January Planning Commission
The Carthage City Planning Commission met at City Hall on January 16th at 5:30 pm. In attendance were Chairman Rick Shoulders, Mayor Sarah Marie Smith, Dr. Roger Duke, Councilman Cole Ebel, and City Planner Shannon Copas.
On the agenda was the following:
Recognition of members retiring from the Planning Commission
Appointment of new members
Introduction of Community Voice Representatives
City Planner information for members
Mayor Smith recognized J.T. Jones who was present for his past service to the commission. Other non-present members recognized were Councilwoman Barbara Kannapel and Councilwoman Judy Smith. Mayor Smith also recognized 3 new members; Dr. Roger Duke and I, both present, as well as Mr. Philip Kinslow, who was not present. She also laid out ideas for putting the commission to work on infrastructure needs as a priority over special projects for the city.
Shannon Copas, the City Planner, introduced himself to the new members and gave each member information to look over. He also mentioned how all City Planning Commission Members were required to have 4 hours of training.
Chairman Shoulders then motioned for approval of the past minutes. I made a couple points of inquiry regarding clarification for the past Ridgeway Drive Lot, as well as new bank plans for Upper Ferry Road. (For clarification purposes, the Ridgeway Drive Lot was a concern for many citizens living on Ridgeway Drive, a project that was pushed through with a verbal commitment by the prior administration to those residents to be invited to the meeting. These residents were never invited to the follow up meeting and the lot was subdivided without knowledge of local residents until after the fact. I wrote about this in my December Meeting Blog.) I motioned for approval of the meeting minutes, Dr. Duke seconded the motion and all approved the minutes.
Next on the agenda was a presentation by Mr. Michael Nesbitt, former Smith County Mayor, on a new development for Bank Tennessee on Upper Ferry Road, almost directly across from the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Nesbitt presented architect drawings to the planning commission and several details were discussed. Dr. Duke checked several ordinances against the plans. I made several points of inquiry from Chairman Shoulders, Dr. Duke and Mr. Nesbitt. The 100 year flood plain grading was to standard, 3.7 feet of grading higher than the current elevation, which brings it from 482 feet above sea level to 485.7 feet above sea level. Mr. Nesbitt spoke about the state requirement for a bank in the area to be approved by the state, which had not been met as of the meeting. I inquired if this would affect the building plans and it would not. I also inquired about the zoning, water drainage ditch, as well as parking. The reason for these inquiries is there have been projects in the past approved by the City Council that were not in the correctly zoned areas, projects in the past that didn’t take water displacement into account as well as parking into consideration.
Water displacement is important. Any time a structure is built, it takes the space of water that falls there and if proper drainage is not planned, water runoff can go onto other people’s property and disrupt foundations, driveways, land, etc. This was a concern among many constituents when I was campaigning and because of previous poor planning, many in Carthage have severe water issues. This is why I am trying to do my due diligence to avoid any future issues which may infringe on others private property.
The last issue that came up was regarding a $80,000 sign the bank would be putting out. It is a digital sign which concerned Mayor Smith. I inquired about future sign designs and how many businesses were moving to ground level signs. As a government, we have no ordinances against a tall sign nor do I feel government should regulate how private businesses want to do their sign. I feel we can always ask property owners to be mindful for tasteful signs. Mr. Nesbitt assured us the sign would be tasteful. I motioned for the planning committee to approve the building and was asked to include in the motion that the sign ordinances be triple checked, to which I did. Dr. Duke seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
Next on the agenda was listening to concerned neighbors regarding the amphitheater project. To give a history of this project, the council approved around 100K in funding for the project, with an 80/20 grant, meaning we would foot the bill for 20k. The project would have several phases and the first phase came in over 70K on the bid. We also spent 10k as a government just to draw the plans up with Warren and Associates, which is the city engineer Jerry Warren’s company. This is $10,000 in taxpayer money we will not get back. Due to the project being over budget, it seemingly died until the last City Council meeting in January. The Council voted to revisit the issue in February on the grounds that the public could give input for the project.
- Exerpt from "The Carthage Courier" January 10th, 2019 under "Carthage City Council Discussing Amphitheater"
Mr. Jerry Solimine, a resident who’s yard backs up to where the project is projected to be built, mentioned he was very concerned about the noise, the traffic, the litter and possible drug activity. Sabra Hodge, former Carthage mayor, gave a background on the are was previously a trailer park and was full of drug activity and the city purchased the property at a minimal price (I do not have that cost off hand) to build a walking track since there was nothing that could be done with the property because it is a flood plain. Mr. Bryan Roberts purposefully purchased property from the city to create a buffer between his property and the walking track for privacy reasons and continually asked what the purpose of the amphitheater was and was very confused why it was being built in an area zoned residential. Mrs. Susan Solimine had the exact same concerns regarding the zoning. Chairman Shoulders could not recollect that the plan was ever brought before the planning commission since he became Chairman. Mayor Smith asked if an environmental study had been done on the project.
