Photo by Andrew Wigdor / News Editor
The Murfreesboro City Council is considering the purchase of the 11.6 acres that include the Oaklands Park wetlands after the developer, who previously was planning to build 91 townhomes on the property, decided to no longer pursue the property.
The family that currently owns the property accepted the City’s offer of $300,000 for the land on Wednesday afternoon, and the Council will be voting to approve the purchase on Thursday during their regular meeting at 7 p.m.
According to City Councilman Eddie Smotherman, the developer, Brian Burns, withdrew due to concerns that it would be too expensive to develop the property and wetlands.
Originally, the eight heirs of Dr. Alvah White that own the property offered the 11.6 acres to the city for $600,000.
“We didn’t feel that the property was worth that, but they found a developer that thought that it was,” Smotherman said. “Our city engineers didn’t think there were more than three acres or so that was developable, and, therefore, the property didn’t have a significant value because so much of it was wetlands.”
According to Smotherman, Burns believed that he could develop about eight acres of the property, despite the wetlands. After engineers and representatives from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation were brought onto the property, Burns discovered that eight or nine acres of the property were wetlands.
Smotherman stated that the City plans on using the property to develop and extend Cherry Lane. In order to develop Cherry Lane, the City would have to preserve a certain number of wetland acres. According to Smotherman, the property is currently worth about $300,000, and the main reason that the City views the wetlands as valuable is that they can be counted toward meeting state mitigation requirements for when the City chooses to pursue infrastructure projects, such as the extension of Cherry Lane.
“Basically, what we are doing is we are building up a preservation bank, so that when we build that roadway, we’ll be able to use these credits,” Smotherman said. “The City really needs the property from that perspective, and it would be an asset to the park itself.”
According to Smotherman, the City plans to put forth extensive efforts to preserve the wetlands on the property.
“The intentions with this property is to develop it with a mild and not so intrusive greenway system that is more of a path than what you would think of as a traditional greenway,” Smotherman said.
Justyna Kostkowska, an MTSU professor and Murfreesboro resident who started a petition to save the wetlands that received over 1,000 signatures, believes that the City purchasing the property is a step in the right direction.
“We trust the city to take care of them, but we also hope to have a management organization that will be watching over how the wetlands will be protected,” Kostkowska said. “But, this is absolutely much better than 91 condos going on there.”
Kostkowska is a part of the group “Save Oaklands Park Wetland,” which will be in attendance at the council meeting on Thursday. While Burns planned to develop the townhomes on the property, the group organized marches to City Hall and set up information tables in the Murfreesboro Public Square.
“The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation made a very groundbreaking decision for the developer because that made it so expensive to develop that it did not make sense for him… And since then, we’ve just been making our appeal to protect, protect, protect.”
According to Kostkowska, the group organized an “on-ground” petition in addition to the online petition, and there are approximately 1,400 signatures between the two.
“The mayor has been listening and so have some city council members. I have not reached all of them,” Kostkowska said.
Kostkowska stated that the current “Save Oaklands Park Wetland” group will transform into a group titled “Friends of the Oakland Wetland,” which will continue the preservation efforts alongside the City.
“We will transform and morph into a volunteer group and maybe a nonprofit, something that will give us more say than a bunch of volunteers … We have become (the wetland’s) stewards, and we hope the City respects those efforts.”
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