By SUSAN LEATHERS Brentwood Home Page Plenty of news was produced in Brentwood throughout 2010, but several stories easily separated themselves from the pack as we began reviewing them to determine what 10 to include in our review of the biggest and/or most important stories of the year to include in our Year in Review coverage. Our Top 10 stories of the year include the May flood, a rash of bank robberies, the fall of the library’s historic bur oak tree and the largest land purchase in the city. What are the other six? Read on …
Updated 8 a.m. Thursday Flood, bank robberies, land purchase among most notable
By SUSAN LEATHERS Brentwood Home Page Plenty of news was produced in Brentwood throughout 2010, but several stories easily separated themselves from the pack as we began reviewing them to determine what 10 to include in our review of the biggest and/or most important stories of the year to include in our Year in Review coverage.
Over the past two days, we have highlighted the Brentwood Home Page stories that garnered the most readers in 2010. You’ll notice that the best read and most important stories don’t necessarily mirror one another. Unfortunately the most impactful news doesn’t always get the same attention the “flash and trash” headlines do. That’s why we love to offer both.
1. The Flood
The historic flood that hit Brentwood – and the rest of Middle Tennessee – over the weekend of May 1 and 2 is the city’s top news story of 2010. Over the course of 36 hours, reports of 14 to 16 inches of rain were reported.
During that period, homes were flooded and residents evacuated in several Brentwood subdivisions with homes built along the Little Harpeth River and its tributaries as well as Owl Creek. Landslides closed Franklin and Holly Tree Gap roads; two homes were destroyed by fire; a major water line break at the city’s south end left homes with no water, and the Brentwood Country Club golf course looked like Destin’s beach during high tide.
Patrons were stranded in the Brentwood Library and cars were flooded in the Brentwood Family YMCA parking lot. Several businesses reported significant damage. Water conservation was mandated for many Brentwood residents and businesses as the entire region’s water supply was affected as a result of the flooded Cumberland River in Nashville.
City Manager Mike Walker announced the city had experienced “two 100-year floods in 36 hours.” A total of 22.06 inches of rain fell on the city in May, according to the county’s Emergency Management Agency.
The city estimated the cost of flood cleanup and repair for the public works department alone to be over $1.6 million. In November, the city commission passed a resolution that allowed the city to participate in the Federal Emergency Management/Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant Program which would allow the purchase of dwellings substantially damaged in the May floods.
Four Brentwood homes located in the River Oaks/Wildwood subdivisions are considered “substantially damaged” and would qualify.
2. New Park: City purchases 320 acres for $10 million
On Nov. 15, the City of Brentwood held its first press conference in a decade to announce its plan to make the city’s largest land acquisition ever — 320 acres of historic property on Wilson Pike to be used as a public park.
The Ravenswood Farm property, owned by the family of the late Marcella and Reese Smith, includes the c. 1835 Ravenswood home. The city agreed to a purchase price of $10 million – a cost well below market value, City Manager Mike Walker told the large crowd gathered for the announcement.
The family’s only stipulation on the property’s use was that it be known as the Marcella Vivrette Smith Park.
“This purchase would reinforce the City’s 2020 plan goal to acquire recreational property for hiking, biking and athletic fields,” Walker said. “Permanent preservation of this historically significant site is important as we approach full build-out of green spaces in the next 10 years.”
With forested wildlife habitats in their natural state and hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts the land would add a new feature to the City’s comprehensive park system. The site has sufficient land for additional multipurpose fields and a brush recycling environmental area to allow the storage, processing and recycling of chipper material for use on park trails and elsewhere.
Ravenswood was built in 1825 by James Hazard Wilson II. It was named for Sam Houston whom the Indians affectionately called “the Raven.” Houston was best man at the wedding ceremony of Wilson and his bride Emeline in 1821.
The Conservation Fund (TCF), a non-profit organization that saves America’s favorite outdoor places, provided the expertise and facilitated the purchase, which became final on Dec. 20. The city retained an option to purchase just shy of an additional 80 acres for $3 million.
