car_wash_explainer

Vice Mayor Jason Patrick met all of the town’s requirements when he proposed a car wash on Oldham Drive. A Planning Commissioner said he shouldn’t have built the car wash because there was too much opposition from the community. Construction on the car wash started this week. // Photo Matt Blois

By MATT BLOIS

Construction for a new car wash on Oldham Drive in Nolensville started this week.

Nolensville Vice Mayor Jason Patrick is one of the owners of the car wash. Some residents have expressed concern that he received special treatment during the building’s approval process because of his position as a town leader.

The car wash followed the same approval process as other commercial buildings in town.

During a public meeting in June, a group of residents told the Planning Commission they didn’t like the idea of a car wash so close to a subdivision. However, the town’s zoning ordinance does allow car washes there.

“Do I think everybody is happy about this location? Obviously not,” Patrick said. “Whether or not you like the location for a car wash — maybe you hate clean cars — the fact of the matter is we met the requirements.”

Even though Patrick didn’t break any of the town’s rules, Planning Commissioner Rick Owens voted against the plan. He said it was unethical for Patrick to build a car wash when so many residents said they didn’t want it.

“Everything was done legally. There’s no question about that,” Owens said. “If you know that your town doesn’t want it there and you force it down its throat, are you working for the town’s interest or are you working for your interests?”

Owens was the only Planning Commissioner to vote against the plan, and the Commission approved plans for the car wash in June.

What is it?

The new car wash on Oldham road will have a 115-foot-long car wash tunnel. The property will also have a small office and a parking lot.

Patrick said that he decided to build a car wash in the area because he saw surveys showing that residents wanted a car wash. He wanted to put it in a visible location to attract business.

“Car washes are successful because of cars,” he said. “The key ingredients in a car wash are cars. Being in a highly visible, highly trafficked area is key to the success of a car wash.”

The office industrial zoning category also allows car washes, but Patrick said it would be harder to attract business in an office industrial area.

Who is involved?

The car wash has three principal investors: Patrick, local developer Bill Kottas and Tom Smith, who doesn’t live in Nolensville.

Patrick is on the Nolensville Planning Commission, which approved the plan in June, but he recused himself from the vote and stepped away from the discussion. Kottas presented the project to the Planning Commission.

There are also two minority investors, Nolensville Alderman Brian Snyder and Nolensville Public Works Director Bryan Howell.

With the appropriate zoning in place, plans for the car wash never came before the Board of Mayor and Alderman, so Snyder didn’t vote on any part of the approval process. Site plans are approved directly by the Planning Commission.

Patrick said the town is aware of Howell’s involvement in the project. Howell doesn’t have any role in approving or disapproving plans for a new building.

The approval process

The land where the car wash will be was already zoned for commercial services. Car washes are permitted in this type of zoning, but they have to meet certain conditions.

The original plans for the car wash met all those conditions. According to the minutes from the June Planning Commission meeting, town staff asked Patrick to move the car wash building to the other side of the property.

The city’s zoning ordinance requires buildings for car washes to be 60 feet away from the road. The requested change would have violated that rule, so Patrick had to ask the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals to make an exception.

The board approved that request unanimously in March.

Following the board’s approval of the variance, the town’s Design Review Committee and Trees and Trails Committee reviewed the project. An engineer also examined the plan for stormwater on the property. Patrick said the owners incorporated input from those committees into the plans.

“We certainly intend to have one of the nicest looking car washes that you can find in our area,” Patrick said. “We certainly intend to be great community partners and support local endeavors, local charities, local schools. We are absolutely going to be invested in the community.”

For the next step in the process, the car wash owners brought plans for the building to the Nolensville Planning Commission.

The Commission discussed whether or not there was enough space on the lot for a car wash, and how the business would affect traffic as well as the noise the business would generate.

During the meeting, town attorney Robert Notestine said the car wash is a permitted use and that the owners had met all the conditions. He said that the owners could sue the town if the Planning Commission denied the plan.

In an email, Notestine said the car wash was a political issue more than a legal issue. He said he hasn’t seen any unethical conduct and no one has offered proof that Patrick acted unethically.

Notestine did receive some emails about the project, but didn’t receive any formal ethical complaints.

The Planning Commission approved the plans following a long discussion.

The argument against a car wash

Patrick and the other investors of the car wash followed the town’s rules when they submitted plans for the car wash. The Planning Commission determined those plans met the town’s requirements.

Owens said following the rules isn’t a high enough standard. He thinks Patrick shouldn’t build a car wash on Oldham Drive because so many people opposed the idea.

He said that the town’s zoning ordinance allows a car wash in that area, but the ordinance doesn’t reflect what residents actually want.

“What we have to do is we have to fight against our own ordinance,” he said. “It sounds crazy but if you’re trying to protect the town, if you’re trying to work for the best interests of the town …. I had a moral obligation to (vote against it).”

The American Society for Public Administration’s code of ethics requires public officials to promote the interests of the public and put service to the public above oneself. It also requires public officials to respect and support the law.

Owens created a website to express his opposition to the car wash. He asks residents to imagine the “relentless roar of vacuum cleaners as you enjoy your Sonic milkshake on a warm summer evening.”

According to the website, he is collecting signatures for a petition opposing the car wash that he hopes to present to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen doesn’t have the authority to stop construction on the car wash as long as Patrick and the other owners stick to the site plan approved by the Planning Commission.

The history

Nolensville doesn’t have any car washes right now. The town has approved plans for car washes in the past, but the landowners never built anything.

The Planning Commission approved a plan to build a car on a property next to Outlanders in June 2005.

The Planning Commission also approved a plan to build a car wash on Nolensville Road next to the Two-Way Stop gas station in August 2004. The Board of Zoning Appeals approved three variances for fencing and landscaping on that project.

According to Owens, who served as the chair of the Planning Commission for seven years, one property owner considered building a car wash on Oldham Road around 2005, but the idea met opposition from the community and Planning Commissioners.

He said the landowner eventually decided not to submit plans for a car wash after getting feedback from the Planning Commission. Owens said that project was another example showing the residents of Nolensville didn’t want a car wash in that location.

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