Photo by Andrew Wigdor / News Editor
An MTSU English professor and Murfreesboro resident created a petition on Change.org to save the Oaklands Sinking Creek and the surrounding area from the development and construction of townhomes near the Oaklands Mansion.
The petition currently has almost 1,000 signatures and will be presented by petition creator Justyna Kostkowska at a Murfreesboro City Council public hearing on Thursday at 7 p.m. The subject of the public hearing will be the rezoning and addition of 91 townhomes for the proposed “The Cove at Oaklands,” which would cover 11.6 acres of land.
According to reports by the DNJ, the sellers of the property are eight heirs of the late Dr. Alvah White, and they have been trying to sell the property for over 20 years.
Kostkowska claims that the development on the 11.6 acres of woods that run along the sinking creek would have a negative impact on the community that cares about the area. And according to her petition, there are 200-year-old trees and 131 documented bird species that rely on the creek and the surrounding woods.
“I live on Winfrey Drive, right across the street from the back of Oaklands woods. For 18 years I have gone to the natural spring and down the creek to relax and breathe unpolluted air,” Kostkowska said. “It is the closest green area accessible to area residents. When I got my notice about rezoning for 91 condominiums, I was shocked. I and my neighbors went to speak at the first public hearing and spoke about loss of green space and wildlife habitat, as well as flooding danger after these 11 acres are paved over. The vote was unanimous for development. I believe in the democratic process, especially as an immigrant from a former communist country. I started my petition to let people know what was happening so they could speak out and be informed.”
Kostkowska also stated that the area along the creek has a long-standing cultural significance that will be tarnished if the decision is made to construct the townhomes.
“This is just not any piece of land. Prehistoric artifacts have been found there along the creek. There is a federally designated wetland right across on the west side of the creek,” Kostkowska said. “Endangered species of plants such as Sessile Water Speedwell are found there. It is the longest and only wildlife corridor in that part of the city.”
Not only will the wildlife in the area be threatened by the construction, nearby neighborhoods could see increased flooding after the installation of the townhomes, according to Kostkowska.
“By cutting down 11 acres of wood, we would expose the wetland and compromise the ecosystem there. Storm water will be discharged into the creek,” Kostkowska said. “Floods will threaten the close neighborhoods because the natural storm water storage area will be blacktopped. But most of all, we would lose a natural jewel in the heart of the city that will never be restored.”
A public hearing was held by the Murfreesboro Planning Commission in May, during which commissioners recommended the approval of the rezoning by the City Council.
City Councilman Eddie Smotherman, who is also a council representative on the Murfreesboro Planning Commission, voted for the rezoning of the property.
“The question is, does the person who owns the property have the rights to do with the property as they choose, and I know that the property has been for sale for probably a couple decades,” Smotherman said. “It wasn’t until just recently that EXIT Realty took charge of the property … We’ll have to weigh the options of what the developer can and cannot do with the property.”
He stated that the petition will have some bearing on the decision made at the upcoming hearing.
“I’m sure (the petition) will carry some weight. I think that a public presence at a public hearing carries more weight than a petition, but we always consider what the opposition is and why are the people signing the petition opposed to the development.”
Smotherman also commented on the way that an additional 91 townhomes could positively effect the availability of housing in Murfreesboro.
“There’s no question that demand for housing is out there. With the city continuing to grow, as it will, we know that density will become more and more of an issue,” Smotheran said.
The city has, in fact, seen rapid growth in recent years. Murfreesboro was named the 10th fastest growing city in the country by the U.S. Census Bureau on May 25 and, according to the Census Bureau’s population estimates, the city contained over 130,000 residents as of July 2016.
Despite the concerns of housing availability and the rights of the current owners of the land, Kostkowska said that the will of the petition and its supporters will not go unnoticed.
“I believe our city government is listening to the residents’ expressed concern for this special space and that they will reconsider this plan,” Kostkowska said. “I hope they have the foresight to imagine this place as the community imagines it — as a nature area that will draw visitors and revenue the way Radnor Lake nature area does in Nashville.”
The supporters of the petition have created the “Save Oaklands Wetlands Group” on Facebook and have set up information tables about the potential construction and petition in the Murfreesboro public square for the last two weekends. On Tuesday, the group plans to rally and walk from Oaklands Park to the Civic Plaza, and, on Thursday, the day of the hearing, the group plans to rally in front of the Murfreesboro City Hall.
“We are hoping that the city has foresight to see this area as a city treasure that needs to be treated differently from any piece of land,” Kostkowska said.
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