The Rutherford County Planning Commission voted in favor Monday of the proposed zoning ordinance following a third public hearing on the recently revised plan that will dramatically alter how properties are classified in the future.
Avent Lane expresses his concerns about the regulations for rock quarries in the proposed zoning ordinance Aug. 13, 2012, during a Rutherford County Planning Commission meeting in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/M. Kemph)
“Every property is affected in one way or another,” said Doug Demosi, director of the Rutherford County Planning Department, which is overseen by the commission.
Noting that the proposal has been met with pushback from various groups within the county, Demosi said the Planning Department has spent a great deal of time tweaking the zoning ordinance in an effort to produce the best possible plan.
“We have received a lot of input from Rutherford County residents throughout this process,” he said, “and a number of those comments have been very constructive. But, we cannot please everyone.”
However, he said the final version of the zoning ordinance “is a much better plan than what we started with originally.”
If approved by the Rutherford County Commission, the most drastic change from current operating procedures would be the elimination of conditional use permits.
“I feel what we are proposing – getting rid of conditional use permits – is more consistent with state law,” Demosi said. “It was not a good planning practice.”
Residents wishing to change the zoning for a particular piece of property would have to submit a request to the Rutherford County Board of Zoning Appeals for approval under one of the five type of uses.
Properties would be classified as either residential, community facility, commercial, industrial or agricultural activities.
Zoning districts would also be defined as residential, office and institutional, commercial, industrial and special, such as a planned unit development district or flood hazard area.
Residential districts would be then divided into agricultural residential, low density, residential multi-family, mobile home park, or medium density, which has been amended to also include agricultural activities.
“The biggest compromise we made was in lot sizes,” Demosi said, adding low density residential district lot sizes were reduced to 15,000 square feet or 22,000 square feet, depending on certain criteria.
According to the proposal, “walkways are encouraged to be provided within the planned unit development,” in a manner that promotes pedestrian safety and circulation.
The Planning Commission also approved amending the amount of required open space in a planned community from 20 percent to 10 percent of the gross project area, excluding areas devoted to waste water disposal or non-residential uses.
However, developers would still be required to maintain a 50 percent usable space ratio for residents.
“We recognized that there was particular concern over the original guidelines, so we did agree to those changes,” Demosi said, referring to lot size and usable space requirements.
Rock quarries remain top concern
Despite controversy over those requirements, much of the public hearing focused on issues regarding rock quarries, which have remained a hot-button topic with many Rutherford County residents, as well as some commissioners.
“We do not have teeth in the new zoning ordinance,” Commissioner Steve Sandlin (Dist. 9) said, referring to whether local government leaders have enough power to ensure rock quarries comply with regulations and guidelines.
“I still believe we need to limit the drilling depth of rock quarries,” he said. “It is frustrating that we have limits on heights of buildings, but there are no limits on how deep a company can drill into the ground.”
Sandlin said he has also received phone calls from constituents who are upset that there are no limits placed on the hours of operation for rock quarries.
“This issue is very important to Rutherford County residents,” Sandlin said. “We need something to specify limitations.”
Several residents who attended the hearing also expressed concerns over rock quarries, particularly issues surrounding the Murfreesboro-Rutherford County quarry in the Blackman community.
“I am tired of selective enforcement of the law,” Avent Lane said. “I want to make sure county (officials) are keeping an eye on these rock quarries. Some things keep going on and on without any real solution.”
Unfortunately, he said, the Planning Commission danced around the primary zoning concern – rock quarries.
“We have a lot of dirty laundry that needs to be washed,” he said.
Although several agreed with Sandlin, as well as those who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, members of the Planning Commission decided to hold off on adding more restrictions in the zoning ordinance.
“It has taken us years to get to this point,” said Commissioner Jeff Phillips (Dist. 17), who serves as chairman of the Planning Commission. “Once the zoning ordinance gets final approval, there is nothing preventing us from revisiting the limits on rock quarries and proposing further regulations.”
The zoning ordinance now heads to the County Commission for approval, at which point residents will have the opportunity to attend another public hearing to discuss the changes with local government leaders.
If the County Commission wants to make any alterations to the proposal, the zoning ordinance would then be sent back to the Planning Commission for revision.
“The County Commission may only vote for approval or disapproval,” Demosi said. “If the County Commission votes it down, then the process starts all over again.”