Franklin BOMA returns to affordable housing concerns during Southbrooke conversation

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President of Gamble Design Collaborative Greg Gamble refers to plans for the Southbrooke PUD in southwest Franklin after a meeting on Tuesday, July 9, 2019.

Discussion of an amendment to a proposed residential project in south Franklin led to deeper conversation on the dire need for workforce housing during Tuesday night’s Board of Mayor and Alderman meeting.

Southbrooke, a planned urban development slated to go north and south of Stream Valley off Lewisburg Pike, went before the board because some of its planned lots don’t align with Envision Franklin regulations.

Previously, city staff recommended the planned 749 unit lots meet Envision Franklin’s minimum of 45 feet in width for a conservation subdivision, though some lots in the plan were as narrow as 34 feet, with half failing to meet the set standard.

Gamble Design Collaborative President Greg Gamble said the project had been pared back to focus exclusively on the east side of Lewisburg, instead of the original plan to have lots on the west as well. Now, the plan is to build just 205 homes.

Project features

Gamble said some of the board’s concerns about overcrowded infrastructure were beginning to be addressed. A new fire department in the area is moving forward, with a new middle school on Henpeck Lane set to open in the fall and Creekside Elementary already up and operating. And traffic concerns will likely be somewhat alleviated by the Buckner Road and Interstate 65 interchange, slated to go up for bid this month with an estimated completion date of 2025.

For the first phase of the project, the land south of Stream Valley will develop faster due to an existing sewer line.

The project would place 205 homes across 75 acres, with 35 to 40 homes built per year over a five-year period. It will also include the addition of dedicated turn lanes to five intersections along Lewisburg Pike and a stoplight added to the intersection of Stream Valley Boulevard and Lewisburg Pike.

A bigger issue

The BOMA conversation pivoted to affordable housing over the question of lot sizes. Eight or nine homes in the plan would need to be excluded if the city refused to allow a minimum lot size of less than 45 feet. 

This would remove homes from the range deemed more affordable, around $500,000 to $600,000, creating a jump to $700,000 homes.

“I would think that would be tremendously out of range for who we are looking to put in those homes,” At-Large Alderman Clyde Barnhill said. “I think what your [city staff’s] recommendation does is drives up the lowest priced house here to be unattainable for a great many, many citizens of Franklin.”

In Franklin, the median home price is currently $496,804, according to recent market data. Comparably, the median price of a home in the U.S. is $243,225, according to data from Zillow.

Barnhill said he liked the plan but would want to see a lower price point to make the homes truly economical to a community always discussing the subject.

“We’ve got one end saying something and one end building something else,” he said.

Assistant City Administrator Vernon Gerth said Envision Franklin, the city’s planning document, is meant to look at the design and context of a neighborhood, not necessarily affordability. 

“The reality is, when we leave the market to price the homes, they’re going to be sold at the market rate unless we have some sort of guidelines and restrictions,” he said. “We don’t have a goal in what we’re trying to achieve in affordability.

“If our goal with Envision Franklin is the design of neighborhoods, then we should follow the plan.”

Ward 1 Alderman Dana McLendon said the problem is larger than the agenda item, arguing for affordable workforce housing. Only about 25% of Franklin employees, for example, live in the city. Stuckey said he was sure many more than that percentage would choose to live in city limits if it were cost-effective.

McLendon also pointed out the connection between affordable housing and calming traffic congestion.

“Until we make a commitment to doing something, then nothing is going to change,” he said.

Ward 1 Alderman Bev Burger asked the board to get back on track with discussion of the development. 

“I don’t know why we’re talking about affordable housing right now,” Burger said. “That’s for another day, and another time, and another subject.”

The motion to annex and rezone the properties passed as part of the evening’s consent agenda. A public hearing for Southbrooke will be held on Feb. 11. 

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