Franklin, Williamson County push forward with long-term planning for area growth

More than 400 acres of new land were annexed into the city of Franklin on Nov. 7 following a referendum approved by homeowners Oct. 22.
Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper
More than 400 acres of new land were annexed into the city of Franklin on Nov. 7 following a referendum approved by homeowners Oct. 22. Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper

More than 400 acres of new land were annexed into the city of Franklin on Nov. 7 following a referendum approved by homeowners Oct. 22. Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper

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The city of Franklin has added another 474 acres to its footprint following an Oct. 22 election referendum in which 19 property owners unanimously voted to join the city, according to election results from the Williamson County Election Commission.

Twenty-six new parcels of land, all located in the areas around Long and Pratt lanes in South Franklin east of I-65, have been officially added to the city after several property owners petitioned the city to have their land annexed into the city limits earlier this year.

Planning and Sustainability Director Emily Hunter said while the area is outside the city’s Urban Growth Boundary—areas where the city has predicted future growth—landowners in the area have been watching for growth •and are planning for the future.

“Currently, there’s a lot of development happening down in this area where the Ramsey headquarters is at Berry Farms,” Hunter said. “They had to build a lot of infrastructure like water lines, sewer lines, roads. I think these property owners recognize that the infrastructure was available and that maybe there was a time that they might want to annex into the city and be able to consider development in the future for their property.”

For the past several weeks, the city of Franklin has been working to determine how best to deal with the influx of new properties, including how to add them to the city’s long-range plans and how to extend services to the area. The city approved a plan of services, including roads, emergency services and water, ahead of the annexation, which will go into effect Dec. 7, 30 days after the certification of the election results, according to the city.


Managing city growth

Hunter said that while the new properties have not submitted plans for how they will be developed, for now, the properties will be zoned as residential land, allowing for about one home per acre—in line with other parcels in that area. Any new plans for the land will need to go through the city’s approval process, which includes public meetings, she said.

The annexation comes at a time when the Franklin area is experiencing a high rate of population growth. The city’s population has nearly doubled over the past 20 years—up to an estimated 80,914 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The approval of the annexation also comes during the final weeks of Zone Franklin, the city’s newest version of its zoning codes and ordinances. The new ordinance is the result of more than a year of planning to bring zoning more in line with Envision Franklin, the city’s long-range plan, which was adopted in 2017 to direct how and where future developments might be added to the city.

“[Envision Franklin] was a new plan at that point in time,” Hunter said. “And then, immediately, we started drafting the zoning ordinance because at that point, our zoning ordinance was related to a previous long-range plan. So once Envision Franklin was adopted, we needed an ordinance that aligned with Envision Franklin.”

The new zoning ordinance includes updated zoning districts, regulations for building types and facades, and provisions for open space, according to the draft ordinance. Residents can find a full copy of the draft at www.zonefranklin.com.

The project will wrap up its final public hearing Nov. 26, after which it will come up for approval and a final reading Dec. 10, according to city officials.

Keeping county character

Rapid population growth is not unique to Franklin. Williamson County’s population is expected to reach 536,000 by 2040—up 137% from 2017—according to county projections. With this expected influx of new residents, county officials are also working to determine how the landscape of the area will look in the future.

Earlier this year, the county kicked off planning for Williamson 2040, an update to its 2007 comprehensive land use plan. Williamson County Director of Planning Michael Matteson said the county has seen tremendous growth in the years since the last update, a trend that is likely to continue.

“It is critical that we be very intentional and deliberate in our planning to make sure that future growth can be accommodated in a way that preserves what people value most about Williamson County.” Matteson said.

While Williamson 2040 is separate from the city of Franklin’s plan, Hunter said city officials meet regularly with county planners to make sure the plans align. Both plans look to keep existing developments in line with future growth to avoid sprawl.

“They really work hand-in-hand, honestly,” Hunter said. “The Williamson 2040 plan, it really focuses on rural preservation care, the kind of community character, those types of things. What it really does—it directs growth and future development into the municipality.”

While previous county plans have outlined how to steer new development around existing cities, the execution of the previous plan has not been entirely consistent.

“There are very strong policies in the current plan of trying to preserve the rural character outside of the cities, and looking at that, that’s had mixed results” said Greg Dale, a consultant with McBride Dale Clarion, the firm helping draft the study, during an Oct. 1 Williamson 2040 event.

After resident surveys and multiple public meetings, the project has reached a fork in the road as the county prepares for growth and residents demand rural preservation, according to planning officials.

Dale said in drafting a new comprehensive plan, the county has asked the public to consider two scenarios, neither of which will be the final plan, but which will ultimately shape how the new plan steers incoming development.

The first scenario, “Business as Usual,” would follow current zoning densities in the county’s unincorporated areas with an average lot size of 2 acres per housing unit, and it would reach a total of about 82,000 housing units in unincorporated areas over the next 20 years.

The second, called “Town and Country,” would lower the average zoning density for unincorporated areas to 4.6 acres per housing unit and reach a total of about 48,400 housing units over the next 20 years.

Dale said while there are differences between scenarios, county planning will not affect the expected population boom in the area.

“Let’s be clear: This doesn’t stop the growth. This is how you accommodate the growth.’” Dale said. “Even if those 20-year forecasts are overly aggressive forecasts—even if you don’t have quite that amount of growth—whether we’re talking about 20 years or 25 or 30 years, you still have a tremendous amount of growth coming and a finite amount of capacity to accommodate it.”

Matteson said planning for the study is still ongoing, but they hope to have a draft of the plan ready by early next year, which will then come up for adoption by the planning commission. Residents can still comment on the plan in the coming weeks.

“People still have an opportunity to provide feedback,” he said. “We designed a very robust public engagement process and we have received a terrific response from the community.”
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