Rural development patterns, growth boundaries could change as county manages growth

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Wednesday morning, as Williamson County and city of Franklin leaders gathered for a meeting on land use, they heard a message contrary to the nervous narrative of 2019: a 150% population increase by 2040 is not inevitable. 

The group met at the Williamson County Enrichment Center to discuss the concerning growth projections for Williamson County over the next couple decades and to begin to work together to devise a plan of action. While the county has been drafting a new comprehensive land use plan over the last year, updating the one that was adopted in 2007 and largely unfollowed, they are consulting with municipal leaders to ensure all entities work in tandem to manage the growth that does come their way. 

“The population in Williamson County is expected to more than double by the year 2040. Now, it’s important to say that that’s not an inevitability,” said Mike Matteson, the director of planning and zoning for Williamson County. “We have the opportunity to kind of chart our own course to some degree, but it really does underscore the need to plan very well and be really deliberate and intentional in what we’re doing.” 

Matteson explained that, previously, the comprehensive land use plan advised that a large portion of development should happen within the urban growth boundaries (UGBs), areas viable for development near existing municipalities. However, as the document simply outlines the vision, not the rules, for development, what happened instead is development spread throughout the unincorporated areas and began crowding the open spaces that many in those regions wish to preserve. 

District 4 County Commissioner Gregg Lawrence provided some insight into why this happened. 

“We had developed a policy that we wouldn’t allow any development inside the urban growth boundaries that used alternative sewer systems because we felt like eventually the cities would take that,” he said. “So, the unintended consequence of that was that developers just said, ‘OK, well, we’ll go outside [the UGBs] and put them out there,’ and then because they have that capability now, they can go anywhere.” 

After much inside and public deliberation, the county has drafted a new plan that reemphasizes the goal to preserve open space with adjusted lot sizes and a density ration of one unit per 5 acres. When they complete the finishing touches in a week or so, the draft will become public before adoption, which is expected as early as March. 

Alongside the county’s presentation of the progress on the comprehensive land use plan, Emily Hunter, director of planning and sustainability for the city of Franklin, presented Franklin-specific information as it pertains to growth and annexation. 

She said Envision Franklin, essentially the city’s version of a land use plan, shows that many of the properties on the periphery of the city are unsuitable for annexation due to factors like proximity to arterial roads, developable acreage, fire service response time and sewer lines. 

The results of a land study from 2018 show that, upon analyzing different portions of the UGB around Franklin, quite a bit of it is unsuitable for annexation within the next 10 to 20 years, according to Hunter. She explained the city could consider in the short-term annexing in the northwest region, where the Mack Hatcher extension is being constructed, in the Goose Creek area and possibly in the eastern Mayes Creek area but with a larger price tag. She said most of the upper and southwest regions are not good options. 

This led some to believe the UGBs are outdated and need to be redrawn. 

“Maybe the growth boundaries need to be revisited,” Matteson said. “Emily talked about how the growth boundaries either do or do not align with where they envision themselves growing and where they are capable of growing. It’s been about 20 years, so maybe that needs to take place.” 

Matteson explained planners from each municipality were consulted in the drafting of the new comprehensive land use plan, and Eric Stuckey, Franklin city administrator, said if everyone can work together, they may receive support in their land use efforts from the state. 

“[Sen. Jack Johnson] said, ‘Come back to us, and if you all come up with an agreement or a way you want to work together, we’ll try to find a way for you to work that in and get that supported at the state level,’” he said. 

Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson said he hopes the decisions the county makes now have a positive impact down the road. 

“We can hope we can look back at what we’re doing in 2021 and ’22 [so] that 2045 doesn’t just absolutely explode our county the way that they anticipate,” he said. 

For more information on the comprehensive land use plan update, visit williamson2040.com. For more information on Williamson County and the city of Franklin, visit williamsoncounty-tn.gov or franklintn.gov.

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