Murfreesboro has begun planning for the “City of the Future.” That’s the catch phrase, anyway. More specifically, city government has started work on Murfreesboro 2035, a future land use plan that will help determine how the city will deal with its population growth over the next 20 years.
The current population of Murfreesboro is 202,000, but it’s projected to grow to 362,000 by 2035, nearly doubling.
Rutherford County is expected to grow, as well, from its current population of 309,000 to 509,000 by 2035, according to Aaron J. Tuley of Kendig Keast Collaborative, the Texas consulting firm which is developing the new Future Use Plan for the city.
Tuley has several suggestions for the city that he has made to the Murfreesboro City Council and Murfreesboro Planning Commission in a series of meetings – most recently a special city council hearing on Thursday evening before the regular council meeting.
First, Tuley said, “Create a code which spells out exactly what is needed.”
Next, he suggested lining up development based on strengths the city already has, but using an economic planning director.
‘Build on strengths’
Some of the strengths Tuley mentioned are MTSU, which creates an educated workforce; a well-defined cluster of medical institutions; and an assortment of tourism and sports-related facilities.
A good strategy might be to use those resources as a base to build growth upon, Tuley pointed out. He also said the city should try to create a revolving loan fund to help incubate new businesses.
Again, MTSU could be a major resource for the classes, mentors and trained employees to make the incubation of new businesses more successful, according to Tuley.
He also recommended partnering with MTSU and the Chamber of Commerce, renovating downtown, recruiting new housing, and attracting/recruiting “good, clean” industry.
‘Zone for desired qualities’
Plus, Tuley also suggested changing how the city’s zoning works to emphasize the desired qualities of a given area, not just its population density.
When Councilor Eddie Smotherman asked how the city could transition from the current zoning to the new type, Tuley said that creating very specific codes should make that work easily. He also pointed out that all existing buildings could simply be grandfathered in with no variances required.
Planning Commissioner Kathy Jones wanted to know how the city could control developers who want to create as high density as possible.
Tuley explained that the proposed plan would only allow added housing density if it were accompanied by added green space.
The end result would be that in areas where duplexes are built, for example, there would have to be more open space than in areas where single-family homes on large lots are located.
Also, greater density could be encouraged in urban zoning areas where extra stories in apartment buildings could be approved as rewards for building subterranean garages and green space on roofs.
‘Attract young professionals’
Tuley told the council and the planning commission that one thing in planning has changed ever since planners have discovered that if an area has a skilled competent workforce, companies will come there.
Now cities tend to encourage the types of residential development that encourage young professionals to want to live there.
He said Murfreesboro has an advantage in that market because of MTSU. Many new graduates would like to stay in the community where they have just spent several pleasant years.
Tuley and his coworkers have just spent more than a week in town leading meetings with city employees and officials, as well as a public meeting at Patterson Park Community Center.
They plan to return for more input from the community. Tuley noted that overall, he’s been working on Murfreesboro’s growth plan for 13 to 14 months now, and “it’s been a labor of love.”
‘Hold neighborhood meetings’
Smotherman suggested neighborhood meetings at each of the four area high schools.
“That could get it closer to home,” he said. “It’s almost too grandiose to understand. We need citizens to tell us what they want. It’s not just about what we want.”
Councilor Ron Washington pointed out the need for reliable public transit. “The public needs to promote funding for transit at federal, state, and local levels,” he said. “Everybody wants it, but they don’t want to pay for it.”
He also talked about the need for the future use plan to include pedestrian and biking pathways and facilities.
“We had better figure it out, because it’s only going to get costlier,” Washington said.
Smotherman agreed: “The state isn’t set up to do any new projects, but if we are going to grow, we need the funds. It won’t just magically appear.”
Non-growing communities can tolerate simply maintaining transportation infrastructure, Smotherman added, but growing communities “like Murfreesboro” will need to find the money to expand their transportation facilities somehow.
And Tuley said that’s exactly what land use planning is all about.
“Land use planning aims to make the best use of limited resources,” he told the councilors. “It’s planning to bring about desired changes and learning from experience.”