By Pam Horne and Kerri Bartlett
The health and safety of Williamson County’s children was at the forefront of 2013, a theme that continued to year’s end when Vanderbilt announced plans to partner with Williamson Medical Center on the community’s first children’s hospital.
In January 2013, the Williamson County Commission and the Franklin Special School District School Board voted to spend nearly $2 million on providing a Student Resource Officer (SRO) for every school in the county and city that was not already receiving the law enforcement support.
This move came within several weeks of the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut.
During that same month, the county’s first full-time juvenile court judge was sworn into office, a new addition to the county’s judiciary.
Juvenile Court Judge Sharon Guffee was named to the post after county commissioners voted to establish a separate judicial office for juvenile court, rather than continue to operate the court under the jurisdiction and oversight of the General Sessions judges.
Prior to her appointment, Guffee served as the juvenile court referee for several years, hearing cases related to juvenile truancy, custodial issues and juvenile crime.
The new judicial position will be on the voting ballot for the first time this August’s Countywide General Election.
In November, Guffee made her plans to seek the elective office public when she filed the required petition to be on the ballot in the upcoming May Republican Primary.
Williamson County’s has one of the lowest crime rates in the state, but the tragic death of Brentwood physician Rachel Maidens was likely the most unexpected story of 2013.
Maidens charged with Brentwood murder
On April 21, Brentwood police charged Randolph Maidens with first degree murder after his wife, Rachael Maidens, was found shot to death in their Brentwood home at The Governors Club subdivision. In June, Maidens pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges and was released on $750,000 bond, but arrested again in Nashville in early December for public intoxication. He was later released from the Davidson County jail.
Within a week of Maiden’s release, Williamson County’s District Attorney Kim Helper, 21st District, filed a motion to revoke Maidens' bond as a community safety measure. Helper’s motion will be heard Wednesday, Jan. 8 in Circuit Court. Maidens’ criminal homicide trial is set for Sept. 29.
Downtown hotel on the horizon
Summer vacations were in full swing when a brand new development for downtown Franklin’s Harpeth River entrance was introduced to the community at the Franklin Theatre.
Rod Heller and Jay Franks announced their partnership and plans to bring an $80 million project that would include a high-end boutique hotel, luxury apartments and retail shops to East Main Street, between First and Second Avenues.
A parking garage is also a possibility, as well as a neighborhood grocery store for the south side of Second Ave.
Last month, Franklin’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen and members of the Franklin Planning Commission met in a joint meeting to hear a presentation from Heller.
Planning commissioners will likely see the project move forward this winter as plans move through the government approval process.
Heller, who is a significant supporter of Franklin’s efforts to preserve its Civil War battlefields, splits his time between his home here and in Washington, D.C.
In outlining his strategy for the project Heller has said “we are approaching this as businessmen. We won’t do this unless it makes financial sense and the project is consistent with our vision.”
The entire project is a part of the city’s Central Business District, as well as a part of the Historic Zoning Overlay District.
County to build new EOC
In November, the County Commission approved issuing general obligation bonds for three major projects.
The price tag totals $110 million for previously approved projects including design plans for the new Nolensville K-8 school and high school, the construction of the new county public safety facility and partial funding of the expansion of Williamson Medical Center including pediatrics, surgical and pharmacy.
The new $25.1 million public safety facility – Emergency Operations Center – to be constructed by 2016 was approved earlier in the year, while $30 million was approved for partial funding of the hospital expansion (a project totaling $65 million).
Williamson County Schools will also see the funding of past projects come to fruition in a $19.4 million bond issuance including design plans for new schools in Nolensville, asphalt and roof and capital funds for maintenance and technology.
County Mayor Rogers Anderson told county commissioners that operating expenses for county departments have not increased in the past ten years and actually decreased by .5 percent. He also explained that about 169 people have been hired since 2003 in public safety and law enforcement – the county’s largest departments – including 32 School Resource Officers hired earlier this year.
Hillsboro Cove, Del Webb elicit debates in county and city
|Chuck Lynch is the owner of the land at the heart of the Hillsboro Cove controversy.
Fall of 2013 may best be remembered as the season when threats of development around the Old Hillsboro Road and Del Rio Pike areas caused friction among developers and some residents in Williamson County and Franklin.
Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen ultimately voted down the Del Webb active senior community in November, leaving planning staff no choice but to discontinue research on the 800-home development.
This project was proposed on 200 acres off Del Rio Pike near Old Charlotte Pike. Its location is prime undeveloped rural property on the western edge of the Urban Growth Boundary and inside the West Harpeth Character Area of the Land Use Plan, a document the city uses as a planning tool.
After months of petitions and vocal community meetings, dozens of dissenters, wearing red shirts symbolizing the ‘Say No to Del Webb’ grassroots campaign showed their solidarity against the development by attending the November BOMA meeting.
Aldermen decided that it was “not the right time nor the right place” for the active senior living Del Webb development. The debate ultimately elicited discussion about city planners reevaluating the Land Use Plan.
In a separate matter, western Williamson County residents rallied together in protest of the Hillsboro Cove development, a 20-home development proposed for 34 acres located off scenic Old Hillsboro Road. Although residents voiced their concerns that the development threatened to erode the rural landscape in the area and encourage a “domino effect” of suburban development, the Williamson County Regional Planning Commission voted to approve preliminary plans for the project—citing that the plans met all county rules and regulations for development.
During the Franklin city BOMA elections, Alderman Beverly Burger, Ward 1, ran against Jeff Walker as the only opposed candidate out of eight in the race. Burger, who was seeking her third term, was reelected narrowly.
Low resident turnout at the polls sparked discussion about rescheduling city elections at a different time during the year to generate more resident participation, but when Burger brought up the idea in November to the entire Board she received little support for switching the election to coincide with statewide or countywide races.
Harpeth River study commences
Three cities and the U.S. Corps of Engineers joined to initiate a feasibility study for the Harpeth River, which affects about six counties in the area.
Corps representatives and city and county leaders gathered last September at Edwin Warner Park to announce the partnership and the commencement of the $1.4 million study. Since then, community input meetings have been held in Williamson and Davidson counties.
The unprecedented devastation of the May 2010 flood spurred Williamson and Davidson counties and the cities of Franklin and Brentwood to ban together with the Corps to identify better ways to reduce flood risk in the affected areas.
“This is a rare opportunity for the Corps and communities to look at the Harpeth River holistically without political boundaries and without a concern about lines,” said Craig Carrington, project manager with the Corps. The study will serve as a tool to determine strategies to reduce the flood risk and damage, while restoring the ecosystem to the river.
Posted on: 1/3/2014