Chamber panel talks correlation between land use, economy and quality of life

Williamson Inc. chamber held its first luncheon of the year with a focus on how Land Use Planning in the county and cities affect traffic, congestion, housing and thus the economy. 

“How we use our land determines so many things,” Williamson Inc. CEO Matt Largen said. “How we design our community affects our quality of life." 

Panelists discussed strategies in how to design Williamson County to best accommodate “the growth that we all know is coming.”

Panelists included Emily Hunter, Franklin Director of Planning and Sustainability; Victor Lay, Spring Hill City Administrator; Ben Crenshaw, President of Land Planning at the Southern Land Company and Phil Fawcett, managing partner with Boyle Investment Company.

Panelists seemed to agree that like communities across Williamson County and across the nation, such as Boulder County, Colorado, desire connectivity through alternative transportation including the use of bike lanes and walkability to stores, the office and outdoor spaces. For example, Crenshaw said Boulder County planned for 300 miles of bike lanes.

Crenshaw also shared that communities like Denver incorporate mixed-use development in residential and commercial as well as many opportunities for walkability to work, stores and other amenities as well as alternative modes of transportation.

The chamber will visit Denver in September to gain additional perspective into how the city, which closely mirrors Williamson County, approaches strategic planning and growth. 

“Millennials drive economic decisions,“ Largen said during the talk, implying that millennials make up much of the workforce, who value connectivity and look to communities that offer mixed-use, urban options in finding employment and housing.

Smart planning could lead to millennials’ desire to return to their home community to work after they graduate from college.

Largen also emphasized that businesses make decisions based on where people want to be. 

Later while talking development in Brentwood, Fawcett explained that City Park, an office park built in the 1970s and '80s, has been transformed into a thriving office and retail strip with a hotel that attracts shoppers and visitors.

“We wanted to do something different,” Crenshaw said. 

“We wanted to meet the community’s needs … which provide 50,000 square feet of retail. It’s the perfect example of creating more density without hurting infrastructure.”

Hunter cited the recently adopted Envision Franklin, the city’s new “long-term vision for the future,” which replaces the city’s previous land use plan.

The plan serves to strengthen and guide the city’s growth and ultimately land use decisions, timing and growth and development patterns, to set the tone for the future. 

Policies on patterns of land use that support economy and vibrant neighborhoods where current and future residents want to live. However, Hunter also mentioned that Franklin does lack some affordable housing options, lacking a diverse range of choices for buyers. 

Hunter explained that 200 to 300 people contributed their input to the final product of Envision Franklin during community open houses.

The plan also reflects suggestions for “seamless” pedestrian connectivity.

In Spring Hill, Lay said that the new Alexander farms development could emerge as the new gateway for the city, bringing mixed-use development and more diverse economic opportunities during development over the next 20 years. 

Reflecting on the city’s immense growth, Lay also explained that the biggest lesson in Spring Hill is “you cannot live without a property tax.”

Ultimately, proper planning leads to job growth and a vibrant community.

“We want companies to stay here and grow here," Largen said. “We want to offer people a place to move to start a career.”

Largen also shared recent statistics from a Williamson Inc. survey of its members revealing that an overwhelming majority of chamber members surveyed support the governor’s proposed gas tax increase by a 2 to 1 margin as recently laid out in his IMPROVE Act.

“I urge you to add your voice to the mix and email or call your elected officials and let them know where you stand on this important issue,” Largen said.

He also shared that 85 percent of those chamber members who responded offer flex scheduling, aiding in the reduction of traffic. And 50 percent offer some type of remote option. 

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