UPDATE: Dramatic Harpeth River Floodplain Alteration Being Considered to Enable High Density Residential Re-zoning Proposal at Brownland Horse Farm–Premier Horse Show Farm for Nearly 60 Years

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Brownland Farm Development Proposal WITHDRAWN! Franklin Elected Officials Recommend Small Area Plan to redo city’s land use plan to support the agricultural and historic heritage of the rural area of Northwest Franklin. Send you email by Tuesday, 9-22 4:30pm to support the Small Area Plan and ensure that it includes Brownland Farm in the effort.

Update from 9-22 BOMA meeting on Small Area Plan for Northwest rural quadrant:

Aldermen voted 7-0 to defer one month, to Oct. 27 meeting. Staff provided a map to clarify area covered by the plan (includes Brownland Farm), and updated a memo with amendments recommended to the resolution. While most all aldermen support the need for a new plan, most wanted the time for staff to meet with property owners in the area and to provide details on how the plan process will work. Watch discussion at both city meetings below and provide your input to them.

Link to BOMA, Sept. 22, 7pm meeting, watch video starting at 53 minutes. All documents under Item 11. Link to BOMA, Sept 8, 5pm work session, watch video starting at 29 minutes. Item 6.

  • Send your email to the Mayor and Aldermen and thank them for their leadership in adopting Option C which is for the Planning Commission to call for a new Small Area Plan for the rural area of Northwest Franklin.  This is the rural area from Brownland Farm in the east to Gentry Farm in the West that lies North of 96 W.   Emphasize that Brownland Farm be included in the Small Area Plan.   Ask them to clarify whether annexations or rezoning proposals in this rural area would be possible during the work on the Small Area Plan.
  • Details below if you want city staff to read your comments.

This Northwest quadrant, from Brownland Farm in the East to Gentry Farm in the West north of highway 96 West, contributes greatly to the historic agricultural heritage of the city and county.  As several aldermen noted in recent discussions related to both the Brownland Farm and Campbell property development proposals, “this area needs a different feel” from West Haven and “we need to go back to the drawing board on how to get this area developed more in keeping with the area North of 96.”  

Your email is needed now to support the resolution by the aldermen to recommend the Planning Commission officially call for a Small Area Plan to revise the city’s current plan which states that “ the continuation of the traditional residential development pattern found at Westhaven” is what is appropriate for this rural area. The city’s plan defines this area as the Northwest Quadrant of Mack Hatcher Parkway, between Hillsboro Road and New Highway 96 West to the edges of the UGB.” (p., 38) 

 The Small Area Plan as outlined in the resolution would actively involve the public in discussions of future land use, local road network, floodplain management/flood resilience, and public water and sanitary sewer infrastructure to provide details to guide future development in the area.   The Plan could focus on how to invest in the historic and rural character that includes the deep history tied to the equestrian industry in Franklin, Williamson county and the region.  

City aldermen have been very responsive to the many emails from citizens and 5500+ people who have signed two petitions related to the development proposals:  Brownland Farm and Preserve Gentry Farm and historic Old Charlotte Pike East.

Resolution for Small Area Plan for West Harpeth rural area.

Harpeth Conservancy letter to BOMA supporting Small Area Plan.

Details from city’s agenda on how to participate at the 7pm BOMA voting session, 9-22.

  • You can listen by conference call by dailing1-312-626-6799, Meeting ID: 929 8165 7193 Passcode: 487954. This item is not a public hearing.
  • The public may email comments and questions prior to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, 9-22 to recorder@franklintn.gov to be read aloud.  All comments will be limited to 2 minutes per person per item, regardless of the method of delivery.
  • Watch on City YouTube, City Facebook Live, Franklin website. If you watch and want to speak, also call in on the conference line and listen for the actual timing. There is a delay.

