Photos by Rachael Long
By RACHAEL LONG
As the sun set in Nolensville Tuesday night, residents and community members adorning red attire, ‘Save Creekside, No Connection’ stickers and signs with the same message poured into Town Hall.
Inside the town chambers, almost every seat was filled leaving only room to stand. Some even stood in the lobby, listening through the open doors.
Despite the large gathering, the town’s Planning Commission voted almost unanimously to approve the Rocky Fork Road Property Rezoning and Master Concept PUD Plan, which proposes the connection of Creekside Drive to a future neighborhood.
One commissioner, a resident of Creekside Drive, recused himself from the vote. The remaining eight voted in its favor.
Those in opposition to the plan cited safety concerns, fearing that an extension of the residential street would create an express lane for drivers traveling to and from Smyrna and La Vergne to avoid the areas of major congestion.
The neighborhoods most affected by an extension are Ballenger Farms, The Woods at Burberry Glenn and Burberry Glenn.
With so many families and children in these neighborhoods, parents and grandparents expressed fears for their children’s safety.
One such person was Ben O’Neal, a retired schoolteacher and resident of Ballenger Farms who spoke to the Planning Commission Tuesday night.
“I have three grandchildren that live on Creekside Drive,” O’Neal said. “I don’t think we owe it to anybody from Rutherford County that goes to Cool Springs, or Cool Springs to Rutherford County, to endanger our children … what we do owe is the safety of our children.
“I would be really upset if these people start running through there and one of my grandchildren was hit.”
Resident Tyler Spaid also spoke to the Planning Commission, mentioning the 356 signatures collected on a petition to oppose an extension of Creekside Drive.
Of that number, Spaid said 292 signatures came from Ballenger residents, 41 from Burberry, 11 from Stonebook, and a collection of signatures from The Woods at Burberry, Bent Creek and Bennington subdivisions.
Of that number, Spaid said 241 houses signed, representing 408 children.
Chris Gruening, a member of The Committee to Save Creekside, said families were encouraged to bring the whole family out to oppose the plan. Several residents brought their children.
Ballenger Farms resident Heather Bates was one of those residents.
She spoke to the commission with her seven-year old daughter Ruby Sue at her side. Bates has two other children, both boys.
“Nolensville is a great place to raise a family and connect to a community,” Bates said. “The traffic problem creates a danger for all the residents, but primarily our children. Any extension of Creekside into the proposed new neighborhood would only increase that danger.”
Some arguments for the extension included faster access for emergency vehicles. Bates said she appreciates connectivity but thinks there are ways to achieve it without the extension of Creekside.
“What we are asking is [for you] to consider everything, and not just an ordinance,” Bates told the commission. “And to consider the impact and the real-life effect that it has on the citizens of this town.”
In the interest of time, the number of speakers was limited. One who was given the opportunity to address the commission was realtor Paige Gorman, who is also a resident of Ballenger Farms.
“While a number of items are considered to be undesirable by homebuyers, you can say that a main throughway is certainly one of the biggest ones,” Gorman said. “Studies can indicate that a busy road can lower a value of a home by 16 percent … We all own our homes, one day we might want to move and we’ll have to sell our home.”
Beazer Homes representative Will Smith spoke on behalf of the project, noting briefly the company’s attempts to hear from and work with the residents who would be affected by the connection.
His main focus, however, was to address the entire master plan.
“We’re committed to building a safe and well-designed neighborhood, not only for our future buyers but the community and the [town] as well,” Smith said. “We’re open to the feedback the [town] has on this matter, and we’ll move forward accordingly.”
Response from town leaders
Tuesday night’s outpouring of opposition to the plan was no surprise to town leaders.
“We have received more emails about this than, I think, I have ever received about any subject, any time,” Chair Douglas Radley said as the crowd applauded. “So, I think I understand pretty well what your concerns are.”
Planning Commissioner Andrew Grosson lives on Creekside Drive and as such, he recused himself from the vote.
But he did give his two cents on the issue at hand. His point: connectivity is not always bad.
“I’m a resident of Creekside Drive, I’ve lived there for 12 years now,” Grosson said. “There are a handful of benefits of the connection … so it’s not just an evil plan, having a connection.”
The benefits Grosson mentioned included better access for emergency vehicles, more direct routes for school buses and easier access for residents to areas like Smyrna or Silver Stream.
Vice Mayor and Planning Commissioner Jason Patrick mentioned the many communications he’d had from concerned residents and put many in the room at ease when he said, “I am not going to be supportive of a connection in Creekside.”
But he went on to explain that the roles of town leaders are different for the Planning Commission than they are for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The Planning Commission, he said, is charged with looking at proposed plans to ensure they meet town ordinances and regulations, and not much else besides that.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen is different. They can, and often do, consider what other impacts a plan might pose to the community.
“The way that the plan is designed right now, it meets our regulations,” Patrick said. “As far as how I’m going to approach this tonight, I’m going to approach it with that hat on. But when this moves on with recommendation from this Planning Commission to the next phase of the approval process, I get to put a different hat on. And I intend to do so.”
Mayor Jimmy Alexander, who appeared at a Feb. 22 Town Hall for the Save Creekside issue, said he has tried not to take sides.
He was quick to point out that approval of the master concept plan is the first step of many before any construction would ever take place. Alexander assured the concerned residents that they would have at least three Board of Mayor and Aldermen meetings to attend.
“I think we’re obligated, as a commission, if someone submits a plan to us that meets all our guidelines, we’re obligated to approve that plan,” Alexander said.
Those who spearheaded the Committee to Save Creekside were less than thrilled by the Planning Commission’s vote.
“I was a little surprised that it only came down to the regulations, that it met everything that the town wanted to see,” Diane Del Chiaro said. “We were acknowledged, the fact that we were here, but there was no discussion about it.”
She said she wished there had been more discussion about safety solutions for the neighborhood.
During the Tuesday meeting, members of the Planning Commission mentioned that the Board of Mayor and Aldermen was a better place to discuss the safety issues an extension at Creekside would pose to residents. Del Chiaro and Gruening disagreed.
“I think any public venue that has this on the agenda is the proper place to talk about it,” Gruening said.
“You talk about it when it’s presented,” Del Chiaro chimed in. “I mean, here we all were.”
When asked if they thought the next three Board of Mayor and Aldermen meetings would have a similar turnout, Gruening said, “I think at least the first one, we should expect something similar to this … we have a lot of very passionate people.”
Del Chiaro said she was appointed by the mayor to start a committee that would meet with residents and town staff to determine a plan of action.
According to a Nov. 2 post on Alexander’s Facebook campaign page, the purpose of Del Chiaro’s designation was to “determine a plan that would be the least disrupted for all Ballenger residents.”
The post also states, “We will not approve a plan that would create a short cut for traffic coming from Smyrna to avoid using Rocky Fork Road.”
“I don’t think he realized that it would take this form, but neither did we when we started,” Del Chiaro said. “We just figured that we needed to at least start with a petition, and go around and see where the community was in regards to the whole extension, opposition or not.”