Rutherford County's Board of Commissioners is looking at doing something that on the surface seems like a good idea.
Committee Chairman Allen McAdoo said the county is considering building a 13,000 to 14,000-square-foot building on three acres on the Lane Agri-Park lot. The building would house a new County Clerk's office, Department of Motor Vehicles and Tennessee Highway Patrol.
At first blush, it doesn't seem like a bad idea. The clerk needs more space, as does the DMV and THP. The land was donated, so the county could save around $3 million in acquisition costs.
But, in doing what I do best, I'm here to critique the choice and thought process behind it.
Here are my burning questions:
1. When the county was gifted the land it was specifically restricted to agricultural use.
Ever wondered why Lane Agri-Park is where it is?
The Lane family donated the 40 acres, with one restriction it was to be used for agricultural uses only. In fact, the county even included that convenient in the planned unit development approval it got from the city.
County Mayor Bill Ketron spoke with Steve Lane, son of the former owner who reportedly said that requirement was voided when the county built the PAWS building.
McAdoo said Ketron told him that Lane thought it was a good idea.
But just because he thinks it's a good idea and there was a special provision for PAWS doesn't mean it wouldn't violate the original agreement or the city's PUD.
2. Have you seen the traffic on John Rice Boulevard?
Maybe I'm biased because the Voice's corporate office is on John Rice, but the road is dangerous. It's mostly two-lane with no shoulder.
And you should just forget about turning left onto Old Fort Parkway. It's quicker to go out to Medical Center Parkway, get on I-24 East and get off at the Old Fort exit.
On the Major Thoroughfare Plan, the city of Murfreesboro plans to widen John Rice Boulevard to three lanes. Ketron said it should happen in two years.
I doubt that. It will take longer than that to design it and acquire the right of way.
3. The pond is a sinkhole
You can see in the above master plan that a pond occupies the center of the lot.
It's there to collect storm-water runoff and, it's rumored, because there is a sinkhole. This is right next to where the proposed building would go.
Also, the site drains into Puckett Creek, which is impaired because of all the growth around it. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has deemed the creek to be impaired, which means it's not as healthy as it should be.
Increases in development and in storm water runoff directly add to negative impacts on receiving waterways through increased dirt in the water, which raises the temperature and reduces habitat for animals that live in the water.
Combine that with the potential for increased drainage to groundwater through the open sinkhole, it's worth considering as a secondary environmental issue. Impaired streams impact the overall health of the nature around us.
4. What about the Agri-Park's master plan?
When Lane Agri-Park opened it was intended to be an educational resource for the people of Rutherford County. The Extension Office planned demonstration crops, walking paths, a livestock barns and show rings.
While the vision isn't complete, it is still an educational resource that no other county has.
More than 100,000 visitors come every year for the Rutherford County Farmers' Market, FCE meetings, Master Gardener classes and more.
Bonus: Why does it make sense?
If the county were to buy three acres, it could cost up to $3 million. Ketron said the construction cost is estimated at around $3 million without furniture and fixtures.
If the county builds a new building out there, it will likely also house a new Department of Safety office for a Department of Motor Vehicles and Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Should all the departments being housed in the building, the Department of Safety will pay for two-thirds of the construction in the form of a long-term lease.
In November's Property Management Committee meeting, Assistant to the County Mayor Steve Sandlin and County Clerk Lisa Duke Crowell said they were looking at a location for a new clerk's office in the Blackman area.
They discussed how crowded the downtown Murfreesboro office and Smyrna satellite office are with Duke Crowell saying "I have no room to add another clerk."
Then Commissioner Phil Dodd suggested using open space at Lane Agri-park for a new County Clerk's office building. He specifically suggested using the open space where the grapevines are. The committee thought this was a good idea and gave the County Mayor's office a month to look into it.
Further investigation found the intersection with Gresham Lane is substandard for the amount of traffic expected (see above about the traffic) and they have shifted it to where the horse show ring is currently.
At the December meeting, Duke Crowell said John Rice Boulevard is in the area she wanted to locate a new office.
Ketron said the county looked at other locations in the Blackman area, like old Rite-Aid building on Franklin Road, but the rent was too high, and there are few other existing properties.
Based on the growth in Smyrna, she also said she would like to be able to expand the building and parking if needed.
"We are looking to expand and that building is eight years old," she said, adding she estimates needing three acres.
The county's next step is discussing the use with the city of Murfreesboro and Tennessee Department of Safety as it moves through the County Commission and its committees.