In March, the initiative held an open house-style meeting at Lane Agri-Park Community Center in Murfreesboro to kick off gathering public input, where residents visited kiosks to fill out surveys and ranked issues including employment, housing, transportation and preservation by priority and made notes on maps about what areas were best or least suited for growth.
Building schools near where families were moving, growing an employment base, and conserving and shielding ecologically-sensitive land were some future goals highlighted in Rutherford County’s last comprehensive plan approved in June 2011. However, since then, the county has grown by more than 30%, sparking the need for an update to find ways to structure and manage growth.
“The balancing act of having modern amenities with the rural environment is part of the conversation for the county,” said Michael Skipper, the executive director of the Greater Nashville Regional Council. “For the community, the question is what the right trade-offs and locations are; it matters for that stuff. You need to manage growth into the right places.”
Jeff Phillips, the chair of the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission, spoke at the initial March 1 session and said land use planning and density are the county’s top concerns for the coming decades.
Finding money to expand or optimize road networks and extend sewers and other utilities to accommodate new development—paired with an ample supply of available land—should both concern residents about how and where officials steer more intensive development, he said.
Phillips said by some projections, the county’s population could exceed 750,000 by 2050, more than double the current population of 341,686.
“The changes we’ve seen are snowballing,” Phillips said. “I know what the county looks like, but I’m concerned about what the county could look like in the future. In my view, there is no more important project this county will be working on over the next couple of years.”
The county population has increased by an average of 657 new residents a month since 2010 and is expected to break 500,000 by 2045, according to 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data included in the county’s presentation.
In 2010, the county’s population was 262,604, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 estimate.
After analyzing the public input, the county and GNRC will create a draft of the document, which the county’s planning commission and county commissioners could approve sometime next year, according to Rutherford County Planning Director Doug Demosi.
The county plans to hold open houses and public meeting events throughout the city in the initial phase of garnering input, officials said.
“We need input from our local citizens because that helps us in the planning process for where you want our community to go,” Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron said in March. “It is a whole lot better than paying $250,000 or $500,000 to some company out of New York on where we want to go.”
Future hot spots
In an email sent to Community Impact Newspaper by Phillips and Demosi, both cited the availability of relatively cheap land by Middle Tennessee standards along with codes that permit higher density as contributing to the county’s dramatic population growth since 2010.
“We think some of the more major [factors] are the availability of land in the unincorporated areas as well as the density that can be developed in those compared with some of the surrounding counties along with the fact that land here is still somewhat less expensive than the areas closer to Nashville, although that is changing,” Phillips and Demosi said.
Land adjacent to six exits off I-840 that spans sections of Murfreesboro, Smyrna and into Wilson County has been a longstanding focus of interest to developers for commercial and industrial space, said Paul Latture, president of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.
While some of the area lacks utility infrastructure, such as sewer connections, Latture said the potential for the land will likely result in expanding those resources.
“That’s the new frontier, and there is a great amount of opportunity for that to develop, and a large reason that it hasn’t developed is the lack of sewer infrastructure there,” Latture said. “But I think the days when that will be developed are coming rapidly.”
Demosi said in an email to Community Impact Newspaper that while the county’s land is still dominated by open space and agricultural land, the demand for housing has made the discussion of larger-scale development in more rural areas more common.
“As growth has continued to increase, development pressures have increased in the more rural areas of the county. This presents challenges to infrastructure, such as roads and water availability,” Demosi said. “Higher densities are typically seen closer to the municipalities, but there may be pockets in the unincorporated areas where increased density is appropriate.”
Latture said Nissan Motor Corp. establishing an assembly plant in Smyrna in 1981 changed how Murfreesboro, Smyrna, La Vergne and Eagleville addressed planning.
“Every one of our municipalities does a great job thinking ahead about growth,” Latture said. “Communities that have done a good job of anticipating or accommodating growth will have a lot more success.”
The county has schedule community open houses for May 16-19 in Christiana, Rockvale, Lascassas and Smyrna as part of the public input process to shape the “shared vision for the community.” Meeting information is posted on www.planrutherford.org. Residents are also being encouraged to take surveys and polls on the website.
Demosi, who has held his position since 2007, said the plan would likely set new guidelines for zoning districts in more rural areas and that any recommendations for designating allowable uses would have bearing on future development requests.
“I would envision that [the planning and county commissions] would base their decisions, land use or otherwise, on the plan’s recommendations,” Demosi said. “This will be an evolving document, so it’s important to review the plan and amend it from time to time.”
Ralph E. Vaughn, who was president of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce from 1986-97, said the placement of FedEx Corp. in Murfreesboro, Nissan’s plant in Smyrna and a Bridgestone Tire plant in La Vergne were in large part based on the availability of interstate highways and CSX Railroad, resources that make Middle Tennessee a good logistical fit for supply chain and manufacturing, he said.
“It became very clear to us, having manufacturing in Rutherford County, that we are in the demographic center of about three-fourths of the U.S. population,” Vaughn said. “You can manufacture a widget in Smyrna, Murfreesboro or La Vergne, and you are in a unique position for shipping and distribution.”
Vaughn said the continued waves of growth and prosperity are both due to Rutherford County’s unique location and potential and being a reasonable commuting distance from Nashville.
“I’m not trying to be prophetic, but I don’t see things slowing down,” Vaughn said. “When I came to the chamber in 1981, it was clear that Murfreesboro and Rutherford County were destined to grow.”