3. Bank robberies
Not since the May 7, 2002 bank robbery of the Bank of America branch on Franklin Road which ended with two Brentwood police officers shot and the suspect killed in a hail of bullets have bank robberies or bank-related crimes made as many headlines in the city as they did this year.
The most tragic story unfolded on March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day – when Brentwood High School graduate David Cotton dressed as a leprechaun and robbed First State Bank in Gallatin.
Cotton, 21, a Columbia State Community College student, and Jonathan Ryan Skinner, 20, a BHS grad and Western Kentucky University junior who drove the getaway car, died of gunshot wounds following a chase with Gallatin Police.
Cotton was later identified as the person who robbed a SunTrust Bank in December dressed in a Santa suit.
On April 19, the Bank of America bank at the corner of Moores Lane and Galleria Boulevard was robbed shortly after it opened at 9 a.m. A suspect wearing a white hard hat and a reflective vest similar to a construction worker used a note to obtain an undetermined amount of cash from a teller.
On Nov. 13, the Fifth Third Bank branch at the corner of Mallory and Seaboard Lanes in the Brentwood portion of Cool Springs was robbed after a man demanded cash from a teller and left with an unspecified amount of money.
On Nov. 15, the FBI arrested Stacey Potts, 38, of Santa Fe, Tenn. He has been charged with both of the robberies.
In one of the most unusual crimes of the year, on April 23 a woman forced her former employer to drive through a Maryland Farms bank’s drive-thru to withdraw funds from the victim’s bank account. The quick actions of the victim and bank teller resulted in the arrest of the suspect, Karen Dean Williams, 59 of Murfreesboro.
At the bank’s drive-thru window, the victim mouthed the words “I’m being robbed,” to the teller, who then observed that the other woman in the car — Williams — had a knife. The alert teller signaled co-workers who immediately contacted the Brentwood Police Department, located directly across the street.
Brentwood Police officers stopped the SUV as it exited the drive-thru lane and took Williams into custody, but not without a struggle.
“She did not give up easily,” Capt. Tommy Walsh said. Veteran officer John Maxwell sustained a knee injury during the struggle and was transported to Williamson Medical Center. He was treated and released.
In June, a casually dressed man with no attempt to hide his identity entered the Reliant Bank on Maryland Way, demanded cash and left on foot. On June 14, Douglas Allen Terrell, 36, a suspect in the case, was taken into custody on unrelated charges in Florida.
On Oct. 24, Robert Michael Durham of Brentwood was arrested in Alabama in connection with several bank robbery attempts in Middle Tennessee during the fall, including an Oct. 23 one at the same Fifth Third Bank that was hit in November.
4. School rezoning
The No. 1 reason most people move to Brentwood is its schools – or, more specifically, the schools located in Brentwood that are part of the Williamson County School system. Relocating families, along with the construction of many new homes in east Brentwood, Nolensville and the Cool Springs area of Franklin, led the WCS board in 2009 to consider rezoning some areas zoned for overcrowded Ravenwood High in Brentwood to Centennial High School in Franklin.
In late November of 2009, the board decided to postpone that rezoning until a district-wide enrollment study could be completed. That process began in March 2010. In September, the results were unveiled and the first plan for a district-wide rezoning plan was outlined.
Emotions ran high at the Sept. 20 school board meeting where a representative of Edulog, the company that conducted the study and was charged to come up with a plan, presented its recommendations.
“We all need to understand the context of why we are here tonight,” Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney clarified early in that meeting. “The proposal by Edulog will not be the final proposal. We will use the basis of what Edulog did but also apply local knowledge of what we know.”
Over the course of the next two months, several plans and revisions were created and presented. On Nov. 15, with a 10-2 vote, the school board passed a district-wide rezoning plan expected to impact approximately 3000 students.
In the end, students in Brentwood’s Southern Woods, Courtside, Arlington Heights, Walnut Ridge, South Springs and Stone Creek Park subdivisions and the Bluff Road area who currently attend Sunset Middle and Ravenwood High School have the option to stay at those schools. All others will be rezoned to create a clean feeder pattern of Edmondson Elementary to Brentwood Middle and Brentwood High schools.
