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George Coleman: Government and business working together for good

George Coleman • Updated Apr 1, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Before I came to Lebanon, I was a resident of Kingsport for 23 years. For 11 of those years, I served on the Kingsport Regional Planning Commission, four of them as chairman. 

During that period, we expanded the boundaries of Kingsport through annexation by ordinance. We were tasked to bring recommendations to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen regarding the priority of areas to be annexed.

We were pretty far down the road in our plan when something changed. 

A developer came to us, requesting we annex an area where he had a large area of land. He wanted to build a new residential community, something which Kingsport needed badly, and was willing to work with us to get it. 

The area to be annexed required a long run for water and sewer, an expensive proposition.

At the same time, the city elementary schools became overcrowded, and a new school was needed. 

Discussions with the developer ensued, and he donated the land for the new school. The city spent millions on water and sewer improvements and a new school. 

The developer was able to add walking paths to his development, ensuring elementary school children could easily walk to school each day

On the benefits side, the city received the needed land for a school, the developer had his property annexed and received water and sewer, plus there was the added selling point of having a local elementary school at the entrance of his new subdivision. On the cost side, the developer gave up some land, and the city gave up its ability to annex other areas, and also gave up the ability to locate the school in another part of town. In the end, both sides felt they gained more than they lost, so they decided to work together.

The reason this project comes to mind is due to the proposed West Side Park at Hamilton Springs. What I find interesting is that some folks are concerned that the property comes with strings attached. Like the project I mentioned in Kingsport, a developer will often do some horse trading in order to build a win-win relationship with a city. 

In this case, the deal is to build a park to add value to the developer’s nearby land. The city gets the land, which springboards an effort to add parkland to the growing west side of town. 

Will the developer benefit from this deal? Of course. 

But that is not the question that we should be asking, and we are wasting time even thinking about it, because it is not important.

So, what is important? 

The key question to be asked should be is moving forward with this project in the best interests of the city?

There are opportunity costs to be considered here. Five million dollars spent on this park is $5 million that will not be spent on other city needs. It is up to our mayor and city council, after receiving input from professional planners and the citizens, to answer this question. 

We are in a fortunate position where we can choose to invest in a new park. There is great appeal in creating a park that will serve our citizens and should boost land values and property tax revenues in the area around the park. 

Doing this also sends a pro-development message that the city Lebanon is a strong partner for win-win relationships with developers, which should help us with this group in the future. All of these are plusses and need to be carefully considered. 

It is not every day that the city has a chance to jumpstart a park with a 15-acre land donation. 

Taking a pass on this creates a lost opportunity, and one we may regret down the road.

George Coleman is publisher of The Lebanon Democrat. Email him at gcoleman@lebanondemocrat.com.

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