CLARKSVILLE — The Clarksville Town Council has voted to accept a judge’s orders in a four-year-old civil case and approve rezoning for an apartment complex on the north end of town.
At its regular meeting Tuesday, the council voted 5-2 in favor of accepting the May 12 ruling by Special Judge Terrence Cody in the 2017 case and rezoning a roughly three-acre tract of land on Westmont Drive from B-1 business to R-3 multi-family residential. Plans for Plum Creek Crossing, a 56-unit complex, started in late 2016.
Council members A.D. Stonecipher, who represents the district where the property is located, and Jennifer Voignier voted against accepting the order and continuing with rezoning.
Stonecipher said before the vote that while he respects the judge’s order, he felt the development was not in the best interest of residents in nearby areas.
“Make no mistake, I am in favor of more housing stock as well as population density, yet to rezone without proper park space, tribute to local history and proper respect to...traffic congestion both immediate and secondary was, I believe, and is a disservice to the taxpayers who lived in Hamburg so long,” he said.
“While I intend to vote nay, I certainly hold no disrespect for the council members who vote otherwise, as I recognize this legal fight has cost the taxpayers plenty.”
Developers started the planning process for the apartments in December 2016, which moved forward without issues over the next several months. In March 2017, the Clarksville plan commission approved the rezoning and passed it to the council with a favorable recommendation. Two weeks later, the council denied the rezone, with members Stonecipher, Voignier, John Gilkey and then-council member Paul Fetter against.
The principals at Plum Creek Crossing LLC filed the civil suit, their complaint stating that the votes against the project had been “arbitrary, capricious, illegal and an abuse of discretion.”
In 2018, Cody ruled for partial summary judgement, ordering the council to approve the rezoning. The town appealed and the case was presented to Cody again, this time through a bench trial.
After hearing testimony from town planning staff, the council members who had voted against the rezoning, and Plum Creek Crossing LLC developers Jack Cannady and Steve Scott, Cody affirmed that the votes had been made without full consideration of the project details and how it would impact the surrounding area.
They were “set on denying the request regardless of evidence,” and that “the trial testimony of Stonecipher, Voignier, Gilkey and/or Fetter demonstrate they did not pay reasonable regard to the five statutory considerations, but rather to their constituents, personal feelings, re-election and promises, that had nothing to do with the statutory considerations,” the order reads, in part.
Voignier said after Tuesday’s meeting that she stood by her vote four years ago — she had been trying to do her due diligence then and had concerns about things like a natural spring under the ground there and the effect the property could have had on neighboring property values at that time.
“Plum Creek has been a tough trial,” she said. “I think that it was very complex and I think it holds true that I feel the same way today that I did four years ago when the process began.”
At the time the Plum Creek developers first approached the town about the multi-family units, the immediate area was primarily single-family homes. In 2019, Clarksville approved 19 town homes and a commercial development, both adjacent to the property that has been in litigation.
Council member Mike Mustain was not on the council when it originally voted against the rezoning but voted in favor of the judge’s order Tuesday.
“The judge ordered it, and I have to comply,” he said. “I was not here at the time they made the decision and so I have no interworking knowledge of that. My hesitancy in voting for it is that it’s an order from a judge over a legislative body. [But] it was, as I understand it, the best decision of the council at that time.”
From the May 12 ruling, the council had 30 days to file an appeal, however no motion was made for that Tuesday.
“So unless they schedule a special meeting, I would assume there’s not going to be an appeal,” attorney Greg Fifer, representing the council in the case, said after the meeting.
John Kraft, who represents the Plum Creek Crossing developers, was not available for comment after the meeting.