Thomas Rowe, executive director for Murfreesboro Housing Authority, talks about plans to improve Oakland Court public housing. Scott Broden, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
The initial planning work to improve and double the size of Oakland Court public housing pleased downtown Murfreesboro resident Carol Heath.
"It will be a great improvement," Heath said after joining other residents in viewing displays Thursday about the project at the Murfreesboro Housing Authority office. "I like that the downtown appearance continues to improve."
Authority officials are applying for yet-determined funding to replace 76 homes by December 2021 in the 76-year-old Oakland Court between North Academy and Maney avenues, just behind the historic Oaklands Mansion. Another 74 homes will then be built by around 2025 to serve residents relocating from Mercury Court on Hancock Street to the 20-acre Oakland Court property.
The project that includes sidewalks, pedestrian lighting and better connectivity to downtown streets should provide a "quality product" to improve safety for the neighborhood, Murfreseboro City Councilman Ronnie Martin said.
"It will attract investment," Martin said.
Project won’t resemble public housing
Martin was at the housing authority event with other Murfreesboro officials, including Sam Huddleston, the executive director for the city’s development services.
Huddleston agreed that existing or future property owners of homes near Oakland Court will be more likely to renovate houses because of the improvement project.
"It changes the dynamic," Huddleston said. "All of that is driven by rising property values."
Many people will see an Oakland Court with new homes as being an attractive downtown development, said Kevin Guenther, a landscape architect working on the project.
"This redesign creates an environment where you can’t tell it’s public housing," said Guenther, who works for Ragan Smith.
Project team includes MHM architects
Ragan Smith Executive Vice President Randy Caldwell of Murfreesboro said the project will offer amenities that include a playground, walking trails and shady green open spaces within an Oakland Court that will get better access to nearby Oaklands Park.
"We’re taking questions from the public in what they want to see," said Caldwell, adding that he had two meetings with Oakland Court residents prior to Thursday’s event at the authority office.
Caldwell’s firm also crafted the city’s North Highland and Historic Bottoms land use studies as well as design guidelines. Oakland Court is near the North Highland Avenue area.
The main architectural design firm working on the Oakland Court project is MHM of Knoxville.
Planned residential district zoning
The project includes reworking the street grid by getting rid of cul-de-sacs to improve the connectivity to downtown streets, as well as add sidewalks and pedestrian lights, said Richard Foster, a design director on the project.
"We want people to feel safe walking at night," Foster said.
Project architect Margaret Butler agreed.
"Our goal is to make a safe and healthy community for Oakland Court and Mercury Court residents that respects the historic community," said Butler, who is an associate principal with MHM.
Officials expect the master plan to be completed by July. The authority told Murfreesboro City Council members Wednesday that the project will involve rezoning for a planned residential district.
Authority lost 140 dwellings in 2017
Once the master plan is final and all funding has been secured, approximately 30 families currently living at Oakland Court will be moved to temporary housing for the next 12 to 18 months.
After the Oakland Court projects are completed, housing authority officials plan to redevelop the 15-acre Mercury Court for additional affordable and mixed-income housing.
Mercury Court at this time has 73 dwellings. Officials are hopeful some commercial development will take place, as well.
The authority lost 140 public housing apartments in 2017 when Franklin Heights was demolished and replaced with the the city’s Doug Young Training Center for police officer and firefighters along the southeast corner of New Salem Highway and Bridge Avenue.
The authority’s residents pay 30 percent of their household incomes to help fund rent and utility costs.
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What should be done to improve downtown Murfreesboro? Reach Scott Broden at email@example.com or 615-278-5158, and on Twitter @ScottBroden.