As the Williamson County Commission awaits the chance to vote for or against the new draft of the comprehensive land use plan Monday, certain sectors of the community believe quickly approving the document may not be the best idea.
Over the last several months, the county has held a few public meetings and has made presentations at county commission meetings as it assessed and updated its comprehensive land use plan, which would act as policy for zoning and other land use issues.
At these meetings, Williamson County Planning Director Mike Matteson presented two options for addressing growth moving forward: “business as usual,” which would allow development to continue with the current zoning densities, or “town and country,” which would reduce the overall density in the unincorporated county, with some exceptions, to one unit per 5 acres and concentrate growth within the urban growth boundaries around the municipalities.
“We need to decide kind of once and for all, do we still want to preserve rural character by focusing the growth in and around the cities, or do we want to conclude that the continuation of development sprawling into rural areas is acceptable?” Matteson said at February’s county commission budget committee meeting.
The county pursued the “town and country” option in its new draft. However, some landowners in the unincorporated county and representatives at the Williamson County Association of Realtors worry this plan is progressing too fast and that “business as usual” and “town and country” aren’t the only two options moving forward.
“This is happening way too quick,” said Jordan Vaughn, president of the board at WCAR. “We just got the draft of the plan to see the details of it. As we dive into it, we have some very strong concerns.”
Realtors and landowners fear drop in property values
Vaughn and other WCAR representatives expressed concern that down-zoning roughly 74,000 of the 374,000 acres in the county from one unit per acre to one unit per 5 acres would decrease property values and limit property rights.
Butch Jenkins, who owns 292 acres in Nolensville, land passed down through six generations of his family, is particularly concerned that this change in zoning will affect his future plans. He explained he has intended to develop a large portion of his land to turn a profit and provide for his two children, to whom he would allot about 40 acres of the property. He worries he would lose half the value of his property and, thus, half of his assets as a result of the proposed rezoning.
Nick Shuford, chair of the WCAR advocacy and government affairs board, explained, from a developer’s perspective, if a 200-acre property has the potential for 200 lots, and a zoning change reduces the number of lots to 40, this will decrease the value of the land. WCAR has published documents comparing the sales price per acre of land zoned for one unit per acre versus one unit per 5 acres and shows an average 50% value decrease in the lower densities.
However, the county has also produced their own study, showing a smaller difference in values. Matteson said he believes natural features of the land are the true determinants of property value, not zoning density, but he doesn’t want to “suggest that property values may not change as a result” of zoning.
Jenkins said a personal conversation with Matteson did not soothe his fears.
“Mr. Matteson confirmed my worst fears,” he wrote in a letter to county commissioners. “If the proposed rezoning is adopted, the number of lots that could be developed on my property would be drastically reduced. The math doesn’t lie. My property value will be destroyed.”
Tim Hill, who owns 230 acres in College Grove, also shared about half of his property would be affected by a change in zoning. He said he had planned to sell some of his land upon retirement and is worried this plan would take away some of his retirement money.
Vaughn explained he is not convinced the county’s numbers are accurate; however, Matteson said he believes WCAR’s data is incomplete. Both sides agree, though, no one can guarantee property values will not decrease as a result of the zoning changes.
Jenkins said he is frustrated the county also recently voted to amend the zoning ordinance article stating affected properties would need to be notified before the commission voted on map amendments, and further, they focused their public outreach with regards to the plan draft in the city of Franklin, not in the unincorporated areas that would be most impacted.
“I’m insinuating that they didn’t want people to know about it,” Jenkins said.
Shuford also expressed concern that housing prices would spike in response to property values decreasing.
“Real estate around here — it’s already expensive,” he said. “When you create a product with even more scarcity, it’s going to increase the pricing, and then what is that going to do? It’s going to have multiple domino effects.”
County discusses similar concerns
At the county commission budget committee meeting Monday night, District 2 commissioner Judy Herbert shared similar concerns about a decrease in property value.
“I’ve had a lot of farmers call me — I had two this morning I was on the phone with — and their land is … their 401k,” she said. “They feel like, not that they’re planning on selling right now, but they want the option in the future if they want to sell it or (keep it) for their grandkids.”
Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson explained county staff members are working on solutions for this.
“If our children or grandchildren want to come back to our land, … once you’ve lived there, worked there, and now you want to come back and settle and take that farm that you’re talking about, then there’s got to be some mechanisms put in place that can allow that,” he said.
Matteson explained these options will not be presented before the commission’s vote on whether or not to adopt the plan on March 9, but any decisions around a grandfathering process for noncompliant properties would not affect the land use plan anyway. He said the commission hopes to establish the vision with adoption of the plan and then adjust zoning over the next few months to fit the vision.
Realtors urge county to delay vote
Vaughn said he thinks conversations around zoning determining details around a grandfathering process and the effects on hamlets, villages and special properties should happen first and should include landowners who would be affected before passing the land use plan.
“That’s why we’re concerned. It’s because they’re wanting to just do a blanket down-zoning, and then we’re going to have to come back and clean up things,” he said. “What we’re saying is, let’s take our time. … What’s it going to hurt us if we take just a little bit extra time and make sure all of our ducks are in a row, make sure this is all right, and then we vote to pass it?”
The discussion around property values aside, District 4 commissioner Chad Story shared the majority of land currently zoned for one dwelling unit per acre is on the eastern side of the county, and he believes this draft’s plan to largely standardize zoning across the county at one unit per 5 acres would allow for more predictability as the county grows.
“(The east side is) getting compounded by the pressures of growth and traffic, because we’re the path of least resistance of development,” he said. “(It’s) a heck of a lot easier to … move all the development into one-to-one than to try to find land in one-to-five. If you normalize zoning across the county, you then have a true one-to-one nature of where things can grow.”
However, Vaughn believes a potential increase in housing costs will create even more strain on major roads.
“We’ve pushed people out of our county,” he said. “They can’t live in the county that they work in, so now they’re driving on Arno Road, now they’re driving down 840 and 65, now they’re driving on Sneed Road to get into the county that has attracted all these phenomenal businesses.”
He explained he wants the county to slow down and consider some other options before they vote.
“They’re making some assumptions, but they’re not bringing people to the table other than the consultant they hired to get to the answer that they want,” Vaughn said.
Shuford added he and Vaughn care about the character of the land, as they have both lived in the area for multiple decades, but they want to work with the county to consider landowners in the decision.
“We want to help,” he said. “We’re not saying, ‘No way. It’s our way or the highway.’ We’re trying to be reasonable here and help and say, ‘Look, let’s slow down and work on this together.’ Why are we pushing this through so fast?”
The county commission will vote on whether or not to adopt the comprehensive land use plan draft at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, March 9 in the Williamson County Administrative Complex. If approved, the county will decide how to adjust zoning to accommodate the new plan in the following months.
The county will also hold a public meeting to discuss the plan at 5:30 p.m. March 12 at the Williamson County Administrative Complex.
The draft of the comprehensive land use plan can be reviewed at williamson2040.org.