The controversial Cason Trailhead area development, a timeline

Photos and Story By Savannah Meade

It all started with letters in the mail, or a lack thereof. 

 

Some residents of the Cason Trailhead area in Murfreesboro received a notice in December explaining the area of land behind their homes had been purchased and development was being planned. It also notified residents there was a community meeting planned for Dec. 18 to meet with developers, hear about the details of the project and voice their concerns. 

 

The first meeting was attended by over 100 residents of the area. Cramped into the library of Cason Lane Academy, developers and representatives from the city government also attended. Before the meeting even started, there was discussion among neighbors about forming a petition against this project. 

 

There was also question as to whether enough letters were sent out. Many people in attendance only knew about the meeting because of a Facebook page that had been set up by resident Tavner McKelley to get the word out. 

 

“People were angry they hadn’t gotten a letter. People went to the meeting already feeling like there was a lack of integrity. They were angry,” McKelley said.

 

The Community Meeting

 

As the meeting started, the planner of the project, Clyde Rountree, talked about the project as a whole. The proposal was for 384 townhouses to be built on the over 41 acres of land next to Cason Trailhead and behind Stoney Meadow Drive. The project, named Hidden River Estates, would be a gated community with two entrances coming from Cason Trail. There would be three different types of townhouses, but all were described as high quality and affordable. 

 

A project like this meant that the developers would need to apply to change current zoning of the land from RS-10 to “planned residential development.” This would allow for the developers to build higher quality townhomes.

 

Rountree also assured residents that they had sent out nearly three times the legal minimum of letters notifying neighbors of the meeting. This was met with laughter and disbelief from the crowd. 

At this first meeting, neighbors had already done their homework, asking about floodways and traffic impact studies. Many questions did not have an answer, but were taken into consideration for more research to be done. 

 

Seen, But Not Heard

 

At the end of the community meeting, members of the community did not feel like their concerns had truly been taken into consideration. 

 

In the following days after the meeting, McKelley created an online petitionagainst the development project. McKelley didn’t know what to expect with the petition, but was blown away at the wide response it received. 

 

“To be honest, I was excited when we got 50 people to sign,” McKelley said. “Not only is the neighborhood concerned, but the city of Murfreesboro is concerned.”

With the Planning Commission meeting approaching, another community meeting was held on Jan. 10. At this meeting, residents gathered to talk about their concerns and get organized for the Planning Commission meeting.  

 

The Planning Commission

 

On Feb. 6, the Planning Commission meeting was held at City Hall in Murfreesboro. Residents against the development wore matching green t-shirts that had “Save The Cason Lane Trailhead Greenway” printed on them. 

 

The meeting started at 6 p.m. and did not end until after 10 p.m. Rountree presented the plan for the development, while Sam Huddleston from Huddleston-Steele spoke about a traffic impact study he had completed. Brian Burns, who owns the property, briefly spoke to the Commission about his previous projects similar to this one. 

Members of the community, many with prepared statements, also spoke to the Commission. McKelley was the first to speak. He presented the Commission with the petition, which had over 4,000 signatures. 

 

The major concerns from residents were clear; traffic, environment and flooding. 

 

“The greenway is a place where our community meets the animal community,” said Kevin Finn, a local teacher and resident. “Like any other meeting place, it’s a space of opportunities… one of infinite value. But this space has grown thinner and thinner… the more space we shave away, the less likely such encounters [with animals] become. That, I believe, is an extraordinary loss for both communities. The animal and the human.”

 

The Planning Commission clarified that the area of the development was in a FEMA designated flood plain, but not a flood way. So, it was within the safe and legal parameters to build there. However, residents were still concerned about the flooding. 

 

“Currently our storm water drains into this [area] and is absorbed,” said resident Dr. Jacklyn Brown. “Trees can absorb so much water. In fact, this 41 acres is capable of absorbing 1.4 million gallons of water [by] the trees. Condos? Not so much. They don’t absorb the water… it [water] has to go somewhere.” 

 

After the Commission heard the public, they decided that they would defer their vote until the developers could add more detail to their proposal. 

 

What’s Next?

 

Though many residents would like to see the area left as-is, it’s unlikely that will happen. The property has already been purchased which means, unless it becomes a flood plain issue, the property is likely to be developed in one way or another. 

 

“It may not be developable when he finds out how much fill he’s going to have to bring in to raise the elevation to get it above the flood plain…but this is the process,” said Eddie Smotherman, who serves on the Planning Commission. 

 

McKelley said that she would like to see the space left as it is. 

 

“I would love it to be a public park. To leave it for the wildlife and let the public enjoy it. And maybe allow the public to weigh in on that. If they want to leave it alone, I think that would be wonderful.” McKelley said. 

 

Burns said that while this is the most opposition he’s had against a project, the developers are still excited to go forward.

 

“Every time you do a project, no one wants it besides you, we understand that,” Burns said, “This is what happens always. You listen to people, you try to fix the things you can fix and then you see where your cards lie.” 

The Planning Commission will hear the developers’ proposal again at a future meeting. The issue was not presented at the most recent Planning Commission on April 3.