The auditorium at the Williamson County Administrative Complex was a buzzing sea of green and red stickers Monday night as the room was packed with more than 200 people awaiting the Williamson County Commission’s vote on the draft of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
About half the room wore green “town and country” stickers in support of the draft, while others sported a red “don’t devalue my property” sticker, hoping to buy some more time with a “no” vote. Citizens formed a line out the door, ready to sign up to speak. The commission allotted 30 minutes for public comment, limiting each speaker to about a minute each.
Members of the commission heard several different arguments on both sides. Some said the county’s growth numbers and projections for the resulting property values were misleading, and the vote should be deferred until a later meeting. Some believed the draft was exactly as it should be. Some landowners claimed adoption of this plan would strip away their property rights and devalue their property, while others said the plan would increase their property value.
After nearly an hour of citizen communication, several county office presentations and a PowerPoint from Mike Matteson, the planning director for the county, and Greg Dale, the lead consultant on the project to update the plan, the commissioners began their discussion.
Brian Beathard, commissioner for District 11, explained he would vote in favor of endorsing the plan, but he made a motion to defer the vote until the commission’s May meeting because of the citizens who felt blindsided by the draft and thought the vote was too soon.
Agreeing with the motion to defer, Judy Herbert, commissioner for District 2, said she understood both sides of the argument, making the vote difficult.
However, the deferral was not supported by Barb Sturgeon, commissioner for District 8, who said delaying the vote would discourage members of the public from participating in the process of updating the plan early on.
“I think, if we were to defer this, it would fuel the idea that all those people, the 92% who put in their public comments and thought that they were really being listened to — it’s going to make them think otherwise,” she said.
The commissioners voted against deferral and returned to the original resolution. Several commissioners explained endorsing the plan would not automatically change zoning in the county, but the rezoning process will occur over the next couple months, during which public involvement is recommended.
Matt Williams, commissioner for District 9, explained this land use plan is an attempt to manage growth in a way that allows the county to continue to manage its finances the way that it does.
“If we don’t do something about this now, then those mechanisms that have funded this county for so long and have guided us so well — we’re looking at making a philosophical change and deviation from those mechanisms that have funded us, whether it be higher taxes or structuring future debt in a different way than we’ve typically done,” he said.
Echoing Williams, Gregg Lawrence, commissioner for District 4, said the county’s $13,622,000 highway fund is already not enough to cover the infrastructure needs throughout the county, and increased development will only worsen the problem.
“We hired a consultant who told us two years ago that we’re already $140 million in the deficit for infrastructure costs around Williamson County,” he said. “We have no way of making up that deficit. We don’t have a funding source for that. So, if we add an additional 50,000 homes or 60,000 homes out in the county, all that’s going to do is make that deficit go even higher, and there is no way we’re going to be able to fund that without a massive tax increase of some type.”
The commission voted 22-1 to endorse the plan. Bert Chalfant, commissioner for District 7, said he voted against the resolution because a constituent asked him to. He would not comment on any additional reasoning.
This vote shows the commission’s official opinion on the plan, which will be conveyed to the Williamson County Regional Planning Commission at its Thursday meeting, which will determine whether or not the plan is officially adopted. There will be a public hearing at this meeting, beginning at 5:30 p.m. March 12 at the Williamson County Administrative Complex.
If the plan is adopted, the county will begin conversations about how to adjust zoning to accommodate the vision outlined in the plan.
To view the draft of the Williamson County Comprehensive Land Use Plan as well as the current plan and other materials, visit williamson2040.com.