One of the most unpopular parts of the plan, to rezone the Cool Springs-area subdivisions as well as Avalon and The Meade at Avalon from Ravenwood to Centennial, was not amended in any way. Nor was the plan to rezone students in the Westhaven development in west Franklin from Franklin High to Independence.
5. The Mosque
In what began as a quiet rezoning request, the Islamic Center of Williamson County ultimately withdrew its motion to have 14-plus acres of land on the west side of Wilson Pike rezoned to allow it to build a mosque on the property.
With a 6-1 vote on April 12, the Brentwood City Commission voted to pass on first reading an ordinance that would rezone the property from large-lot residential to service institution-religious. The Islamic Center hoped to build a 12-000-square foot worship and gathering center and adjacent parking lot on the site, located just south of the Twin Springs subdivision and north of the Crockett Park/River Park bikeway tunnel. Though seven special restrictions would have been required for approval to offset identified traffic and land use concerns, opponents of the request grew in numbers during the rezoning process, which requires a community meeting, a public hearing, a review by the city’s planning commission and two affirmative votes by the City Commission.
On May 20, just days before the second and final reading and vote was scheduled, the Islamic Center of Williamson County notified the city that it was withdrawing its application for the rezoning.
In an email to Brentwood Planning Director Jeff Dobson, center trustee Mohammad Fazilia stated the decision was made “with regret and a heavy heart.”
“If you can convey to all that we just wanted something for ourselves where we could have gone with our families to worship,” Fazilia wrote, a place that would be “safe and secure for us.”
6. Rezoning requests: Flagpole Property
Though the sluggish economy slowed down both residential and commercial development in Brentwood, several other rezoning requests were also among the year’s top stories.
In a storyline that began in 2009, Southeast Venture LLC sought to have land popularly known as the “flagpole property” – specifically 54.5 acres of property located between I-65 and the CSX Railroad tracks from east to west, south of Gen. McArthur Drive and north of the first phase of the commercial Mallory Park development — changed from residential to commercial.
Landowner Tennsco promised to deed an additional 15 acres to the city for use as a new city park.
Similar requests for the property had been brought to the city in the past and all had been denied, most recently in 2004 when a public referendum for the proposed Mallory Lane Extension failed by a slim margin.
Though it passed the request on its first reading in November of 2009, ultimately the city commission voted it down in January with a 4-3 vote after public outcry from neighbors who wanted the property to remain zoned for residential.
The story didn’t end there, however. In early March, Southeast Venture submitted preliminary plans for a 49-lot subdivision that as drawn would open Gen. McArthur Drive — which intersects with Concord Road at the southbound exit of I-65 — as one of two access points. Most of the Gen. McArthur Drive neighbors who had been against the commercial plan fought even harder against the opening of their one-road, dead-end subdivision.
On April 6, with a 6-3 vote, the Brentwood Planning Commission voted to approve the residential plan.
But again, the story wasn’t finished. On April 14, over 40 residents attended an informal meeting to hear a “Plan C” for the property. The new plan, presented by Southeast Venture principal Wood Caldwell, included commercial development of 33.5 acres; the deeding of a total of 23.7 acres to the city for eventual park/open space use, and another 20.2 acres to buffer the commercial development from adjoining neighborhoods.
On June 28 with a unanimous vote, the Brentwood City Commission passed three ordinances that comprised Plan C.
“This is a perfect example of how this works the best,” Mayor Betsy Crossley said of local government when citizens are involved in the process.
7. Politics, not as usual
On Monday, Nov. 1, Knoxville Mayor and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bill Haslam ended his two-year campaign for Tennessee’s top political office Monday night in front of the City Café in Brentwood Place shopping center.
A crowd of several hundred supporters awaited the large campaign bus that had travelled the state earlier on the eve of the 2010 General Election. The question heard most often was “Why here?”
Haslam quickly answered that question after disembarking from the bus accompanied by former Tennessee Governor and current U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Brentwood resident.
“This is our very last event,” Haslam said. “First, we wanted to say thank you. Williamson County has been incredible to us from the very beginning.”