I personally inquired to see if anything else could be done with the property. If we could sell it off to a developer for a neighborhood or something else. Chairman Shoulders mentioned there is a very difficult process with the Army Corp of Engineers to find ways to handle the water displacement of the area. Mrs. Hodge mentioned the landscape is in the shape of a bowl and collects water very badly, which I later walked the grounds and found out for myself.
I then made a motion for the planning commission to recommend we not proceed with the project. Dr. Duke seconded the motion and Mayor Smith brought amendments up for discussion of reasons why. Her main reason she wanted to add to the motion was that the land was zoned residential R-1, which does not fit the standards for this project. She also added the finalized amphitheater would violate noise ordinances in residential areas, how it was tens of thousands of dollars over budget, that it was on a flood plain, that there was no environmental study completed even before plans were drawn up and the grant approved and that it did not properly go through the planning commission.
I took all of Mayor Smiths amendments, rephrased the motion, Dr. Duke seconded the motion and it passed unanimously. A letter to the City Council will be sent with this recommendation and will be later voted upon.
I do not live in this area of Carthage. I moved to an area that is quite loud and moved here on purpose, I knew there would be a lot of activity, concerts, festivals, etc. I moved here for that reason. Other people moved to quieter parts of Carthage for the exact opposite reason, to have peace and quiet. I would not be a good City Council member if I did not listen to the dozens of you who opposed this project when I knocked on your door. I promised we would get you involved and discuss it and the first step has been taken through the planning commission. I additionally oppose this project because I do not feel the government should have a role in providing entertainment for the community. I believe in less government, more freedom. I believe in free market capitalism. If a demand for entertainment comes about, the free market will provide it. Now your voices must be heard by the other 5 council members. As read above in the article, at least two of those members have not heard from you. It is important they hear from you, not me. I am one vote of five. I will be loud on this issue, but I need your help. Please show up to the meeting on February 7th at 6:00 pm and I will be more than happy to cede the floor to you and your concerns so that the Council can hear your voice.
The next item on the agenda was New Business. Chairman Shoulders recognized Mr. Bobby Middleton who had concerns about speeding traffic at the intersection of 3rd & High. As you can see in the above picture, this intersection is a very steep climb on both sides of 3rd and the concern is cars coming by so fast that parked vehicles will get hit. He asked the commission about putting a 4-way stop sign. I had heard this issue from another neighbor as well so I can see the concern. My concern is if someone is driving a manual transmission vehicle and is stopped on a steep hill, several dangerous situations could occur. Public Works Supervisor, Les Fisher suggested we enforce no parking on the street near the intersection to avoid the stop sign as well as keep it safe for vehicles which are traveling too fast to see someone pulling out. It was also mentioned that this was a city issue, not a planning committee issue, therefore the mayor would handle the issue from here.
Under new business, I brought up the property on Water Street once again, located next door to former Mayor Donnie Dennis’s house. At the last council meeting, this was brought up, but no one seemed to know why the property was bought and what it was used for. After I wrote about this, I was contacted by a gentleman by the name of Mr. James Trainham. Mr. Trainham met me at the property and had explained to me how Citizens Bank had purchased the property and sold it to the city at a discounted rate for reasons of setting up drainage for the parking lot. This parking lot is shared by First Baptist Church.
I am unsure of how long ago this parking lot was built by the bank or by the church. I do know however during hard rains, this property does not drain correctly. It runs steeply down the parking lot onto Water Street, then down an even steeper hill, where it hits a curb and floods violently over into neighbors’ yards below Rojas and under those neighbors’ home foundations.
Once again, bad water displacement came up during the campaign, and affects other people. This is where I stand on the issue. Did the bank and the church take into consideration the runoff caused by the parking lot when they built it? If so, would they be responsible for the displacement, just as we expect all other businesses and entities to be responsible for their impact on the neighborhood. If so, why does the taxpayer need to foot the bill for the runoff? I do not have answers to these questions so right now this is pure speculation. I will follow up with the pastor of First Baptist and the Bank Manager, so I don’t feel we have enough information to decide on what to do with this property as a drainage area. I would like to hear all sides of the story as this may be the responsibility of the city, it may be the responsibility of the bank or the church or everyone. At this point, I am not sure so I will keep you updated.
Under new business, I also brought up the abandoned house under the Cordell Hull Bridge off of 1st Avenue. I was told this would fall to the city and did not fall under the Planning Commission. Mayor Smith mentioned that the owner was contacted and was willing to sell to the church. I wanted to make it clear that I do have a potential conflict of interest, as I attend church at Carthage Full Gospel and I do not want my personal feelings to go into this matter nor they be speculated upon going into it. I wanted to bring the matter to the attention of the council because of many constituents’ concerns. Even though businesses and churches cannot currently vote in this city, I still feel they are constituents because they pay quite a bit of taxes and these are places we go to worship.
With that, I motioned for the meeting to be adjourned and I was seconded by Dr. Duke and all were in favor. If you have anything you would like to speak to me about regarding this article, please reach out. I never intend on giving out incomplete information, but as sharing information goes, sometimes it happens and when it does, I will make corrections. I promised transparency and the more information I can obtain, the more I can share with all of you. Thank you for entrusting me to serve on this commission and I hope I am representing you well.