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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for June 12, 2023


All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.


We start with local news…

Zion Development Deferred (CDH)

After more than two years of discussions, revisions and consistent concerns expressed by the public, approval of the proposed 765-lot development off Trotwood Avenue will have to wait a little longer.

The development, now known as the Old Zion PUD (planned unit development), went before Columbia City Council last week for its final vote, where it was met with a packed house of concerned residents, county commissioners and public safety officers, The concerns weren't necessarily in regard to housing density, or the development’s proximity to Ridley Park, but rather how it would affect traffic on Trotwood Avenue.

The Old Zion PUD appeared under six separate ordinances, which included requests for annexation, rezoning and approval that it could be designed as a planned unit development, rather than a traditional neighborhood or subdivision.

A planned unit development is typically designated for developments that include more than just housing and associated amenities, which can involve special code requirements and regulations to follow. Approval of these requests would not mean approval of construction. The PUD would have to then enter the preliminary engineering and design phases, which would require additional approvals by the city's planning commission and council per each phase of the estimated 10-year project.

Prior to the council's vote, Thursday's meeting began with six public hearings regarding the six proposed ordinances. This included many comments from county leaders, beginning with Maury County Commission Chairman Eric Previti.

"Trotwood just can't handle it, and we've been at our house out there since 1977," Previti said. "It used to be easy to get home, but with a lot of the growth spurts that have happened in the county over the past eight years we are getting congested."

Previti added that the plan states that the Tennessee Department of Transportation may look into widening Trotwood sometime in the next 10-15 years, though he and many others believe that would be "impossible," especially during the duration of this project's timeline, which is estimated to be about 10 years following final site plan approval.

"I don't think that's going to happen in our lifetime period. It's just not feasibly possible because there is no right of way, you've got parking lots and places where businesses start," Previti said. "I just think we are already full."

In response to the increasing traffic concerns, one major portion of the proposed Old Zion development’s plan is to incorporate multiple traffic and roadway improvements.

This includes installing four new stoplights along Trotwood, additional curb cuts, as well as improving the road shoulders and right of way at the portion of the road that fronts the neighborhood. There was also a proposed connection from the neighborhood to Yeatman Lane, which was met with much pushback from nearby Ashwood Manor residents.

After a brief discussion about the roadway concerns, Columbia Fire Chief Ty Cobb was called to the podium to weigh in on his concerns when it came to public safety and emergency vehicle access in the event of a roadway accident.

In short, Cobb said he was not entirely in support of the project as it stands, and that it would create more safety hazards on Trotwood for emergency responders, who already have difficulty on the two-lane road.

"When you get to Ridley Park, the road really gets narrow and there is only two feet of shoulder, and so it is harder for emergency vehicles to get around. If a vehicle is broken down, they'll be in the way of traffic, and that is a safety issue to me," Cobb said. "I think that needs to be addressed, and that public safety is a top priority."

Mayor Chaz Molder said he was taken aback by Cobb's comments, given it was the first time he had shared them with the council after all this time. Cobb had previously submitted multiple plans of services addressing emergency response to incidents, but Cobb said the plan only referred to the development, not the road.

"If you had concern about your ability to safely access emergency, that should be something considered in the report you provide to the planning commission and council, which we are relying upon," Molder told Cobb. "Now, on second consideration you bring up a concern that we've yet to hear you express."

Council member Debbie Wiles said she commended Cobb on sharing his opinion, and that to keep in mind this all comes down to public safety for citizens and drivers.

"I commend Chief Ty Cobb for giving us his professional response about public safety," Wiles said. "He bravely responded when called to point, and I appreciate his service."

After more discussion about the fire chief's concerns, it was decided that it is too soon to approve the request. Vice Mayor Randy McBroom then motioned to defer the item to July in order to assess Cobb's comments, and how the developer plans to address them.

"I would not want to vote on it, because I don't think it's fair to the developers," McBroom said. "I know they don't want to hear it since this has been a two-year process, but I make a motion to defer. That's so the chief could tell us what he wants, [the developer] can show us what they are going to do and then we can get back and really look at it."


County Mayor Talk (CDH)

Maury County Mayor Sheila Butt addressed pertinent topics facing the county such as growth and development, land use, a building impact fee bill, homelessness and other issues at the annual Breakfast with the Mayor on Wednesday.

