708 North Hickory Valley/Hwy 58 Apartments-Safety Concerns, Questions

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

By now, you've probably heard about the 708 proposed apartments at Hwy 58 and North Hickory Valley Road. But you might not know about some significant information that was presented at the Aug. 10 commission agenda meeting. A packet with questions and concerns was given to the commissioners about the site plan. This packet included a wide range of topics from the obvious traffic issues to some important safety concerns.

One alarming safety concern is for a section of the apartment complex consisting of 16 buildings. That's about 300 apartments and according to the site plan there's only one access road for them. Two access roads are required for 200 or more dwellings regardless of whether or not they have sprinkler systems. These requirements are found in the International Fire Code and the Hamilton County Subdivision Regulations. It looks like the roads would also need to be about 750 feet apart according to the International Fire Code. Looking at the site plan that seems like an impossible distance to achieve for this area of the apartment complex.

Another serious safety concern is that for 15 of the 16 buildings with only one access road, the road crosses over a natural gas pipeline. So, that would be about 268 apartments. Why is this important? Because the United States Department of Transportation guidance states that the only access road for homes should not be over a natural gas pipeline. Basically, this is a cul-de-sac street. This guidance is in place because if there is a pipeline incident in that area the road may be inaccessible leaving residents stranded and emergency vehicles with no way to get in. On top of that, the pipeline may only be suited for low density development and this apartment complex would be high density. So, will the gas company have to upgrade the pipeline for a development of this size?  At the commission meeting, Mike Price alluded to the fact that if the gas company approves the site plan then that should be good enough. But, the natural gas company approval would not override guidance from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation for an access road.

There are also some concerns and questions about the soil survey and topographical maps for this property. On topographical maps since the 1940's, a depression area is shown between the natural gas pipeline and the TVA transmission line which according to geologists usually indicates a sinkhole. This depression shows up on the soil survey map with a soil classification of  "Ennis cherty silt loam - Description: Drainageways, flood plains; Size:1.3 acres"  So, over an acre in size. That's pretty big and it looks like there are some steep slopes on the sides of this sunken area. It's located where apartment buildings and parking lots are shown on the site plan. So, is it a sinkhole? If so, Hamilton County Subdivision regulations state that, “There is a minimum 25 ft. fieldline and building setback from all sink hole(s) shown.”

There's also a high water table area on the soil survey at the entrance on North Hickory Valley Road. The soil classification for this area shows that the depth to the water table is about 18 to 32 inches. Topographical maps show a stream as well. Is there a stream or spring there? Is this a wetland?  On the site plan, a large apartment building and stormwater pond are shown in this area. High water table and wetland areas are usually not recommended for development because of the risk for structural damage from wet conditions and poor soil stability. So, would this be safe? Also, would there be a risk for groundwater contamination?

There are also questions about the development intensity level assigned to this property. This area doesn't have a specific plan. So, the planning agency staff used the 2030 Comprehensive plan. The property meets the criteria for levels 1,2,3, and 4, but level 4 was assigned by the staff. Level 4 is for higher intensity development while level 1 is for lower. Levels 2 through 4 specify forests less than one acre and slopes less than 25 percent while Level 1 criteria is forests over 1 acre and slopes equal to or greater than 25 percent. The entire 54 acre property excluding the TVA and gas easements is forested and there are slopes equal to or greater than 25 percent, both level 1. The 2030 plan has a hierarchy scale for level assignment when a site meets the criteria for more than one level. Level 1 is above level 4 on that scale. Since the entire property meets Level 1 criteria, why was it assigned level 4?  

Also, under level 1, the 2030 plan says these "sensitive environmental features" have the least potential for development. Throughout the plan it says we need to protect natural resources like forests and steep slopes in order to maintain clean air and water. Looking at the site plan, most of this property will be deforested. How many acres will that be?  Also, how many steep slopes will be affected? What effect will this change in the landscape have on groundwater recharge?

In the staff report, rezoning resolutions from 2013 for apartments and 2015 for a Walmart were mentioned. Both projects were never built. These developments did not include the 54 acre proposed apartment site, but it was mentioned. Both resolutions said that any future development on this property should take special consideration for transitioning between the higher density and the lower density residential to the north. Some of these apartment buildings are about 30 to 100 feet from adjacent lower density property lines and homes with only a 30 foot buffer for transition. Not much of a transition. Why are they so close? What has changed since then? Most of these buildings are 3 stories tall. Are these buildings even going to meet the height requirements for R-3 which is 2 and a half stories or 35 feet? Will the buildings require a special permit for height? Just imagine a 3 story apartment building about 30 to 100 feet away from your home or yard. That's not very far.

A traffic study has not been completed for this development. But, at the commission meeting the need for extra turn lanes on both Highway 58 and North Hickory Valley road was mentioned. Keep in mind the 160 townhomes fronting Highway 58 will be connected to the 708 apartments. So, about 868 dwellings. The staff report predicted 5,182 vehicle trips daily on North Hickory Valley Road just for the apartments. That's a lot of cars and the community has not seen a traffic plan. Will there be a turn lane for cars going into as well as out of the development on North Hickory Valley road? There may be two or three additional lanes needed which would seem only logical for a development this size. But, these lanes are not shown on their site plan. Instead the plan shows stormwater ponds right next to North Hickory Valley road. Where will the land come from for these turn lanes? Shouldn't it be taken out of their development? After all, their development is causing the need for the turn lanes.

Our community is not against more housing or growth but we feel like this development is too large for one area. It also should not come at the detriment of the residents that already live here. There are so many questions, safety concerns, and traffic issues associated with this development that have not been addressed.

The vote for rezoning will take place on Aug. 17. Please go to the 58 neighbors website and look at the "Community Opposition" summary under the "Development Plan" drop down menu which is the packet presented to the commissioners at the Aug. 10 meeting. Also, you can look at the other information, questions, and concerns on the website. If you are opposed to this development please sign the petition and send emails to the commissioners.

We appreciate the commissioners listening to these concerns and hope that they were able to look at all the information and many unanswered questions in the packet. Due to time constraints we did not get to discuss all of them. We hope they will consider all the concerns and unanswered questions when making their votes.

Kim Helton

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