YOUR VOICE WAS HEARD at August Planning Commission meeting: 

Details follow on the proposal to add more density to the city plan for a development proposal for Brownland Farm. This proposal has been withdrawn. The developer is revising the proposal to follow Envision Franklin and will begin the approval process again in early October. Below are details, maps, and documents and our analysis of the floodplain alteration proposal.

Email or call Franklin elected officials and planning commissioners to turn down the proposal to change the 2017 Envision Franklin Plan to allow for higher density on Brownland Farm as proposed by the developer.  The rezoning proposal is based on a dramatic change in the Harpeth river’s large natural floodplain and high flood channels that hasn’t even been submitted for required state and federal review.   Brownland Farm and Christ Community Church are situated on this large bend in the Harpeth which has a large natural floodplain with high water floodways that surround and cut off this bend during flooding.  According to the FEMA floodplain maps, 100-year floodplain and floodway channels will flow over Hillsboro Road, which is the only way out of this bend in the river (see map below). The May 2010 Flood waters cut off Hillsboro Road and inundated almost the entire area (photos and video below).   This rezoning proposal for Brownland Farm for high density residential and commercial development not only doesn’t follow various aspects of the Franklin’s current land use plan but raises serious public safety concerns for traffic, flooding, and emergency response for future residents and the current residents living along the Harpeth.

Also encourage city officials to develop a special plan for the last rural area of the city, the Northwest quadrant from Brownland Farm in the East to Gentry Farm in the West.  This updated plan would honor and invest in the historic and rural character that includes the deep history tied to the equestrian industry in Franklin, Williamson county and the region.  This special plan also needs a specific floodplain risk reduction and resiliency plan that addresses current made-made flooding and reduces the risk to current property owners from flooding in the city and county downstream of downtown Franklin. 

Communicating to your local officials is vitally important. They are attentive to constituents and their decisions affect your property value the most and the future of the city and county.   Taking 15- 30 minutes to compose a thoughtful and personal email is very effective.

  • Sign the community petition by Keep Williamson County Livable.
  • Email the Franklin Mayor and aldermen, county commissioners and the city of Franklin Planning commission. Send these in by Wednesday, August 26, 5pm and to the planning department at planningintake@franklintn.gov.
  • Attend or call-in to speak at the Franklin Planning Commission meeting Thursday, August 27, 7pm.   Call in to the conference meeting 1-312-626-6799; Meeting ID: 910 5624 7555; Password: 178459. Callers will be unmuted and given the opportunity to comment during the meeting at specific times.   This is item 4. While there will not be a vote, it is important for citizens to weigh in during this presentation and public hearing.  There will be another when the rezoning vote is set which has already been deferred twice!
  • Sign the community petition by Keep Williamson County Livable to protect Gentry Farm and historic Old Charlotte Pike East. Details on Heritage Foundation blog.
  • Share this blog and contact us at info@harpetheriver.org with thoughts and information.
This map shows the current floodplain in Harpeth River bend where Brownland Farm is located. There are TWO floodway channels that cut across this bend. One is west of Christ Community Church and Hillsboro Road. Another cuts over the entrance to Brownland Farm and flows behind the church.

Documents: Resolution calling for Small Area Plan to redo land use plan for Northwest area; 9-17-2020 email from planning staff confirming withdrawal and developer’s intent to do a new proposal;

HC analysis/comments August 26, 2020 on Brownland floodplain proposal; HC comments September 18, 2020 supporting Small Area Plan resolution.

City Planning Staff analysis- Sept 10- recommending disapproval. Link to all documents for Brownland Farm proposal to amend Envision Franklin is on Sept 24 PC agenda. Item 8.

August 27 planning commission package, staff comments (pp 25-27) developer presentation with floodplain proposal (28-49), comments from citizens and others such as Harpeth Conservancy (64-109)

Williamson Herald story, Aug. 27, 2020.

