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MPC/DRC last night: TLD sign plan withdrawn as straw poll indicates failed vote

The Municipal Planning Commission/Design Review Commission had a special meeting Wednesday night (3.11.20) at City Hall but before an official vote was taken on a sign plan, Developer Yehuda Netanel withdrew the package.

After hours of discussion about the 21-sign package for the mixed-use development at I-40 and Canada Road (The Lake District/TLD), the primary concern became the legality of whether MPC/DRC members were allowed to approve sign plan elements that vary from the general requirements of the City Sign Ordinance.

The other major sticking point, tonight and during other meetings, was the height of an interstate landmark sign, proposed to be 70-feet tall, vertically, with the word Lakeland on the tower and a rotating and glowing TLD logo at the top.

As the meeting began, Maureen Yarborough, owner of Sign Matters Inc. and working with the TLD project, addressed board members, saying she wanted to clear up some things from the Feb. 20th meeting. She said she felt belittled and mad and learned two things: get a thicker skin and have the team do a better job. She was referencing the February meeting when she received less than favorable reception by Mayor Mike Cunningham over the sign package presentation.  (Her comments are included in the feature video).

Link to agenda: https://tn-lakeland.civicplus.com/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/920

Link to sign package: https://www.lakelandtn.gov/DocumentCenter/View/8923

Sign simulations

At the request of MPC/DRC members in January, two attempts were made to simulate the tower sign allowing Lakeland residents to “view” the sign from their homes around the City. The first was a TLD logo flag atop a bucket truck Feb. 17th. When that initiative failed because the Mayor said he wasn’t notified the crane was in place, a second simulation was staged Feb. 27th using a crane with a light at the top.  It was in place for two nights for all of Lakeland to view, or not.

Straw vote, withdrawal

The six members in attendance (Nikki Bufalino did not attend) took a straw vote about the sign package, ending in a 3-3 tie:  Voting against the sign plan were Vice Chair Scott Carmichael, Mayor Cunningham and Clint Starnes; voting for the sign plan were Commissioner Wesley Wright who serves on the MPC/DRC, Chair Susan Mitchell and Todd Laessig. The vote was non-binding.

Subsequently, Mr. Netanel withdrew the sign package because, he said, he didn’t want to sue the citizens of Lakeland.  He added, “We’ll figure something out.”

Legal, other opinions

Since the last MPC/DRC meeting Feb. 20th, two identical legal opinions were rendered, one from City Attorney Will Patterson, the other from MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service):  The DRC may approve sign plan elements that vary from the general requirements of the Sign Ordinance if the applicant can demonstrate how the varied standards are contextually appropriate and would enhance the overall project.

However, Vice Chairman Carmichael

Scott Carmichael

argued the MPC/DRC can’t vote to change a law of the City, that only the BOC can change or enact ordinances.  Mayor Cunningham said the sign package goes against the Sign Ordinance and changing it opens up a Pandora’s Box. He said it is not appropriate for the board to make changes to the ordinance. The Mayor added he works for the citizens of Lakeland and would not rubber stamp the package.

Jim Atkinson, former city planner and city manager for Lakeland who now works for A2H and is a partner in planning The Lake District,

Jim Atkinson

provided some historical perspective, saying in the early 2000s, mixed-use buildings were not permitted in Lakeland. That was the reason for an amended ordinance in 2016.

Mr. Patterson repeatedly explained there was no changing of the Ordinance or ignoring the Ordinance. There can be a variance, he said, when it is contextually appropriate and would enhance the entire project.

Commissioner Wright said the meeting conversation and decision reflected poorly on Lakeland after so much time on a quality project and it still can’t be approved.

Change the tower height

At one point, the Mayor asked if Mr. Netanel would compromise the 70-foot tower with one only 50-feet tall.  He said that would be 15-feet over the Ordinance regulation and 20-feet below the proposed tower sign.  The Mayor said Lakeland citizen Bill Morgan could not attend the meeting and asked for the compromise.

Mr. Netanel said it’s supposed to be a monument.  It’s a celebration of life.  “I don’t understand why we are here.  It was not visible to Lakeland residents (speaking of the tower simulations).  “For the citizens of Lakeland, we are fighting for what we need for The Lake District.”

He added, “This is not a passing hobby for me.  We have a tremendously high-quality team. We are trying to inspire the whole community.”

Other speakers

Commissioner Richard Gonzales Jr. urged Board members to stick with the Sign Ordinance and if signs are prohibited, stick with it.

Victor Buchholz with Looney Ricks Kiss (also a partner with TLD) said, “It’s really a fabulous package by Sign Matters.  We are very excited about it.  It’s a fabulous opportunity.”

Lakeland resident Lou Melton asked when The Lake District construction loan would close and what happened since the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) expired in 2018.  Mr. Netanel said the construction loan has closed.  Several MPC/DRC members said TIF questions would have to go to the BOC (Board of Commissioners) or Industrial Development Board. That question could not be addressed by MPC/DRC.

The sign plan has been on the agenda for MPC/DRC for a number of months: Dec. 19th when the meeting was cancelled due to lack of a quorum; Jan. 16th when the package was pulled by the applicant; Feb. 5th for a 3+ hour work session; and Feb. 20th when the package was tabled with no vote.

Other business

Sebastrian Morris with A2H presented details on a site plan for Malco Cinema which

Sebastrian Morris

h includes a movie theater, arcade and bowling alley, to be part of Phase 1, Area B of The Lake District. A preliminary site plan with amendments dealing with the photometric plan and elevations was unanimously approved by the Board.

Bob Dalhoff with Dalhoff Thomas Design Studio presented a sketch plan review of Chapel Lakes Planned Development, formerly Chapel Woods PD.

Commissioner Wright said while it is an improvement from Chapel Woods several years ago,  this planned development contains 268 lots ranging from approximately from 5,500 square- feet to 17,000 square-feet. On 126 acres with 21 acres of conservation. It connects to the north with Oakwood Grove and to the south with The Estates of Chambers Chapel. It is bordered to the west by Oakwood and to the east by Chambers Chapel.

Commissioner Wesley Wright

Upon completing his presentation there were several concerns raised by Commissioner Wright: density issues, traffic of 500+ cars upon completion, impact on adjacent neighborhoods, safety on Lakeland Trace, lack of buffers, no trail system, among several other items.

There was discussion over Lakeland Trace connecting to the south at Beverle Rivera Drive and the inexact timeline of that completion as well as the exit at Chambers Chapel at I-40 that must be contemplated with additional subdivisions coming online. It will go back to the firm and be redesigned, then be resubmitted as another sketch plan.

… Video, photos by Jim Willis, Lakeland Currents