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Federal EPA grant helping Nolensville become a smart, sustainable community

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Nolensville Town Hall

Nolensville Town Hall

With growth and development continuing all around Middle Tennessee, Nolensville is doing its best to get ahead of the curve by updating many of its town planning documents and working with experts to prepare for the future.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently selected Nolensville as one of four municipalities in the country to receive a Building Blocks grant and participate in its Smart Growth program. As the three other cities are coastal, Nolensville was identified as unique due in part to its relationship with Mill Creek.

“This is our natural resource, and Nolensville is unique in that it flows right through our town,” said Joel Miller, a member of the town’s board of commissioners who led the charge in applying for the EPA grant after hearing about it from a citizen. “It flows right next to our village. It flows right up Nolensville Road, so Mill Creek is intertwined in everything around Nolensville.”

The EPA Smart Growth program helps communities improve their development and planning practices by providing its own specialists to help promote sustainable growth that benefits both the growing community and the environment.

Miller explained the town’s planning guidelines currently follow the federal and state requirements for floodplain management and water runoff, but flooding is still a consistent problem in certain areas, which not only causes property damage throughout the town but contributes to water pollution and other issues. Since the head of Mill Creek, which flows south to north and feeds into the Cumberland River, is in Nolensville, Miller said he feels the town is responsible for passing clean water downstream.

“It flows through Smyrna. It flows through Nashville,” he said. “If we’re not providing them clean water, regardless of what they do, they don’t have a fighting chance.”

Additionally, adding more roofs and pavements to an area increases opportunities for flooding and pollution. However, the health of the creek is not Nolensville’s only concern.

“We are so close to Nashville, yet we are still really only half built out. We still have a lot of open land in Nolensville, so the unprecedented growth alongside these swaths of land that are still ripe for development creates a target,” Miller said. “We really want to know before it’s too late how to build sustainably.”

Added pressure for development was placed on Nolensville and other local municipalities after Williamson County reduced its requirements for development density in unincorporated areas at one unit per acre to five units per acre, making the county’s towns and cities even more desirable to builders hoping to bring in higher-density developments.

These increased pressures combined with the eagerness of a new board of commissioners, according to Nolensville Planning Director Dianna Tomlin, has led the town to also begin the process of updating its comprehensive plan, which determines an overall vision for how the town is to look and be organized, and its zoning ordinance, which outlines specific guidelines directed by the comprehensive plan.

Tomlin said the town is looking at how to better implement its long-term goals. This includes increased walkability, which could take pressure off the roads amidst heavy growth and lead to a healthier community and environment. Additionally, she mentioned the town would like to see more attainable housing options and is determining how to make that a reality.

“That’s something that we talk about in our [comprehensive] plan, that we need a variety of housing types,” she said. “Obviously, Nolensville hasn’t met that goal, and we know that.”

Additionally, in updating its planning documents, Tomlin said the town is thinking through how to preserve the character of Nolensville, protecting its natural resources while making them more accessible to the community, and allowing local businesses to thrive without choking them out with chains and strip malls.

“We don’t want to be Everywhere, USA,” she said. “We have a well-educated community, and they want it to be environmentally safe because they’re thinking about their kids and grandkids. They want development done right.”

Currently, green roofs and detention ponds are two of Nolensville’s water runoff prevention tools, but Tomlin hopes EPA specialists can help the town pinpoint additional solutions.

As the town goes through this process, Tomlin and Miller want the community’s involvement. The EPA, as part of the Smart Growth program, will encourage the town to put together a group of stakeholders, including citizens, as it develops new practices and guidelines. Additionally, Tomlin said the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance updates will seek to involve the community through social media, the town website and public meetings.

“We can be that spotlight community that people point to and go, ‘Man, they’re doing right. They’re walkable. They’re sustainable. They’re not overparked. They have attainable housing,’” Tomlin said. “We want it all.”

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