Details on the Brownland Farm rezoning and floodplain alteration proposal:

Land Solutions LLC has proposed a major amendment to Franklin’s recently adopted Envision Franklin land use plan that would allow higher density and mixed-use development on Brownland Farm and portions of Christ Community Church that lie in a large bend in the Harpeth River downstream from downtown Franklin.    Over 80% of the land in the bend is in floodplain and cut off by two high flood channels, called floodways (see above and FEMA map below).   During the historic May 2010 flood, floodwaters covered Hillsboro Road and flooded much of the River bend, the farm and its entrance.

The developers are presenting to the planning commission on August 27 their proposed dramatic changes to the floodplain that includes filling one of the floodway channels. The proposed re-zonings are on top of the filled floodway.   This extensive change to the floodplain, including the rare filling of the floodway, is highly unusual in Franklin and has not yet been submitted to the city for the required state and federal FEMA reviews by outside experts.  This takes several months.   Tied to the removal of one floodway is deep cuts along the main river to store food waters.  This is a dramatic change to the natural large floodplain and high-water floodway flow channels.

HC recommends that the Planning Commission turn down this rezoning proposal.  It is clearly a case of the “cart before the horse” since it relies on a dramatic floodplain alteration plan that hasn’t even been submitted for state and federal review yet. 

Caption: Left (top) is the FEMA floodplain map. The two floodway channels that cut off the main bend in the river are shown going over Hillsboro Road. The floodway is the hatch area inside the dark gray 100-year floodplain, defined as having a 1% occurrence every year. These events can happen more than once a year. The right (bottom) image is from the development proposal. The wavy lines are FEMA determined elevations.

Caption: These images are from the developer’s presentation which have rotated the maps. The left (top) map does NOT have the floodway (blue) and floodplain (green) overtopping Hillsboro road as is shown in the FEMA map. The right (bottom) shows the proposed fill of the Harpeth “west split” floodway and fill to remove a total of 64.2 acres from the floodplain. The proposal includes deep cuts along the river in the bends.

  1. The drastic floodplain alteration not only proposes filling the floodway, but also to remove 64.2 acres from the floodplain.  The reduction of over 25% of the floodplain on the property goes counter to the city’s Conservation Design Concept that applies to all the floodplain in Envision Franklin.   The Conservation design concept “contemplates as little development as possible in order to protect sensitive land and environmental features” such as floodplains.  “The preservation of floodplains has a direct public-safety purpose and helps to minimize property damage during periods of flooding. Disruption in any Conservation area should be limited to preserve the function, form, and character of the area.” (p. 32).

Caption: The left (top) image is the Envision Franklin plan of Conservation Concept design for the floodplain and Conservation subdivision concept (light green) on Brownland Farm and the Church. The rezoning proposal is for Multi-family Residential (orange) and Neighborhood Commercial (red) which are over one of the filled floodway channels.

2. City staff reports on this proposed rezoning highlight significant concerns with traffic, safety, and emergency response since the only way in and out of this area is on Hillsboro road which is blocked with floodway and 100-year floodplain flows.  Very importantly for public safety, there is no way out of this bend in the river across the Harpeth to the west.  For public safety reasons alone this rezoning and aggressive floodway alternation needs to be turned down.

This photo above and video shows significant floodwaters on Hillsboro Road at Monticello at Poteat Place.

These photos below are aerials of the extensive flooding to nearby residential areas. From left to right or top to bottom: Fieldstone farms, Fieldstone Ball park next to Christ Community Church, and Mack Hatcher Parkway crossing the Harpeth looking west to Hillsboro road. (sewer plant is left).

The photos above are of Brownland Farm entrance and grounds during the May 2010 flood. The right (bottom) image is the Stewards garden at Christ Community Church next door.

3. Though this development proposal includes the Eatherly property where another important floodway channel flows in front of Monticello, the floodplain alteration proposal does not appear to reduce flooding in Monticello along Jefferson road or Monticello Road.  This floodway channel (called the East Split on the FEMA map) runs parallel to and over Hillsboro Road as happened during the May 2010 flood.  The current FEMA map shows the floodway and 100-year floodplain covering Hillsboro Road (see map and video above).  It is vital for any high-density residential development in this area of the Harpeth to have two accesses in case one, Hillsboro Road, is flooded.