Over 100 business professionals and locally-elected officials such as Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, attended the breakfast hosted by Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance at Puckett's Restaurant in downtown Columbia. Maury Alliance President Wil Evans lead the question and answer session, asking Butt about key county issues.

Butt, who was elected in August, highlighted her slogan "Team Maury," which she introduced during her mayoral campaign.

"I am here to serve you. We are all in this together," said Butt, emphasizing that the unprecedented growth in Maury County affects all facets of the community.

"I recently heard someone say, potholes aren't Republican or Democrat," Butt said.

To pay for growth and infrastructure, Butt has heavily backed building impact fee legislation that would charge developers a fee for new construction. Although, Butt, the Maury County Commission and local legislators pushed the bill for two years in a row, it failed in House committees during both sessions of the 113th General Assembly.

Butt said in response that the impact fee bill is not a failure, but is gaining momentum.

"We decided early on that we needed an impact fee," Butt said. "When developers come here, they need schools. They need ambulances. They need roads ... so many services we are mandated to provide."

She also addressed the strain on existing families such as "century farms and farmers, who have been here for 100 years, and they keep having their property taxes raised and paying for services that the incoming people need."

She also praised the passage of the Duck River scenic bill during the 113th General Assembly that would protect a clean waterway, sponsored by Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and highlighted the large citizen turnout (almost 200 citizens) on the Hill. Preserving water and expanding water capacity is one of the most important issues that community's will face in the next 20 years, Butt said, specifically water systems in the region.

"When a committee is sitting there looking out at 100 people saying we don't want this on the Duck River, their votes often change in that room," Butt said.

"We didn't lose anything on the Hill. We made an impression," she later added. She said she will once again support the impact fee bill next legislative session.

She also said she believes "we are behind the curve" in having the appropriate infrastructure in place for new residents moving to the county over the next several years and beyond.

"If we don't have enough ambulances and classrooms, everyone's quality of life suffers. When development comes, they need to help with the infrastructure," Butt said.

Butt addressed the importance of balancing land use between green space and reasonable density for developments.

"I love what's happening in the city, but I also love my 26 acres," she said.

She encouraged constituents to attend zoning meetings and get involved in the decisions being made by county and city government leaders.

"How much density do we want and how far out," Butt said, whether one dwelling per five acres or less.

She also addressed the landfills in the area reaching capacity. Middle Point landfill in Murfreesboro, for example, will reach capacity in under 10 years.

"We might not want it on the Duck, but we are going to have to figure out what to do with our trash," Butt said.

Evans asked Butt about solutions to the rising problem of those experiencing homelessness in Columbia.

"We have had discussions about it. It seems to me, the way this is turning out is more that private entities are saying they want to make a place for the homeless. There are private entities that are looking at properties to build a place for women and children, for families who are homeless," Butt said.

"It's hard for us in Maury County to understand that there are children sleeping in cars at night because parents don't want to give up their children. Those are the kind of people we have to help."

As for what's driving growth, Butt summed up Maury County's quality of life in three words, "faith, family and freedom."

"Who doesn't want to live in Maury County," Butt said. "We have a wonderful culture here. There's no state income tax. Businesses want to come here and raise their families here. There is no better place than Maury County, Tennessee."


Housing Costs (CDH)

While residential and commercial developments continue to break ground across Maury County, coupled with a steady rise in population growth, the side-effects can often create many issues for longtime residents.

One of the issues many longtime residents have sounded off about is that living in Maury County is becoming too expensive, especially for blue collar workers, small business owners and first-time home buyers.

According to recent real estate reports, the average cost of a home 10 years ago might have been around the $100,000-$200,000 price point, now, the median price of a home in Maury County is approximately $400,000, according to an April report by the Southern Middle Tennessee Association of Realtors, compiled by the RealTracs website.

"About 10 years ago, the average sale price was $167,000, and today the average sale price is $451,000," Robert Pogue of Town & Country Realtors of Columbia said about what he is currently experiencing. "Even in 2018, it was only $244,000, and so you can see where the sales prices have gone."

County Assessor Bobby Daniels said, while many home prices continue to increase in certain areas, the local market has become more competitive for sellers.

