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Brownland Farm development revision addresses floodplain concerns

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2010 Flood

The Hillsboro Road business district looking south from Del Rio Pike. At bottom right, the Franklin transit garage on high ground when the photo was taken May 3, 2010.

Developers addressed floodplain concerns in a presentation of a new master plan for a long-debated Franklin neighborhood at Tuesday’s city board of mayor and aldermen meeting.

The residential development is planned for Hillsboro Road near the new extension of Mack Hatcher Parkway at Brownland Farm.

Brownland Farm is known for their equestrian events, including the Music Country Grand Prix, and has been a community institution for over 50 years.

In addition to Brownland Farm, part of the development site is owned by Christ Community Church, with another parcel located along the front of the Monticello neighborhood. 

Much of the dissension surrounding the development is due to the property’s location in the floodplain, as well as limited entry and exit points onto the already busy Hillsboro Road.

Land Solutions Developer Kevin Estes said out of the site’s 233 acres, 183 sit within what he described as an “impaired” floodplain. 

There will be 471 units built as single-family homes, condominiums and townhomes on 78 of those acres, 40 of which are located outside the current floodplain. The other 155 acres will be green space, including a 3-mile trail along the Harpeth River and, most importantly, Estes said, 28 million gallons of additional volume storage within the newly engineered floodplain. 

“Our intention is to leave this site in a much-improved environmental condition than it is today and able to withstand flooding in a much more efficient way than current conditions allow,” Estes said.

Landscape Architect Greg Gamble of Gamble Design Collaborative said the redesigned plan has a lighter footprint than the last plan the board saw in February, with less of a manipulated floodplain.

Gamble said they revised the master plan after meetings with neighbors and the board, reducing development acreage from 90 to 75.

Showing images, Gamble explained how existing berms and barns from Brownland Farm would be removed during the floodplain engineering process to increase volume and flow along the bend in the Harpeth River. 

The Harpeth Conservancy, a conservation nonprofit, is against the development due to the floodplain alteration.

“The proposed residential development plans involve too extensive alteration of the floodplain and is not able to address the existing safety issues with flood waters covering portions of every road that could be used to get in and out of this proposed development in this unique river bend of the Harpeth,” Harpeth Conservancy President Dorie Bolze wrote in an email to city staff.

Land Solutions hired Barge Design Solutions to study the floodplain and Steve Casey of Civil & Environmental Consultants to review the study.

“In our opinion, the model does match what is in the plans,” Casey said, noting that FEMA would also need to review the property before any engineering work could begin. 

Casey said the change would benefit other neighborhoods during flooding events, too, like Rizer Point. 

Ward 4 Alderman Margaret Martin asked Casey why people were still opposed to the development based on floodplain concerns. 

“I don’t understand why when you explain something, and you show them proof, there’s still a question about it,” Martin said.

Casey noted people may be apprehensive due to more rare events like the 2010 flood. 

“There are so many variables that people’s experience of the floodplain can change,” he said. 

“I think it’s fear of change, in my opinion, is part of it,” Alderman Brandy Blanton offered.

Residential details

Another challenge to the project is getting it to align with Envision Franklin. 

“Envision Franklin is a concept. It’s not an absolute rule,” Alderman Ann Petersen said.

City Planning Supervisor Amy Diaz-Barriga agreed, but pointed out the plan is located in two different design concepts: conservation subdivision and the conservation design area. 

“For anywhere they’re manipulating the floodplain and pulling it up, they’re not changing that conservation design concept,” she said. 

The 35 acres containing homes within the floodplain don’t meet those standards.

To match up to Envision Franklin, developers would need to remove all of the lots proposed in the floodplain and eliminate the three multi-family buildings included in the project, which include 22 units each.

Estes said they could do smaller buildings to meet the standard, but they instead chose to focus on redesigning the plan to create less of a footprint through floodplain engineering.

Alderman Dana McLendon clarified with Diaz-Barriga that developers would still be able to meet the standard and keep the units through another redesign of housing styles and sizes. 

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