Consulting engineer recommended

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Murfreesboro-based environmental engineering firm has been recommended as Marshall County's planning consultant, according to the county's building and zoning official who reported to Lewisburg planning commissioners recently.

"Griggs & Maloney is recommended by the Planning Advisory Committee," a panel that reports to the Joint Economic and Community Development Board for hiring by the county and the municipalities, Don Nelson, the county building and codes officer, said.

The committee issued its recommendation in November and Nelson reported to Lewisburg's planning commissioners in December.

"Now, we have to go back and sell it to our jurisdictions," the building and codes officer said a few days after the planners' meeting in City Hall. "I see them (Griggs & Maloney) saving us a lot of money," Nelson said.

The JECDB made countywide planning a priority in its five-year plan.

The JECDB in Marshall County has been working to recommend a countywide planner, but Nelson says the work could be done by Griggs & Maloney, the consulting engineers retained by Chapel Hill.

Many towns and counties without a planning department rely on the Local Planning Office of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development for a local planner who, under contract between the state and the local government, provides advice on land use for development, and issues raised by subdivision design, drainage, road connections and housing placement.

But, TDECD's service and the leader of the state's local planning office were reportedly found lacking a few years ago when the county and its municipalities struggled to rewrite their 20-year development plans on where municipalities could grow through annexation. The plan also outlined areas for commercial, industrial and residential development.

As a result, the JECDB, in consultation with Nelson, explored the value of having one countywide planner who could help the county and its five municipalities write a uniform planning code to make development more consistent, easier for builders and developers, as well as cut costs for the several local governments.

Toward that end, Nelson said he and others met with Art Brown, the regional director for TDECD's Local Planning Office, and that led to a re-examination of TDECD's contract with local governments.

"The state has a pretty rigid contract," Nelson told city planners during their monthly meeting on Dec. 22. "They're not in a position to bend it."

A search for one planner attracted a few people interested in knowing what opportunities existed in Marshall County. One was Franklin's retired planning director, Bob Martin. A woman also attended what might be called a pre-bid conference. No decision was made as a result of that call for interested parties. The process was repeated.

The recommended advisor is Griggs & Maloney, Nelson said.

TDECD's annual contract with the county has cost $9,250, Nelson continued in his report at City Hall. Griggs & Maloney would charge $73.50 per hour and the firm's leaders have told Nelson and the JECDB, "'Use us when you need us.'"

The engineering firm will dissolve its contract with the county after receiving a seven-day notice. Terminating the state contract required several months advance notice.

Nelson reported to Lewisburg planners on a suggestion from Greg Lowe, the recently promoted industrial development director who's served as codes enforcement officer and stormwater management director.

Planning Commission Chairman Jim Bingham, president of Bingham Engineering located on the west side of Lewisburg's public square, reacted to Nelson's mention of Griggs & Maloney by saying he didn't know that firm provided planning services.

Nelson responded the firm would help local planners with training that's required by the state and with examination of development plat, basic maps for a development.

Among the reasons for consistency between the various local governments' planning and zoning regulations are the state's enforcement of federal requirements promulgated as a result of the Clean Water Act of 1972 and its amendments that call for stormwater management.

Drainage issues have cost Lewisburg money, as it's become the target of director orders from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, telling the city to improve record keeping and closer adherence to federal protections for rivers and streams. TDEC enforcement also affects the county.

Lessons the county learned "painfully," Nelson said, came when drainage issues were presented to developers, and county codes enforcers were told the county planning commissioners authorized the development as being built.

Amid that confrontation was the work of John Smiley, the right-hand man for County Roads Superintendent Jerry Williams. Smiley had interpreted county planning commissioners' approval for a road through a subdivision and that's resulted in a conflict with drainage rules.

"That's putting a lot on John Smiley," Nelson said.

As a result, the county will use Griggs & Maloney to review subdivision plans from developers and to train county planning commissioners, Nelson sad.

"We don't anticipate using them for long range planning," Nelson said in an apparent reference to the 20-year plan that was accepted by the county and its five municipalities four years ago.

Nelson's report to city planners came as Kristin Costanzo, the state-contracted local planer for Lewisburg, listened. She provides much the same service for Lewisburg, as Griggs & Maloney will for the county, and more.

"I wish my boss and my boss's boss could be more flexible," Costanzo said.

Noting one aspect of the contract impasse, she said, "A lot of the rates (charged by the state) are partially subsidized."

She acknowledged that, economically, times are hard and that could have an impact on local governments' decisions to get advice at a lower price.

Politically changing times might also affect the situation.

"Perhaps with the change of administrations," Bingham said referring to a new governor taking office in a few weeks, "there will be more flexibility."