Live from Music Row, Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Robin Steenman of Moms for Liberty-Williamson County to the newsmaker line to discuss a Christmas miracle that resulted in the favor of the church against downzoning intentioned Ebenezer Scrooge of Second Avenue South in Franklin.
Leahy: We are delighted to welcome to our newsmaker line, Robin Steenman, a very busy person who lives in Williamson County. She’s involved with Moms for Liberty in Williamson County, as well as Williamson Family PAC. Good morning, Robin.
Steenman: Good morning. Merry Christmas, Michael.
Leahy: Well, it’s a little early. Are the kids going to school this morning? Are you taking them to school?
Steenman: No. They started their Christmas break last week.
Leahy: Okay, then that’s good. You’re not in a Christmas rush this morning, so we can have a little more time to chat with you.
Leahy: A lot is going on in Williamson County and Franklin in particular. You wanted to talk about A Christmas Carol in Franklin. Tell us a little bit about what that is.
Steenman: Well, Franklin just wrapped its Dickens at a Christmas festival last weekend. But what most people didn’t understand or didn’t realize is we had our own Franklin Christmas Carol unfolding right here.
Leahy: Now who’s playing Scrooge in that little drama?
Steenman: There’s a downtown resident on Second Avenue South who played Ebenezer Scrooge who had an issue with their neighbor the 5 Stones Church and sought an illegal maneuver to down-zone that property, which would have financially hurt the church.
Leahy: So physically, the 5 Stones Church, where is it located in Franklin?
Steenman: It’s at 236 Second Avenue South in downtown Franklin.
Leahy: What’s it next to?
Steenman: It’s next to a bridal shop. It’s the parking lot of Buster Kimbro’s Pickin Parlor across the street from an antique mall.
Leahy: I got you. So it’s all commercial stuff down there in that neighborhood.
Steenman: Right. It’s part of the big chunk of central commercial zoning and they wanted to down-zone it to office residential.
Leahy: That just the church building?
Leahy: Did this particular neighbor have any particular motivation on that one?
Steenman: Well, the church bought the property in April 2021. So just this past year. And there was a home school pod that was in need. There’s a fairly hostile ordinance in the city of Franklin that makes it tough for home schools to operate.
And they had lost their building and were literally meeting in tents. And they needed the final six weeks of the school year to meet in a building.
So this pastor opened up the 5 Stones Church facility for them to come meet just to finish out their school year. It wasn’t a permanent solution. And this neighbor saw that as an opportunity to complain and to seek the down-zoning of the church.
Leahy: So let me put this in context. How many congregants does the church have and how many kids were coming in this six-week home school situation?
Steenman: There are 275 church members, and the home school pod had less than 100.
Leahy: Got it. So now let me ask you this. What’s happened in this request to down-zone the zoning of the Five Stones Church in Franklin?
Steenman: So I became aware, watching the board of mayor and alderman meeting in November that this was happening. And there were four aldermen that voiced valid concerns. Not only just because usually if there’s a rezoning or down-zoning it’s at the request of the property owner.
Very rarely is there a spot down-zoning against the will of the property owner. And this is what was happening because the 5 Stones did not want to be down-zoned and requested not to be down-zoned and they were looking to do it anyway.
So it really was government overreach. And then beyond that, what precedent do you establish if that’s permitted to go through? Then any business that a well-connected neighbor with the establishment doesn’t like can spot down zone your property and cause you financial harm?
It’s not just the act, but also the precedent that it establishes. And, oh, by the way, you’re doing this to a church right before Christmas.
Leahy: What’s the current status of that request?
Steenman: We put the word out about what had happened and the pastor did his due diligence. He met with everybody on the board and then the residents of Williamson County stepped up and they emailed and called and they showed up for a packed house at the board of mayor alderman meeting last Tuesday night.
And it went from a five to four vote against the church in November to a unanimous vote in favor of the church this past Tuesday. So it was really a Christmas miracle. Christmas came early in Franklin.
Leahy: Wow! They’ve permanently got that the proper zoning then?
Steenman: Then they permanently deleted that down-zoning from the city rezoning plan.
Leahy: Got it.
Steenman: But it shouldn’t come up again.
Leahy: So what did Ebenezer Scrooge do? Did he see the Ghost of Christmas future and leave the meeting in a spirit of joy and happiness?
Steenman: Scrooge wasn’t there from what I could tell. (Laughter) But I wrote about it and said, we can give thanks and we can pray for the church. But we also need to pray for Scrooge because Scrooge needs their Christmas Eve epiphany visitation and to find their joy on Christmas morning. So I hope that the Second Avenue Scrooge does find her joy.
Leahy: Or his joy. His or her joy. So I suppose we could interview the Franklin Scrooge and just see if they’ve had that Christmas spirit. Because I feel the Christmas spirit that the Board of Mayor and Alderman in Franklin now feel the Christmas spirit. The people that you motivated feel the Christmas spirit. What a wonderful ending to the story.
Steenman: And God bless us everyone, Michael. (Laughter)
Leahy: Well, Merry Christmas to you Robin, and to your family. That’s a nice story.
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “5 Stones Church” by 5 Stones Church.