With two dissenting votes, the Murfreesboro Planning Commission last Wednesday stamped its approval on a controversial mixed-use, gated community with more than 600 homes for the Cason Trailhead entrance to the city’s greenway.

Plans for the Hidden River Estates development have evolved since its announcement in 2018, but with the commission’s favorable recommendation, it will move on to the Murfreesboro City Council at a date yet to be announced. Dissenting votes were cast by the city council’s two representatives to the planning commission, Ronnie Martin and Eddie Smotherman.

Commissioner Ken Halliburton moved to approve the rezoning. He said he understood neighbors’ concerns about density and the challenges facing the city over sewer capacity, but he had no reason to dispute the applicant’s traffic study. He also pointed out the applicant was not seeking as many units as the new zoning would allow.

During public discussion, it was estimated the current zoning would allow 410 units.

The developer is Blue Sky Construction, owned by Brian Burns; Howard W. Wilson is the company’s registered agent, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website. Wilson is also a Rutherford County Chancery Court judge.

Blue Sky is requesting a change from residential zoning to Planned Unit Development (PUD). It plans to build 602 townhomes and 18 large “estate” homes, plus 15,000 square feet of commercial use, on 122.19 acres.

Residents in surrounding neighborhoods formed an alliance, which is active on Facebook, called “Preserve Our Green Spaces,” searchable as “@CasonTrailhead.”

Approximately 21 residents shared their concerns during a public hearing at the meeting. Concerns include density, loss of urban forest, trailhead access, construction traffic, safety on neighborhood streets and traffic congestion. Hidden River Estates would funnel traffic through neighborhoods to either Cason Lane, which exits at Old Fort Parkway at River Rock Boulevard, and to the section of New Salem Highway that is currently being widened.

Some neighbors questioned why the developer’s traffic study was not posted online for review. Planning staff apologized and said it was an oversight. Neighbors also said the developer bought the property with the current zoning, which should allow him to know how many homes are allowed, and questioned why he should be able to add more homes through rezoning. Some also claimed the developer did not have a backup plan in case the rezoning fell through.

Burns told the commission that he disputed residents’ claims that he told them he did not have a plan in case the rezoning fails. He said he knew what the current zoning was when he bought the property.

A presentation by the developers said the community would generate more than $609,000 in city property taxes per year.

Martin, who voted against the request, said that it was a tough decision. He questioned the number of signatures opponents had gathered in an online petition, saying that after reading it, some signers live outside the city. He watched traffic at the Old Fort exit point last Wednesday morning and congestion was non-existent, but acknowledged that at times, it is a “disaster.” However, he said that with his experience in real estate, he does not believe the development will hurt neighbors’ property values.

Bill Huddleston of Huddleston-Steele Engineering, representing the developer, defended the traffic study that he conducted and said it followed industry standards, including measuring traffic flow when school is in session. He also said the development would meet federal flood guidelines, a concern some neighbors raised.

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