob Lyons indicated that could be done with comment cards submitted by area residents with questions for the commission.
However, Councilman Toby Gilley suggested it would be appropriate for residents to simply address the Planning Commission as is done in a public hearing, and City Attorney Susan McGannon agreed such comments are within the purview of planning commission procedure.
"I am a member of the Planning Commission as well, and I highly suggest a traffic study," Gilley said.
Aydelott, who is also member of the Planning Commission, said his department staff would arrange additional neighborhood meetings with area residents in order to hear their concerns and explain the site plan.
He suggested moving the meeting to the larger chambers of the City Council but indicated he would like to see public comments on the plan only after his staff has a chance to suggest changes.
"This plan could likely change after my staff makes suggestions, and I want residents to be properly informed of what the Planning Commission is considering," he said.
Smotherman then questioned Aydelott regarding past comments he made about previous properties seeking zoning being too small for a Wal-Mart.
"This property is 5 acres smaller than the Nobles property, which you previously said was too small for a Wal-Mart, so has something changed that I'm not aware of?" he asked.
"We knew that Wal-Mart was considering several properties including this property, and I was certainly surprised when Wal-Mart chose this site," Aydelott answered.
"It may really be the best site for it because it does not back up to a residential neighborhood," Smotherman said. "Its nearest neighbor would be the airport."
He then questioned why city property was included in the plan, and Aydelott answered that any such property that would have to be sold to Wal-Mart to meet the plan requirements must come before the City Council for approval.
Mayor Tommy Bragg indicated such sale of city property would be unacceptable.
"If that is the case, (Wal-Mart) would have to make other arrangements." he said.
Just prior to the mayor gaveling for adjournment, McFarland, a member of the Planning Commission as well, again stressed the importance of proper drainage planning and urged Aydelott to review the site plan carefully in that regard.