Southbrooke development sparks housing affordability discussion at Franklin city hall

Franklin BOMA
The Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen discussed housing affordability at its Jan. 14 work session. (Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen discussed housing affordability at its Jan. 14 work session. (Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)

While considering a resolution to annex about 75 acres of property into the city of Franklin as a part of the Southbrooke development located near Lewisburg Pike, discussions of city and developer efforts to promote more affordable housing options in Franklin were raised.



City staff did not recommend the development be allowed in its current form, citing 77 lots in the plan not meeting the minimum lot width of 45 feet set by the city in its Envision Franklin plan.



The development plan was also voted down in the Franklin Planning Commission in a 3-4 vote.



However, developer Greg Gamble said the development with its slightly small lot sizes of 34-44 feet would provide more housing affordability and diversity in Franklin.



“We have heard over the past several years that the city of Franklin is looking for more affordability in its neighborhoods,” Gamble said. “We think that this smaller lot size allows for a large portion of home buyers that are going to be working at Berry Farms to be able to purchase a house within close proximity to their job.”



If approved, the annexed land would be the site for a development of 204 homes in two neighborhoods that would take about five years to develop, according to developer Greg Gamble.



Gamble said the price point for the houses on the smaller lot would be between $500,000-$600,000. If the smaller lots were taken away in order to make every lot conform to Envision Franklin’s lot size minimum, the price point of the houses would increase to about $700,000.



“I like the plan and I like the diversity in the houses and the lot sizes,” Alderman Clyde Barnhill said. “I would’ve loved to see a price point a little less than that on a 34-foot lot.”



City Administrator Eric Stuckey said none of the price points for the proposed houses in the development, even those in the smallest lots, fit the criteria for workforce housing.



“That’s a concern,” Stuckey said. “If you’re going to give something up, give up a standard, you’re still not getting what you’re looking for. You’re not getting workforce-priced housing. I think that’s an issue. ...It is more affordable, but it is not affordable.”



Vice Mayor Dana McLendon said the board should consider the impact of the lack of affordable housing in their community, and that they should make policies encouraging the development of homes with lower price points.



“We’re the ones who make policies that directly affect the price of a house. ...Until there’s a sustained commitment to doing something about it, it’s not going to change,” McLendon said. “If you don’t want want to do it, then okay. It’s a rational thing to say, ‘I will suffer the consequences of the absence of affordable housing,’ until you can’t get chicken nuggets, and then you will care. ...I’m talking about being able to hire people to work for you who will make chicken nuggets, or teach kindergarten or get on a firetruck to come save your life.”



McLendon added that problems with traffic congestion in Franklin were directly connected to the lack of affordable housing options in the city, leading to an increase in commuters who lived out of town but came to work in the city each day.



“If you let people live near where they work, they don’t get in the way as much,” McLendon said. “I promise you, if you’re sitting at this table in 2040 and you didn’t do anything about affordable housing, the pitchforks and the torches about traffic are going to be real by then.”



Alderman Beverly Burger questioned why the conversation shifted from the Southbrooke development annexation to affordable housing options in Franklin, and said $500,000 homes were more affordable for working families than $700,000 homes.



“I’m not here to talk about affordable housing tonight, frankly, but I would like to see a $490,000 home instead of a $700,000 home in this development,” Burger said. “We live in a free market. Are we as a government going to try to control the free market? I don’t think so. We have very expensive housing here because we have very expensive land prices, and we have a lot of fees to pay and a lot of policies to match up to and you name it. That’s what makes it very expensive in our area.”



Mayor Ken More said any time a developer came to them and spoke to city staff about providing better price points, the discussion surrounding affordable housing would be raised, and he encouraged developers to come to the board with development proposals that would help alleviate the lack of workforce housing options in the city.



“We’re all very sensitized that we need more housing for the people that work in Franklin,” Moore said. “[Homebuilders] need to be part of the solution also. It can’t just be state government and city government solving the problem. ... We’re at the tipping point. Our hotels are having difficulty finding people [to fill jobs]. Our restaurants are having difficulty finding people.”



A public hearing for the proposed annexation will be held at city hall on Feb. 11 before the first of three readings of the resolution.



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