Maple Leaf land officially rezoned: Project’s next step is bond resolution

With a unanimous vote, the Brown County Commissioners approved rezoning the land envisioned for the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center.

About five people spoke up in support of the project at the Sept. 6 morning commissioners meeting, and about six spoke in opposition during the hour-and-half-long discussion before the vote.

The county commissioners were the next stop after the Brown County Area Plan Commission voted 6-1 in favor of rezoning Aug. 22. The two votes guarantee that 13.472 acres of Chuck and Marilyn Snyder’s farmland will be changed from primary residential to general business.

That change will allow the construction of an indoor theater that will seat 2,000 people.

Bruce Gould spoke about the project and clarified how it would be funded.

Buying the land and building the Maple Leaf — estimated at $10.2 million for the building, plus $2.3 million annually for operating costs — will be paid for by visitors, not by local taxpayers, since the innkeepers tax is the revenue source.

“There shouldn’t be any issues with this building being paid for by innkeepers tax,” he said.

He said project organizers expect the innkeepers tax to increase once the venue opens, and that no property tax dollars would be involved in the project at all.

Commissioner Dave Anderson said he had been assured that the venue would not show up on property tax bills.

“I’ve asked that question at least 100 or 200 times,” he said in response to a similar question from the audience.

“That’s been big time on my mind as well. I don’t want any possibility, 10 years or 20 years down the road, that property tax, any kind of property tax, would apply to this bond issue. I am right in your corner on that, and I’ve been assured by everyone that I’ve talked to about it that would not be the case.”

When asked what other funding streams could be used if innkeepers tax was ever not feasible, commissioner Diana Biddle said the short answer would be that revenue from the venue itself would be used.

The rezoning vote does not completely approve the project since more votes have to be taken on the bond issue, the commissioners said.

Brown County Redevelopment Commission member Tim Clark asked the commissioners to postpone the vote until their Sept. 20 evening meeting in order for more members of the public to attend.

He had a list of questions that he said hadn’t been answered yet.

“I can make the opposite case, that this is a terrible project for the county using the comprehensive plan,” he said.

He asked the commissioners to allow him to do a presentation for them, but no meeting or work session was scheduled for that.

Anderson said he also had questions, but they were answered by project organizers. “I think we all need to be concerned, but be open-minded about everything,” he said.

“What we’re going to vote on today is whether or not to approve what the plan commission has already approved (zoning) and nothing beyond that.”

RDC member Jim Kemp spoke about a need for plans to bring people to live in the county, in order to boost the declining population.

“I understand tourism, but we’re going to have to have some balance at some point in time,” he said.

Other people spoke about the impact the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center and Hard Truth Hills could have on safety, including the volunteer fire department and town police department.

“What I feel is that if you guys vote for this, and as everybody says it’s just going to naturally go forward, you’re going set Brown County up for a major lawsuit if one person in the county, at a venue, if one person gets hurt and does not have medical response in time or (emergency personnel) can’t get there in time,” Brandon Harris said.

Harris serves on the Nashville Development Review Commission and is working with the county RDC.

Residents in Willow Manor and Hawthorne Hills senior apartment buildings also expressed opposition to the location. They again mentioned increased traffic and noise coming to the area where they live, and more noise and air pollution affecting their health.

Real estate agent and county resident Robyn Bowman said there are many assisted living facilities next to major highways, and 700 more cars should not make a difference for residents in the Hawthorne Drive area, which is already a major shopping destination.

“You did move into a town. You didn’t buy 40 acres and went somewhere else, five, seven, 10 miles from here. You moved into town. You moved into a business district in hopes that would grow,” she said.

APC member Paul Navaro — who voted against the rezoning — again spoke about having five major entrances within 1,000 feet of each other on State Road 46 East. He said project organizers should want to hear the concerns about the project.

Resident Evan Werling spoke in favor of the project. He said the people who are opposed haven’t offered better alternatives.

“I’ll go with entrepreneurs like this every day of the week versus the naysayers who haven’t invested one dollar of their money, who haven’t built one business in Brown County and who haven’t created one job. … I strongly urge you to support them. … These are the type of people who bring jobs to Brown County.”

County resident Susanne Gaudin also spoke in support. In the 31 years she has lived in the county, she has seen opposition to several projects that ended up being valuable to the community, like the Brown County YMCA and the recycling center on Old State Road 46.

“What prevailed? People who understood what was best for the community, what was best for the overall economy and the quality of life for our community. We have these wonderful facilities here now,” she said.

“Brown County needs to support projects such as what could be the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center, which requires rezoning of the Snyder farm. It enhances our economy, it enhances the arts and the overall living experience for people who live in this community.”

Before making the motion to approve the rezoning, commissioner Jerry Pittman said that he has not decided whether or not he supports the project.

“One thing I have said from the beginning is I will never put taxpayers of Brown County on the hook for this project if it fails. Your property taxes will not go up if this project fails by my vote. It has to work on its own. It has to be what it’s been said to be in order for the tourists to pay for it,” he said.

“Until I am satisfied with being able to answer every constituent’s legitimate questions, I am not publicly taking a position for or against, but that’s not what we’re here to decide this morning.”

Pittman said the commissioners needed to make the decision based on the rezoning of the property and not its specific use.

“If we rezone this property today, it doesn’t mean the Maple Leaf will ever come into existence. It does mean that if we rezone this for general business use, it will then be eligible for the same types of developments that are already there,” he said.

Pittman said the area is limited in how it can grow because of physical barriers, such as hills and streams, to the north, west and south.

“Just on the basis of whether this property should ever be used for any commercial development, I would be in favor of it because it’s located next to current business zoning and it’s really the only direction Nashville has to grow,” he said.

Next steps

The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center now has the zoning it needs on the land where organizers want it to be built, and the $2 million purchase agreement for the land can move forward.

On the funding side, the Brown County Commissioners and Brown County Council will both have to approve bond resolutions. They will take place during public meetings and will allow for public comments, county attorney Jake German said.

A petition will also need to be circulated in order to create the board that will run the venue. That petition will need to be signed by 50 taxpayers, German said.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.