BY QUINT QUALLS
The developers behind the plan for a downtown district in Spring Hill on the current site of the Tennessee Children’s Home have proposed a rezoning request to the Municipal Planning Commission, as well as the initial conceptual layout of the project.
Planners involved in Spring Hill’s downtown development project were given the green light to begin laying out a new concept plan using the new tools provided by the city’s adoption of a new “hybrid” zoning, the Planned Zoning District (PZD), earlier this year in April. The developers have now requested a rezoning from Neighborhood Shopping District to a PZD.
The Tennessee Children’s Home property is planned as the site of the downtown project, which calls for the 102-acre property to be transformed into a mixed-use city center and town square that could include, among other things, a new city hall, a library and 320,000 square feet of office space. The town square would be comprised of retail, restaurant, office and residential components. Historic Ferguson Hall, which sits on the property, would serve as a visitor’s center under the proposed plan.
The Tennessee Children’s Home is planned to move to a new 86-acre property off of Doctor Robertson Road.
The planning commission considered the rezoning request for the project at its Monday work session.
One focal point of discussion at the work session regarded the plan for parking and access, and the concern that the auto-oriented parking ratios of the city’s regulations may be excessive in such a downtown area.
“The feel for the development is more of an urban walking development,” said Mike Hale, of the company that hopes to soon own the property, KSC Construction. “To bring people into the neighborhood and they can park in a centralized location and then walk throughout the community, it’s very friendly for walking. And also for the residential areas, they will have walking trails and also sidewalk access to walk into the town center area where the commercial properties will be, the restaurants and retail stores. Above those we also have the residential properties above the first floor retail and restaurants, so there will also be people living in that town center area that will be walking, as well.
“So parking is less important to have the off-street dedicated parking for each site, but it’s something we want to continue working with the city — to bring municipal facilities into the city. We’re working with Victor (Lay, city administrator) on the potential of having a new city hall and library in this center, as well.”
City Planner Dara Sanders outlined multiple areas in which city officials would like more information.
The requests for further information by city staff include topographical details of the property; identification of trees to be retained on-site; locations of adjacent cemeteries, structures, developments and historically significant properties; and the locations of known existing or proposed ground leases or access agreements (shared parking lots, drives, etc.).
Because of historically significant features on the property like Ferguson Hall, Sanders added that the historic commission will need to take a look at the rezoning request and come up with a recommendation prior to the planning commission’s vote.
Tom Meadows, a member of the historic commission, spoke during the public comment period of the meeting, adding some caution on the historical components of the Children’s Home property.
“I ask this group and any other committees that review these plans, with regard to Ferguson Hall, let’s be very specific on the uses for Ferguson Hall and what effects there could be on its interior. I know as a historic place that the outside of the building is protected, but to be quite honest we have history splattered on the floor. The blood of (General) Van Dorn is visible on the floorboards. So if that building were to be gutted for a meeting space or an office room, in fact you would be destroying history.
“It’s not just the outside of the building. Not to mention all the parts, like its history as a school. It is in the very heart of Spring Hill, which makes the property behind it very appropriate for this downtown area. I’m not against developing it, but please look carefully for any loopholes or any future things that may come up on the usage of the building inside and out.”
Brian King, president of the Tennessee Children’s Home, explained that they submitted the zoning change because of a contract they have with the contingency that the property first be zoned.
No votes were taken at the planning work session Monday. Prior to a vote on the rezoning at the Nov. 14 meeting, the historic commission will need to make its recommendation. If approved by planners, the rezoning request will move on to the Board of Mayor and Alderman for two readings and a final vote.
Quint Qualls covers Spring Hill for Home Page Media Group. Reach him at email@example.com.