With grand plans to become a community known for its strong strategic planning and its sustainability policies, the Town of Piperton at the same time runs the risk of giving new meaning to the term, Podunk community.
The appellation is particularly ironic in light of all the media coverage about town officials’ concerns about growth issues and future population growth pressures. It’s particularly ironic considering that the hamlet, nestled on the western border of Fayette County and snuggled up against Collierville sees that $500 million incentive for sprawl – Tennessee Highway 385 – as a godsend, dumping traffic and thousands of new residents into its borders.
While the town’s elected officials and city manager talk eloquently about smart growth, sustainable developments and the like, dozens of new $500,000 houses are sprouting up in areas that were crop fields only a few years ago. Most of these homes are located on two-lane rural roads off the primary artery through the town – U.S. Highway 57.
Strangely, it seems like the more that Piperton tries to act like a real city, it’s apparently not mature enough to tackle its well-deserved reputation as a speed trap.
Although Highway 57 is more or less has the major gravitational pull for the town, incredibly, the town has gone to great lengths to annex – thanks to the largely impotent urban growth boundary laws of Tennessee – the land on which U.S. Highway 72 is located between Collierville and the Mississippi state line. No one familiar with the area would even suspect that Piperton could be in charge there, because it’s so removed from the town itself.
And while city and county officials try to argue that Piperton is not a speed trap, the only purpose of this annexation appears to be an added opportunity to lower the speed limit below all reasonable levels and hand out tickets to as many drivers as possible.
Paying For Piperton
Already, the town cops are known for their relentless work to hit their quota of speeding tickets, but in extending its reach to Highway 72, it becomes clear that the town’s finances must be built on speeding tickets.
In a creative attempt to justify the speed traps, Fayette County General Sessions Judge Mike Whitaker called it a highly effective deterrent to crime. Apparently, in the judge’s understanding of the criminal element, people bent on committing crime are scared to get caught speeding through Piperton.
In other words, in order to catch a handful of people, if any, speeding away from crimes in Fayette County and rushing back to that hotbed of crime, Shelby County, Piperton justifies stopping thousands of people a year who have no more evil intent than in getting to Rossville.
It’s the town equivalent of making all of us take off our shoes at the airport because of one shoe bomber.
Meanwhile, Piperton and Fayette County officials proudly claim that the motorists’ harassment has in fact reduced the crime rate for the town, dropping it from 1,517 per 100,000 in 2000 and 1,415 in 2006.
It’s one of those statistics thrown out to back up an opinion you already have. The drop in the crime rate in the town isn’t the result of this special brand of traffic enforcement. More to the point, it’s the result of the increased population which drives the rate downward.
In addition to the traffic code, the mayor might give new policeman copies of Freakonomics.
It’s Not About Services
These same city officials predicted that the population of Piperton would reach 11,000 by 2010. That’ll require an awful lot of growth in the next three years. Population today is estimated to be 959. In other words, all of this heavy coverage by The Commercial Appeal is generated by a growth of about 400 people since 2000.
Recent data shows approval of permits for 21 buildings averaging $397,600 in 2005 and 35 buildings averaging $302,000 in 2004.
All in all, the growth of Piperton remains somewhat baffling in light of the overall poor state of public services in Fayette County – the lack of sewerage facilities, the problems of its public schools, the lack of emergency services like ambulances, and erratic fire protection.
This lack of quality public services doesn’t dampen Piperton’s ambitions, as it announces plans to pursue 14,000 more acres as part of its urban growth boundary, increasing its current annexation area from 14,404 acres to 24,870 acres.
The land grab by Piperton, and mimicked by Gallaway and Oakland, is aimed at gobbling up the land in Fayette County around Highway 385 and more to the point, gobbling up its expected tax revenues. It may not be easy, because Fayette County was one of the last counties in Tennessee to reach agreement on the growth boundaries required by Tennessee Growth Policy Act, Public Chapter 1101, Acts of 1998, and it didn’t happen until arbitration took place.
Regardless of the outcome, all of this maneuvering makes a mockery of the intent of the Growth Policy Act, which seems to have been a law passed mainly as a safety valve for the political pressure building on the Tennessee Legislature at that time. And as happens so often, once the immediate crisis passed, there really wasn’t anybody in state government paying any special attention to the kinds of urban growth boundaries that could contribute to smart growth in our state.