During the latest in a series of monthly meetings, the county Strategic Planning Committee heard from the Manchester mayor and two aldermen their thoughts on growth in the city.
Some key issues discussed were opening the urban growth boundary, animal control, and the prospect of a city high school.
The growth rate for Manchester was at least 20%, while according to Chairman Lynn Sebourn, Tullahoma had 49 new houses build. But the substantial growth in Manchester has stressed the city’s infrastructure and used much of the city’s land resources.
One solution discussed was the opening of the UGB and promote growth on the perimeter areas around the city limits.
Mayor Marilyn Howard repeated to the committee the expression rooftops drive retail, but she cautioned that there is a lag between development and the funding that revenue that it will eventually provide.
The city’s infrastructure, she said, had trouble keeping up with that growth.
Aldermen Joey Hobbs and Ryan French expressed interest in a city high school while Howard said the focus of the city should be to meet the needs of the current K-8 population before going after additional grades.
French said that he regrets the lack of coordination when the ninth grade academy was made. He said there was a missed opportunity to create a unified school district there, make that campus a city high school.
“It would not have to be an exclusive city-only high school. It could be a unified district. Now we don’t have that and we’re at the point where something has to give on the high school level which will obviously lead to a new build,” he said.
Howard demurred, “it is a challenge to keep up (with the growing student population) without a high school….”
She said that the location of a new school is a challenge.
Sebourn suggested that school boards and government leaders need to work together on location new schools.
“There has been a bad habit of the school board saying, oh we bought some land we’re going to put a school there without considering the impact it has on the rest of the county and city,” he said.
A shining example would be Tullahoma’s West Middle located well off the Old Winchester Highway that has keep the school and traffic off the retail space.
“As the county grows, we don’t want to be clogging up our main growth corridors with school buildings,” he said.
Hunt said that there is a contingent of the population that does not want growth. But that mindset has to be tempered with that of property owners’ rights.
“You can’t stop somebody from buying property and building a house on it,” Sebourn said.
As far as the historical cooperation between city and county, Hobbs observed that every time the city and county partner “somebody can’t hold up their side.”
“Part of this needs to be how do we foster this together. That’s why I ran for both,” Hobbs said (Hobbs is a county commissioner and city alderman).
“If we continue to take all the land in the cities, Manchester especially, where are we going to put stores and things we want to come in?” Hobbs asked.
Commissioner Jimmy Hollandsworth suggested a place prepared for residential development, it would save large agricultural tracts from being bought to use for large-lot developments. That he said would be a waste of farmland.
French said that lack of planning was the greatest threat to agriculture. He said that the UGB is often thought of as meant to protect agricultural land when it conceived as a growth planning tool.
Commissioner Dennis Hunt, who sits on the County Planning Commission, said that the cities should wait to expand the UGB before taking in new area there.
He said the UGB was established a place for municipalities to grow into. “I don’t see expanding the UGB as accomplishing anything until each municipality has grown into the existing UGB, and they haven’t done that.”
Seborn said that there are specific locations that the municipalities are interested in for annexation.
French added that specifically, the area on the Woodbury Highway near Coffee County Middle School, had it been in the UGB would have been requested to be annexed.
Whether the city will remain in the animal control business is one point of contention within the city. Members of the Street Committee feel that the city should shift the operation to the county when the county’s proposed shelter comes online.
French reasoned that city residents’ taxes pay for both city and county shelters but aren’t served by the county shelter.
Yet the impact of serving an additional 12,000 residents by two-three member staff was not addressed, though the idea of keeping a city animal control officer and housing collected animals at the county facility (following the model of the city and county law enforcement and jail) was floated.
The Strategic Planning Committee will meet Thursday, January 19 to discussion the draft goals and recommendations for County Strategic Plan from the committee’s collection of meetings.