"Prices are still extremely high for 'out in the county' properties, while subdivision properties have become very competitive," Daniels said. "So, if there is any price decline, like 4% to 6%, it's in the developed subdivisions. They are having to compete for a buyer now, whereas a stand-alone house in the county is still selling at a premium."

Premium pricing is also steady for raw land, which is currently selling between $15,000 and $23,000 per acre, though Daniels added that in some cases developers are paying upwards of $50,000 to $60,000 per acre.

"I find that interesting that our prices continue to be holding above the true market value for out in the county versus the internal subdivisions," Daniels said.

Some might say that the trend holds true for many new residents seeking out Maury County for its rural environment.

During a talk at the annual Farm City Breakfast in Columbia hosted by Maury Alliance, UT Ag Extension agent Darrell Ailshie, stressed that greenspace draws many to the county.

"People come to Maury County for the greenspace. It's an asset to Maury County," he said.

Daniels added that one trend he has seen over the years is many people will purchase a home initially, then work their way to affording the premium rural properties. This can be tied to things like fatigue from over population, traffic and wishing to live in a more rural, open landscape, he said.

And while these premium prices might continue to force longtime or low-income housing residents out to more affordable communities, such as Santa Fe, Culleoka or Mt. Pleasant, a recent study from Smart Asset named Maury County as the eighth wealthiest county in the state, with a median household income of $66,353.

Over the years, many large residential developments have been approved and/or are currently under construction, including some neighborhoods with upwards of 1,000 units.

These developments are often met with pushback from nearby residents, whether it is the potential increase in traffic or public safety hazards.

There is also the concern among homeowners about how nearby growth will affect their home's property value. 

Daniels said there really isn't a clear answer, and that values are primarily determined by the market.

"When a neighborhood comes on board, they find their per square-foot price point, and it will hold true to that unless there is a downturn in the economy," Daniels said. "When they start reselling is when we know what the affects might be."

As the increase in home and property prices continue to show increases compared to yesteryear's market, there remains a need for affordable housing.

Or rather, what used to be considered "affordable" in terms of homes for low-income families, retirees and others who might have spent their whole lives in Maury County. While organizations like the Columbia Housing & Redevelopment Corporation have not only provided hundreds of affordable units, there remains a long wait list for anyone hoping to live in one.

To Daniels, the definition of "affordable," might be a thing of the past given the county's unprecedented growth over the last decade.

"It's very seldom in today's environment to find anything the average person would consider to be 'affordable housing,' and that's based off how the rents are and the cost to build," Daniels said. "An investor has to have some kind of return on investment, or it's simply someone stepping up like the government or a private entity to subsidize it. That's really the only way you're going to see affordable housing, because it's just too expensive in Maury County to make those kinds of investments."

But, like the real estate market itself, it could change at any time.

"The only thing that stays the same is that it doesn't stay the same," Pogue said. "It's a very optimistic time, and I think things are positive for this area. The growth is positive, and I believe it's being managed as well as it can be."

Flag Raising Ceremony (Press Release)

The City of Columbia is pleased to announce the highly anticipated flag raising ceremony to celebrate its first official city flag. The event will take place on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, at 8:00 AM at Columbia City Hall.


The flag raising ceremony marks an important milestone in Columbia's rich history as it proudly presents its very own city flag for the first time. The flag design represents the unity, heritage, and vibrant spirit of the city's residents, capturing the essence of Columbia's past, present, and future.


During the ceremony, city officials and community members will come together to share in this momentous occasion. The program will feature speeches from city leaders, including City Mayor Chaz Molder and flag designee Byson Leach highlighting the significance of the flag and its symbolism to the city's identity. The City looks forward to this event as we celebrate the raising of Columbia's first official city flag.


And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Mrs. Sharon Brown Bailey, age 80, passed away peacefully on June 8, 2023 surrounded by her family. Funeral services for Mrs. Bailey will be conducted Tuesday at 11:00 A.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Monday from 4:00 P.M. – 7:00 P.M. at the funeral home.

Mrs. Anne Lindsey Baker, retired Office Administrator for Maury County Water System and resident of Leoma, died Friday, June 9, 2023 at Southern Tennessee Regional Health Systems. Funeral services for Mrs. Baker will be conducted Wednesday at 2:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Wednesday from 12:00 P.M. until service time at the funeral home.

