The long process of updating the Williamson County Comprehensive Land Use Plan is ending as county planners released a new draft to the public this week, prioritizing rural and historic preservation as well as road and public service planning.
Reason for the update
The land use plan is meant to act as a guide for zoning regulations and the placement of infrastructure and public facilities. The current land use plan was accepted in 2007, and as Mike Matteson, Williamson County planning and zoning director, has updated the county commission and the public over the last several months, he has shared that, despite the current plan’s goal to keep new development concentrated within the urban growth boundaries (UGBs) — areas surrounding municipalities deemed appropriate for growth — the county has seen a “sprawl” of development scattered throughout the unincorporated areas.
At a recent meeting with county and city of Franklin leaders, Gregg Lawrence, county commissioner for the fourth district, explained this “sprawl” resulted partially from a county policy about alternative sewer systems.
“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 at the meeting. “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.”
With the updated plan, the county seeks to manage growth while maintaining the rural character of the unincorporated areas. This plan would not act as hard and fast rules, but would rather provide a guide for planning tools, such as updated zoning ordinances.
Comparing the old with the new
A comparison of the current plan with the updated draft shows few thematic differences. The old plan expresses concern for a “possible sprawled pattern of growth” and emphasizes rural, open space and historic preservation, natural resource protection and careful planning of transportation infrastructure and public facilities — all themes similarly highlighted in the new draft.
Both plans outline general guidelines for rural areas, hamlets (small town-like hubs with a few small businesses and institutions) and villages (slightly more robust than hamlets guided by customized special area plans). They both also stress the importance of the county and municipalities coordinating on plans for growth.
One difference between the plans is the urgency conveyed due to growth pressure. In the 2007 plan, forecasted growth over 23 years (from 2007 to ’30) showed about a 75% population increase. Now, growth projections from 2017 to 2040 show an increase by 137%.
The most glaring difference, though, pertains to development density in the unincorporated areas. The current plan recommends one unit per 5 acres in much of the western county and one unit per acre in much of the eastern side. The new draft proposes treating one unit per 5 acres as a general guideline throughout the entire unincorporated county.
Matteson suggested this clarification will make a big difference.
“While the 2007 plan included a goal to preserve rural character, it did not recommend altering the allowable residential densities in rural areas that had been in place for many years,” he said. “That decision has made it far more difficult to achieve the vision contained in the current plan.”
In fact, Matteson shared the main difference between the two plans lies in the details. While the current plan is more than twice as long as the proposed version, the draft lists more thorough implementation strategies than the current document.
Implementation strategies in the current plan include general statements such as “ensure densities in rural areas are consistent with rural character,” “encourage greater coordination between the county and cities regarding land uses, zoning and development policies,” and “approach historic and cultural resource protection comprehensively.” The new draft lists more specific actions: “reduce the zoning densities outside the municipal growth areas to one unit per five acres,” “adjust/update boundaries of the MGA’s as needed,” “create guidelines for annexation policies,” and “educate the public and landowners about the importance of historic resources.”
The full draft of the updated plan and other resources are available at williamson2040.com.
The county commission will vote on its endorsement of the plan at its 7 p.m. meeting Monday, March 9 at the Williamson County Administrative Complex. The Williamson County Regional Planning Commission will also hold a public hearing concerning the plan’s adoption at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12 at the Williamson County Administrative Complex.