Brentwood candidates hope balance win votes
By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
“Balance” was the word of the day at the Brentwood City Commission candidate forum sponsored by the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce April 11, which was held at Brentwood United Methodist Church. Tom Lawrence of WAKM 950 AM in Franklin served as moderator.
The six candidates vying for three commission seats voiced their vision for Brentwood in 10 years, the role of mixed-use developments, tax incentives for businesses – and the million-dollar question: “What’s wrong with rental property?”
Incumbents Rhea Little, Regina Smithson and Mayor Paul Webb joined contenders Jay Galbreath and Mark Gorman at the dais. Jason Richardson, who, to date, has spent no money on his candidacy, was unable to attend.
Candidates agreed that balanced and responsible growth is best for commercial and residential development. However, the candidates’ differences emerged regarding mixed-use development and rental property.
Webb, who also serves as city mayor, said he anticipates more growth – “more families, more schools and sadly more traffic.”
“Older neighborhoods will continue to have re-dos. Empty-nesters are moving out, and new families are moving in,” said Webb, who has lived in Brentwood since 1983. “We are on the forefront of economic recovery.”
The housing trend Webb mentioned brings with it dramatic growth in Brentwood Middle, Brentwood High, Lipscomb Elementary and Scales Elementary schools, all of which are pushing student capacity. Webb emphasized that excellent county schools draw in new residents and new businesses.
The city’s population has consistently grown since incorporating in 1969. Home sales are up countywide by 81 percent comparing March 2013 closings to March 2012 closings.
“I want a core residential community with businesses on both sides. We need to keep it balanced,” said Smithson, who has served as a commissioner for 22 years.
Balanced development to some means keeping mixed-used developments with a multi-family residential component at a minimum.
“I am for mixed-use development in Town Center,” Galbreath said. “But, I think that the residential component needs to remain scalable. I don’t want to see that scale expanded.”
The proposed mixed-use development that H.G. Hill Realty pursued for downtown Brentwood, which it recently withdrew, raised questions about mixed-use development in the city.
“I am against mixed-use developments with a residential component. What’s an apartment, hotel or condo cannot be defined according to my research,” Gorman said, who currently serves on the planning commission. “We have a great residential community because of our one-acre lots. I am against high-density, hyper-development; it would not serve Brentwood well.”
“I think we could give our building owners one or two [residential] units above their businesses if needed, but we should have very restricted, limited residential space in our mixed-use developments,” said Webb.
Residential codes in Brentwood largely mandate residential lots be at minimum one acre in size, which keeps at bay developers that would like to build apartments and condominiums in parts of the city. The candidates discussed the topic at length in the previous forum, which evolved at this forum into the question, “What’s wrong with renting?”
“With those who rent and lease, you get short-term residents who are less entrenched in the community with less commitment to the community,” Galbreath said. “Homeowners bring a long-term personal investment into the community that leads to more stability. I don’t think we need a transient community; we need a community that’s invested and here for the long-term.”
Little took a different approach to the question.
“I think that to say someone who leases property is transient is wrong,” said Little, who has served as commissioner since 2009. “There are different situations in which people have to lease. It’s a property right to be able to lease a home. I think that Tapestry is the elephant in the room. It’s a unique situation.”
Tapestry is a controversial mixed-use development currently being constructed one-quarter mile south of downtown Brentwood. It will offer nearly 400 apartments for rent, two swimming pools, two parking garages, and retail space. Some argue the development will worsen traffic along an already busy Franklin Road, as well as encourage short-term stays in the community and overburden the area’s overcrowded schools.
Gorman concurred on the latter as related to apartments. Smithson explained that renting is an “American right,” stating that she did it for three years. But she also sees problems that can stem from allowing such developments in Brentwood.
“Tapestry is a different situation. When the property came to us two years ago, it was supposed to be condos to be sold, then the whole process turned around. I’m not happy with the rentals. I would prefer them to be owned,” Smithson said. “Leasing is an American right, but I think that multi-family is the problem that we have in Brentwood right now. No more.”
The candidates discussed the issue of offering tax incentives to keep businesses headquartered in Brentwood. Brentwood and Williamson County worked in tandem last year to give a $2 million tax abatement over a 10-year period to Tractor Supply Co. It was the first time the city of Brentwood offered such an incentive.
Some candidates said future considerations should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, gauging how a corporation might impact the city in terms of job creation and potential tax revenue for the city.
However, Galbreath expressed reservations about such practices becoming habitual.
“I don’t want to create a system of winners and losers, but I do want to retain businesses,” Galbreath said. “As competition increases, we have to be very, very wise.”
Smithson said that it “opens Pandora’s Box” and raises the question of fairness.
“We have a very friendly business environment in Brentwood,” she said. “If businesses know what is expected of them and the city follows through and is fair, then we have a better business environment.”
Smithson was the only candidate to vote “no” on the abatement for Tractor Supply Co.
It was noted that although commercial development makes up about five percent of the developed land in Brentwood, it generates about 60 percent of the city’s revenue.
Candidates acknowledged that cultivating strong business relationships are crucial, especially with the recently unified Williamson County Chamber of Commerce.
The revitalization of Maryland Farms was also discussed.
“Some of the buildings are aging and when new businesses come in, there is revitalization, such as with Tennessee Hospital Association,” Gorman said.
“We need to help and encourage businesses to revitalize and provide a strong infrastructure,” Smithson said.
The Brentwood city election is May 7.
A previous version of this story implied that she supports tax abatement for businesses.
Posted on: 4/11/2013