Mrs. Sandra White Dugger, 80, retired unit secretary for Maury Regional Medical Center, died Friday, June 9, 2023 at Brookdale Assisted Living. Funeral services for Mrs. Dugger will be conducted Wednesday at 10:00 A.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Friendship Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Tuesday from 5:00 P.M. – 8:00 P.M. at the funeral home.

Mrs. Patsy Gail Chumbley Fox, 53, training and client specialist for 30 years for Tennessee Farm Bureau and resident of Culleoka, died Friday, June 9, 2023 at St. Thomas West. Funeral services for Mrs. Fox will be conducted Thursday at 2:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Friendship Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Wednesday from 4:00 P.M. – 8:00 P.M. at the funeral home.


…And now, news from around the state…

Gas Wells to be Capped

Abandoned gas wells — essentially deep holes in Earth’s crust that slowly spit out methane — will soon be capped in one of Tennessee’s federally-protected lands. 

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced funding Thursday to plug orphaned oil and gas wells in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and other public lands and waters. 

In Tennessee, the department will remediate five gas wells in the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area, a protected 125,000 acres in the Cumberland Plateau that includes both the Big South Fork National River and the Cumberland River. 

“Decades of drilling have left behind thousands of non-producing wells that now threaten the health and wellbeing of our communities, our lands, and our waters,” Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

The five gas wells in the Big South Fork area were drilled in the 1980s, according to the National Park Service. The average gas drill depth during that time was about a mile below the surface, but wells can be much deeper.

The total number of abandoned oil and gas wells in the U.S. are known to be undercounted, with some estimates in the hundreds of thousands. The Environmental Defense Fund mapped 120,000 orphaned wells across the nation. There’s a high concentration in southern Kentucky that spills into Tennessee. There are at least 300 orphaned wells in the state, according to the EDF. 

The Department of the Interior defines “orphan wells” as the holes left behind after extractive companies abandon site use, monitoring and responsibility, similar to how many coal companies, with promises of reclamation, have caused significant environmental harm yet escaped accountability for it. 

The main threat is methane leaks. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is roughly 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide at heating the planet over a 20-year timeframe.

Oil and gas drilling sites account for some of the world’s worst climate pollution sites. Texas’ Permian Basin and the Ohio-West Virginia area’s Marcellus Shale, which likely feeds methane through pipelines to gas plants in Tennessee, are currently ranked first and fourth, according to Climate Trace.  

Leaking gas wells can also pollute air and drinking water sources, and they have been found under backyards, sidewalks, houses and apartment buildings. 

Tennessee has as many as 16,000 oil and gas wells, based on the number of permits granted by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation since 1968, but there is limited information on their activity or closure status. 

The $64 million funding announced Thursday comes from a $16 billion investment from the Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address legacy pollution.


Sounds Honor Covenant Victims (NewsChannel5)

On Thursday, June 15, the Nashville Sounds baseball team will wear jerseys that are specially designed in honor of Nashville and the victims of the Covenant School shooting.

The jerseys are a deep navy blue, with five white lines along the front and the abbreviation "NASH" printed over the shape of a guitar pick.

The sleeve of the jerseys features a heart that says "Covenant Strong," with all the names of the Covenant shooting victims listed inside the heart.

The jerseys are available for auction online until June 22. All the proceeds from the auction will benefit VictimsFirst and the Covenant School shooting victim's families.

For more information visit www.nashvillesounds.com.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The Third Annual Big Machine Music City Grand Prix which will take place the first week in August, announces an inaugural FAST PASS preferred access program in partnership with Downtown Nashville’s most popular venues for all 3-Day Ticket buyers. Existing 3-Day Ticket holders and future 3-Day Ticket buyers will present a special FAST PASS wristband upon entry to participating venues for front-of-the-line access. Each venue will have limited capacity for FAST PASS and will operate on a first-come, first-serve approach. FAST PASS wristbands can be picked up on site at nine (9) Guest Services locations.

“Nashville has become the premier music party destination in the country, and we are excited to offer our race fans preferred access to some of downtown’s most popular bars and clubs,” said Jason Rittenberry, President & COO, Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. “This weekend is jam-packed with entertainment and one-of-a-kind experiences and this is one way to enhance it even further!”

Ticket options are available at www.musiccitygp.com/tickets. Other premium hospitality options can be purchased by calling (615) 270-8705 or via email  tickets@musiccitygp.com.


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