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Final parcel at McEwen and I-65 moves closer to development

While the hills surrounding the Cool Springs corridor remain secure from development because of Franklin’s hillside height overlay regulations, a smaller slope on a critical piece of land adjacent to the future Ovation development, and across I-65 from the Drury Hotel, was approved last night for future construction.
The 4.5-acre parcel, currently under option by SouthStar LLC, partner developers of Ovation, received unanimous approval last night by the planning commission after a lengthy presentation and acknowledgement of planning staff’s objections to the request.
At issue was whether a sloped hill, not designated in a strict ordinance passed several years ago to protect hillside property, should be protected from development, even though zoning allows for high density and multiple-storied projects.
The question was initiated by SouthStar project representatives last December, when they asked staff members for a determination on the matter. 
The request preceded project submittal, according to planning staff, who made their decision in January to disapprove the request.
The land in question is for sale and represented by McArthur-Sanders Real Estate on behalf of the Pickering family heirs.
Last summer, a plan for developing a $700 million commercial, retail and residential mixed-use development—Ovation—was presented to members of the community and media at the Franklin Theatre by Highwoods Properties (NYSE:HIW), of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Franklin-based SouthStar, LLC and Bristol Development Group.
Last night, that project received unanimous approval for a preliminary plat design just before planning commissioners considered the separate hillside request.
This piece of land, which was not acquired initially by the developers, is located near the Ovation project, as well as a proposed medical facility planned by Vanderbilt Health and Spectrum-Emery’s Franklin Park multi-storied office park.
During a public comment period, Ward I Alderman Beverly Burger spoke in favor of the request.
“I’ve been concerned about this hill for years,” Burger told the commission. “The hillside screams out to me now that the developments on the other three quadrants (of McEwen East) have come into development. This area needs attention.”
Burger said she believed that the “grading of this corridor would enhance this area. Again, this is an area I represent. There has been concern of what will happen to this parcel.”
She noted that residents, whom she regularly queries for input about matters in Ward 1, had given her positive feedback about allowing construction.
“We’re glad that SouthStar and Highwoods are coming to the planning commission with this. That makes excellent sense.”
She also emphasized that her decision to speak out was not prompted by the developer, but by her interest as a resident and aldermen representing the area.
SouthStar’s project was represented by engineer Alan Thompson, vice president of Ragan-Smith.
In his request to the commission, he emphasized the approved density of the area and the projects potential for linking to Ovation’s master plan for 52 acres.
He noted that the height and mass of the hillside was not comparable to the protected hillside areas.
“We completely understand the perspective that (staff) took, however, we respectfully disagree,” Thompson said, later adding that the city’s investment in infrastructure, both roadway and utility, could be maximized by the development of the hill.
Staff had concerns from the standpoint of surrounding properties that would have their viewshed impacted by a potential project, which could be several stories in height.
Franklin’s Principal Planner Emily Hunter led the review team.
Franklin’s zoning ordinance, staff contends, does provide some protection to hillsides with a slope of 14 percent or greater. The property approved last night has a slope of 20 percent.
“While not within the HHO district, a significant portion of the land near McEwen Drive contains slopes greater than 20 percent. Given the steep slopes, their proximity to the interstate, arterial streets and gateway points into the city, DRT has determined that an area of slope immediately south of East McEwen Drive shall be protected to maintain the viewshed from areas north of the site,” the staff comments state.
During discussion, several comments were offered by planning commissioners before their vote to approve.
“The impact of construction, whether of I-65 or the McEwen intersection, impacted this corridor—no doubt,” said Commissioner Ann Petersen. 
“To me, that corridor from north of Moores Lane down to 96 East, the character of that is either built or going to be built. If you travel along the interstate, you do see some hills but right down I-65 you see this is developed or going to be developed.”
Marcia Allen, planning commissioner said “We made some serious boo-boos handling hillsides (in the past). I know it seems like a whole lot of to do about nothing, but this may be a case where the horse has already left the barn.”
Just before the vote, Planning Commissioner Roger Lindsey weighed in on the discussion.
“I think, ultimately, it’s all about appearance. This is such an incredible area for the future of Franklin and it needs to be properly done.”
Although the request to develop the hillside was approved, planning commissioners must still review and approve the projects once it is submitted.

Posted on: 2/28/2014


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