Over the past 30 years, Williamson County has grown as fast and continuously as anywhere in the country. Tuesday afternoon, a mix of business and government leaders discussed how to ensure that growth stays smart.

At the monthly Williamson, Inc. Chamber meeting at the Cool Springs Marriott, a panel consisting of Victor Lay, Spring Hill City Administrator , Emily Hunter, Director of Planning and Sustainability for City of Franklin, along with Ben Crenshaw, Vice President of Southern Land Company and Phil Fawcett, Managing Partner of Boyle Investment Co., all weighed in on the topic.

“Transportation is the biggest issue right now. Land use is the biggest part of that,” Matt Largen, CEO of Williamson, Inc., said.

Being smart about how new growth comes, such as mixed-use developments, can help traffic.

“We know growth is coming and shouldn’t discourage it but focus on long-range planning. Take little bites out of the traffic issue instead of all at once,” Crenshaw said.

“As millennials want more work, live, play,  all in one place that guides how do we develop for the future.”

On the government side, Franklin is looking at that trend long term and thinking about how it’s land use planning can help traffic by encouraging building to attract millennials.

The Envision Franklin Plan, passed last month, is an example.

“It really sets the course for city’s future. And sets up building and maintain the developing economy,” Hunter said.

“The plan by studying where and how Franklin grows allows us to accommodate needs. Design concepts determine the way in which we develop land uses. We will see more compact commerce areas. And new multi-family ‘mixed-use residential. Business is encouraged to be integrated to create mixed-use neighborhoods and access to nearby shops and workplaces. Seamless pedestrian connectivity.”

She said taller mixed-use projects will grow in regional commerce areas near the interstate to reduce traffic. And another type of mixed-use will grow on West Main and Columbia Avenue, which will be shorter and more town-center-style with residential, office, government and retail.

Overall, the new plan creates a more compact land use plan- not more density everywhere but adding density where it will be most useful for traffic and for residents.

The Franklin plan dovetails with what businesses, who are also following the millennial trends, want.

“First, companies want first-rate office space and, two, convenience and access to amenities, restaurants, etc” Fawcett said. “As we move to a younger employment base they feel that that is what they are looking for. ”

Crenshaw used south Denver as an example of a place similar to Williamson County in growth, as a place where these practices are already working.

“Denver south is much like Williamson County,” he said. “What is going to keep them here? It is connectivity and mixed-use. It is having amenities the employees want.”

A longtime common sense inducement, low property taxes, are no longer as important as amenities and integration, he said.

Speaking of taxes, Spring Hill grew too much too fast earlier this century and learned some hard lessons that the county as a whole can learn from.

“How to learn from past mistakes? In ’04 and ’05 things got out of hand. We had too much growth. And the wrong growth. We weren’t prepared. In 2000, Spring Hill had 8,000 residents. In ’03 and ’04 there were over 1,000 building permits issued. In ’05 there were 1,500. In that span, the city added 15,000 people and city wasn’t prepared for it,” Lay said.

The lessons Spring Hill learned was that they needed higher property taxes to accommodate the skyrocketing population. And they didn’t have them.

“The downturn of the economy in ’09 gave us opportunities to catch up and re-think and recreate ourselves internally to grow smart,” Lay said.

“The biggest lesson is you cannot live without property tax. Our sales tax was not strong enough. We eliminated property tax. It created immense growth but what the city didn’t realize was that they were living off of water and sewer development fees instead of base income by property taxes. ”

The city today is still dealing with problems caused by too much too fast, namely traffic.

“Transportation led us to this conversation,” Largen said.

City leaders want to grow Williamson County by being conscious of growth and anticipating the future

“This conversation today is about that,” Largen said.

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