Friday, March 31, 2017

TOP STORY >> Compromise made on noise walls

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville businesses along state Hwy. 67/167 will not be hidden behind noise-reduction walls after all, state Highway Department spokesman Danny Straessle said.

Two major concerns were raised at a March 9 meeting with homeowners along the route:

Concealing businesses and commercial property behind the proposed wall and

Questions of right of way taken from back yards of residents, and its maintenance.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher was immediately concerned not only that passing motorists might miss the businesses but that commercial growth could be stymied.

Who would want to build a business at, but invisible from, the highway, Fletcher asked at the time.

“They’ve been receptive and responsive,” Fletcher said Friday of the Highway Department.

He said Straessle called him the morning after the meeting. “He wanted me to understand that they were open to changes,” said Fletcher.

“A draft proposal to possibly install noise walls along U.S. Hwy. 67 in Jacksonville is being modified in response to public input received,” according to a press release from the department this week.

“Noise walls were being evaluated in areas along the east side of U.S. Hwy. 67 between West Main Street and Gregory Street and on the west side of U.S. Hwy. 67 starting at First Street and continuing northwards until Evans Drive,” according to the department.

The department has modified the proposed noise walls that are being evaluated by removing those portions of the noise walls that would block the visibility of commercial properties from the highway, according to a press release. “These changes were made in response to comments that were received from local citizens, commercial property owners, and local officials.”

The mayor was not the only official concerned about the possible effects on commercial development.

“No way this can be beneficial to Jacksonville,” said state Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) following the meeting.

Johnson said at the time he would do what he could to change “these stupid 12-foot walls.” He was concerned it would discourage new restaurants and other commerce from moving to the town.

After the meeting, homeowner Patrick Thomas called the Highway Department’s presentation “bait and switch,” with the public shown pictures of concrete walls, but the apparent intent, he said, was to use fiberglass or PVC-type walls, which would need periodic maintenance.

“If a 100-year concrete wall is installed there should be no need for a maintenance or right of way,” he wrote in a letter to The Leader. (See page 8.)

Thomas said homeowners would not only lose the back part of their property to a maintenance right of way, but couldn’t fence to the noise wall, meaning they would have to build additional back fences.

“Who’s responsible to mow and maintain that right of way?” Thomas asked.

Fletcher said the city doesn’t have enough equipment to mow that area, and Thomas fears it would become a thicket harboring varmints.

For those driving on the highway, the original plan would have hidden from sight Denny Ward’s City Motors and much of Gwatney Chevrolet, as well as a local veterinarian and other businesses, Fletcher said.

Of the area north of McArthur Church on John Harden Drive, Fletcher said, “I foresee that becoming commercial property, but there’s no value if there’s not accessibility and visibility.”