Franklin begins planning for future West Harpeth Area

A new development has been proposed for land near Old Charlotte Pike, a historic corridor. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)
A new development has been proposed for land near Old Charlotte Pike, a historic corridor. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)

A new development has been proposed for land near Old Charlotte Pike, a historic corridor. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)

Development in Franklin and Williamson County has long been a hot-button issue as residents and city officials look to balance the area’s rural character and appearance with the demand of growth. In a 2019 citizen survey by the city of Franklin, more than 38% of residents expressed concern over growth and development, the most of any issue facing the city.

When a 58-acre proposed development, Old Charlotte Hamlet, located near the Gentry and Short farms—two historic working farms just west of Franklin—came before the city earlier this year with requests to be annexed, residents and city officials renewed their debate over how the remaining rural land in the city and county should be preserved.

Following weeks of discussion and three deferrals on the matter, the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously Nov. 24 to begin work on a six-month plan for how land west of the city, referred to as the West Harpeth Area, can be developed in the future.

City Administrator Eric Stuckey said the city will begin work in January to determine how infrastructure, such as roadways and sewer connections, may look as the area is developed.

While much of the West Harpeth Area is not in the city limits, some area property owners are considering annexation by the city for future development, which the city will consider during the process.

Stuckey said city officials met with several property owners in the area before presenting options for the BOMA to approve.

“We believe that’s a good way forward,” Stuckey said. “It matches with the type of work that, as we’ve walked through it with property owners, seems to make sense and seems to be a good balance without as extensive a process but still respects the need to walk through thoughtfully the land use and how that syncs up with infrastructure.”

Juggling property requests, rural character

Discussion around the West Harpeth Area has been ongoing since the summer, when Brentwood-based developer CPS Land proposed a 58.6-acre development on what was then known as the Campbell Property, adjacent to Old Charlotte Pike. A virtual neighborhood meeting was held July 8.

At the time, developers proposed a neighborhood, Old Charlotte Hamlet, with five 2-acre farmstead homes, 102 single-family homes and 50 townhomes. Developers are also proposing now that the land—which is not in the city of Franklin but rather within its Urban Growth Boundary—be annexed into the city, according to Greg Gamble, president of Gamble Design Collaborative and landscape architect.

“The farmsteads are designed to reflect the character of Old Charlotte Pike and what’s there today,” he said. “Old Charlotte Pike has been identified by the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County as a heritage road, and we want to be respectful of that.”

Gamble said when the Franklin Planning Commission reviews project plans, it refers often to Envision Franklin, the city’s land use plan, which helps identify where future development might go by ranking land areas according to their suitability for development. The plan was adopted by the city in 2017.

“The [reason an area is] ‘less suitable’ may be that utilities are not nearby, or that there are environmental constraints on the property that might prevent it from being developed, or it’s in an area on the outer edges of our Urban Growth Boundary that the city would like to see in a more rural context,” Gamble said. “This property is identified as ‘most suitable’ for development, meaning it is directly adjacent to an existing sewer line that has capacity for additional growth.”

During the July 8 meeting, a number of county residents, including Williamson County Commissioner Tom Tunnicliffe, said they believe the density of the development would be harmful to the rural character created by nearby properties.

“It’s special to me, and I don’t want to see this area altered in any way, shape or form. It’s going to ruin that. My children grew up [going to] Gentry Farm, and I know you’re going to say they can still do it—it’s not the same,” Tunnicliffe said. “The development in that area has gotten out of hand.”

Following the neighborhood meeting, more than 4,200 individuals signed a petition that called for the Franklin BOMA to vote against annexation of the property into the city. A number of landowners have since approached the city to ask to be involved in the planning process.

David Short, who owns land adjacent to the proposed development, said that property owners near the area have seen increased development in recent years, including the Westhaven community and the construction of the future northwest Mack C. Hatcher Parkway extension, the first phase of which is slated to be complete in 2021. The project extends the road from Hillsboro Road to Hwy. 96 West.

“At this point, in the last 20 years, the major changes have really started, and as of late, Mack Hatcher is now coming down our property line,” Short said during a public comment hearing. “So this is not a surprise. I would say—and we also are in agreement with our neighbors—I would think development needs to be looked at very carefully as we look to the future.”

Land use, incoming infrastructure

While some nearby property owners and residents said they feel the proposed development may not fit the West Harpeth Area, the idea of denser development has sparked a larger conversation about how the city might add infrastructure in the future.

In addition to the proposed neighborhood, Gamble said developers are proposing a change to future roads planned for the area. The city’s major thoroughfare plan, Connect Franklin previously called for Old Charlotte Pike to become a minor collector road—a type of roadway that serves low to moderate traffic volumes—and to run north-south through a portion of Gentry Farm.

However, in August, the city began a discussion to amend the plan to have the roadway run through the proposed development, with a small portion running through a neighboring property.

Vernon Gerth, assistant city administrator for community and economic development, said the city’s thoroughfare plan is an important part of the discussion around the proposed development, as it determines how mobility in the area will function.

“It’s an integral road that, if development is ever going to occur in this area, [will] help move traffic, and we know that traffic is the No. 1 concern of residents in our community,” Gerth said.

The roadway kicked off months of deliberations over how to decide which roadway option would be suitable for the area. The road would not be constructed until development on the site begins, Engineering Director Paul Holzen said.

Gerth said because adding this sort of infrastructure can be expensive, city staffers are working to learn about any future land use plans property owners may have before the city makes any decisions. Work on the roadway would likely be funded through impact fees; however, an exact cost has not been determined.

“It’s becoming increasingly important that we look at our sanitary and sewer water infrastructure as well as our road networks because we have to consider these areas more holistically than [by] allowing property owners to come in and say they want to annex,” Gerth said.

Future plans

After deferring the subject three times, the BOMA ultimately voted to begin a six-month process to update the city’s land use and thoroughfare plans to include engagement with landowners in the area.

Beginning in January, the city will take feedback from property owners about their future plans for development and use that to make recommendations on future infrastructure projects, according to city documents. Those recommendations will be presented to the BOMA and the planning commission next spring before they come up for approval by the planning commission in June.

Any decision regarding the annexation of land in the area would be postponed until the plans are complete, although property owners can still initiate the city’s annexation process, Stuckey said.

“I want to commend staff for really getting this by the tail and sitting down with working with the property owners because that was our wish at the first meeting we ever talked about this,” Alderperson Margaret Martin said.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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