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Proposed Brownland Farm subdivision meets resistance due to floodplain concerns

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Brownland Farms

A rendering provided by Gamble Design Collaborative of multiplex units fronting Hillsboro Road in the proposed plan for Brownland Farms in Franklin.

A proposed plan for a subdivision at Brownland Farm in Franklin continues to be met with questions due to worries about flooding and floodplain manipulation.

Located off Hillsboro Road near the new interchange of Mack Hatcher Parkway, the 233-acre property has previously hosted many horse shows, including the Music Country Grand Prix. 

Last fall, the city’s board of mayor and aldermen deferred voting on a plan involving development of the farm, instead opting to more closely examine the effects of developments like Brownland and one proposed near Gentry Farms to the west. 

On Thursday night, the BOMA held a joint workshop with the Franklin Municipal Planning Commission to discuss a newer version of the plan.

Kevin Estes of Land Solutions is the developer of Brownland Farms and is represented by Greg Gamble, president of Gamble Design Collaborative.

Under the new master plan, the farm would retain 146 acres of open space and integrate Christ Community Church into the PUD. 

The church would remove their south parking lot and replace it with one to the west and create new entrances and a loop road, as well as access to a garden area and greenway trail connections.

The neighborhood includes 485 units — 108 townhomes, 241 single-family homes and 136 multiplex units containing four units, which would front the neighborhood along Hillsboro Road.

The plan also includes eight half-acre lots for single-family homes at Poteat Place, just across Hillsboro Road to the northeast from the rest of the development. 

Gamble explained the development would play on the area’s equine history in its design elements, and offer mixed price points.

It would also integrate 3 miles of walking trails, a fishing pond and riverside park.

Flooding concerns

A total of 130 acres of the development will remain floodplain. Home lots will be kept 2 feet above the 100- and 500-year floodplains. Gamble said the developers will also commit to reforestation, river conservation and stewardship.

No Harpeth River buffers will be disturbed, and construction will not begin until the site is evaluated by FEMA. Gamble said a flood study undertaken by Barge Design will soon be evaluated by a third-party engineer.

Still, the plan to physically increase the volume of the floodplain was an idea met with some concern from city staff, board members and planning commissioners.

“Staff has always had concerns about the floodplain manipulation on this property. We’ve been very satisfied with the design of the project itself,” Franklin Planning Supervisor Amy Diaz-Barriga said. “We clarified that these areas of the city are natural resources and our floodplains should be preserved. We should be minimally invasive of them, and we should design around them.” 

Diaz-Barriga wasn’t convinced by the notion that manipulating the floodplain would make it “better,” an argument Gamble previously made. 

“Floodplain is not acreage, it’s volume,” Estes said. “That water we have proposed to manipulate, it is standing still, it’s not moving.” 

He noted that the floodplain has already been manipulated in that location, a comment echoed by planning commissioner Michael Orr.

“It’s not virgin land. They’re not clearing forests, they’re not filling in wetlands,” Orr said. “It’s been manipulated for years, for a lot of years now.”

“Staff’s point is that perhaps this is too much manipulation. It’s a question of ‘should’ rather than ‘can,’” Diaz-Barriga said.

Connecting all the neighborhood exits to Hillsboro Road, Diaz-Barriga said, is also a concern, given the potential for flooding along the corridor.

“This project calls for the filling of a floodway,” Franklin Planning Commission Vice Chair Roger Lindsey said. “I have this sense that a project ought to be structured in a way that allows it to work with the land, not tries to overwhelm the natural features of the property.” 

Lindsey holds a master’s degree in environmental engineering and currently works for Metro Nashville in stormwater design review and floodplain management.

Estes asked for a target or range the developers can aim for in order to get the project approved.

Ward 3 Alderman Scott Speedy pointed to the low number of single-family units approved over the past few years as a reason to be optimistic about the development finding a way to move forward. 

“We’re always finding a reason not to develop,” he said. “I think we need to give them some guidance on what can be done here.”

“If this wasn’t in the floodway or floodplain, it would probably be approved,” Assistant City Administrator Vernon Gerth admitted. “We’re set up to allow development to occur on land that is properly zoned in accordance with Envision Franklin that takes into account our other master planning documents. When we get into this type of discussion, it causes all these questions.

“This is a lot of engineering that needs to go in here to make this particular development happen. I won’t say it can’t happen, but there’s a lot that needs to be done.”

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