The next day he won the election by a landslide.
On Dec. 13, longtime City Commissioner Joe Reagan made an announcement that could have big implications in next May’s municipal election. At the final City Commission meeting of 2010, Reagan told his fellow commissioners that he had decided not to seek re-election. That leaves at least one seat open for a new city commissioner.
In November, longtime commissioner Anne Dunn, up for re-election, announced the upcoming campaign would be her last.
8. White collar crime
The year was marked with charges, arrests, convictions and sentencing of several Brentwood residents for “white-collar” crimes.
In March, Ruey Ann Gordon, 58, of Brentwood, a former chief financial officer of the Technology Division of Goldleaf Financial Solutions, Inc., was charged with one count of money laundering . The charge stems from Gordon’s embezzlement of more than $166,000 from Goldleaf over the course of nearly two years. If convicted, Gordon faces up to 10 years in prison.
In April, Donna Jones, 37, the former administrative assistant and office manager for Brentwood financial adviser Michael J. Park, was arrested on charges of conspiracy, bank fraud, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Park was charged in 2009 with mail and wire fraud for operating a sophisticated investment fraud/Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of more than $9 million. On Sept. 30, Park, who pled guilty to mail and wire fraud charges, was sentenced to 96 months in prison.
In May, FBI agent Darin Lee McAllister of Brentwood, was charged in a 19-count indictment with wire fraud, bank fraud and swearing a false oath in bankruptcy. The indictment alleged that McAllister devised a wire fraud scheme to defraud SunTrust Mortgage Co., Inc. On Dec. 2, he was found guilty of 15 counts of wire fraud and three counts of bankruptcy fraud. He faces a total of 315 years in prison and $6.5 million in fines.
Another Brentwood resident, Shawn Tidwell, 41, pled guilty on Dec. 13 to one count of bank fraud arising from a fraudulent loan scheme he engaged in from February 2005 to February 2008. The former loan officer for SunTrust Bank and National Bank of Commerce faces up to 30 years’ imprisonment and a $1 million fine.
Also on Dec. 13, Naresh Kumar, 44, of Brentwood, owner of Sitar Restaurants, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of bankruptcy fraud relating to his concealment of assets during a bankruptcy proceeding. Kumar faces a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
9. Concord Road Expansion Project
Though the first phase of the Concord Road Expansion Project was already under way between Crockett and Sunset roads, the long-awaited TDOT project got really interesting in June when its second phase began and with it, a four-month closure of the road between Crockett Road and Edmondson Pike.
The detour was lifted on Sept. 29, two days before its Oct. 1 deadline. Assistant City Manager Kirk Bednar said the city was very pleased with the way the detour has worked.
“There were obviously some inconveniences for motorists, but everyone did a good job of being patient and understanding and the traffic issues were nothing compared to what we initially feared they might be,” Bednar said.
In December, shouts of hallelujah could be heard as residents experienced a smooth ride along the improved section for the first time in a long time after the final paving was completed.
10. Historic Bur Oak tree falls limb by limb
The beginning of the end for the landmark bur oak tree that stood in front of the Brentwood Library began overnight on Sept. 24-25, 2009 when it lost a huge limb despite proactive actions by the city to secure it.
No one saw it, no one heard it, but sometime between noon and 3 p.m. on July 21 another huge limb fell from the tree. Four days later all but two of its remaining limbs followed suit.
On July 30, Brentwood Fire & Rescue personnel began trimming the fallen branches as a training exercise. Capt. David Windrow and Lt. Scott Ellis measured tree’s circumference at 19 feet.
The Tennessee Forestry Department did a core sample of the tree’s remains and determined that the tree was between 330 and 380 years old.
The city invited anyone who wanted a piece of wood from the tree to help themselves. Many local woodworkers and woodturners accepted the invitation and have begun fashioning works of art and function from its limbs. An exhibit is planned sometime in the future.
At its Nov. 8 meeting, local woodworker Gerald Stone presented the Brentwood City Commission with a three-dimensional Nativity scene he made from the tree’s wood.