4. An extensive Floodplain and floodway alteration plan just for the Brownland Farm property is too short sighted and too narrowly focused because of the naturally large and mostly unaltered floodplain, the river’s meandering natural channel, and the existing roads and developments in the area.   While FEMA minimum requirements are that alternations not increase the probability of flood risk to in the 100-year floodplain, this will not guarantee that downstream properties will not see more flood water or not flood more often.  For example, the Brownland Farm floodplain alteration plan does not help to reduce flood risk downriver in Fieldstone Farms or Cottonwood that were built under earlier requirements and floodplain knowledge.  Many homes are now in the 100-year floodplain that were not when built. A key reason is that FEMA flood models are based on historical data and do not include the increase in intense rain events from climate change that is affecting our region (see below).  Floodplain models also are predicting based on one rain event, not several back to back. 

The May 2010 Historic Flood was a Huge Wake-Up call to the greater Nashville Region

The May 2010 flood was caused by two intense rain events that set new historic records for the Nashville region.  The entire Harpeth River flooded with the all-time rainiest day and third rainiest day coming back to back on the weekend of May 1 and 2.  See our 10 year retrospective for details.  While the floodplain maps were updated for the entire Harpeth several years ago after the May 2010 food, that work and FEMA models used to propose changes to the floodplain DO NOT include projections of increased rainfall intensity that is occurring in this area from climate change. Nor do FEMA requirements incorporate targets to reduce downstream properties from the 100-year floodplain.  New flood prediction models, called Flood Factor, received national and statewide press in July this year with their focus on how to incorporate climate change predictions into FEMA’s work.  Our blog has more information and on how to use the site as a property owner. 

The city has also updated and added important additional requirements for new construction, so homes are elevated above flood levels and additional requirements to account for some of the increased flood volume But there needs to be an intentional effort to have new development upstream in a floodplain reduce the number of existing properties in the floodplain that now have increased flood risk from the pattern of prior development. 

Just like the city and county requires new development to provide funds through various means to cover costs of roads, schools, sewer and drinking water upgrades, any floodplain alteration plan needs to specifically analyze how it will reduce existing flood risk that is in this high density residential area of the Harpeth.  As a community we can development these goals and specific requirements to protect current residents and property owners and provide ways for possible public investment that is complemented by private investment from any new development.

Other Residential Proposals nearby highlight the need for the city of Franklin to design an updated plan for the last rural and historic area of Franklin bounded by the Harpeth and West Harpeth

At the same time as this aggressive high density proposal for Brownland Farm is the proposed annexation of the 58-acre Campbell property for a residential subdivision in the middle of rural land. The proposal is adjacent to the Gentry and Short TN Century Farms, and two home sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places that are north of Highway 96 West near the West Harpeth.  HC supports the Heritage Foundation’s call for the city not to annex the Campbell property. 

Both of these development proposals HIGHLIGHT the need for a special plan for this last rural area of Franklin and a pause on annexation and development proposals until this community effort is completed.   This Northwest quadrant, from Brownland Farm in the East to Gentry Farm in the West north of highway 96 West, contributes greatly to the historic agricultural heritage of the city and county.  As several aldermen noted in a recently discussion on the major thoroughfare plan for this rural area, “this area needs a different feel” from West Haven and “we need to go back to the drawing board on how to get this area developed more in keeping with the area North of 96.”

This map shows the last rural area in the city of Franklin in the NW quadrant that is bounded by large floodplains of the West Harpeth (left) and main Harpeth.

The Equestrian industry is important to Franklin and Williamson County’s heritage and current economy

HC participated in and supported Williamson County’s recently adopted Williamson2040 plan that has a key goal to preserve the rural character of the county.  Infrastructure costs in terms of schools and roads were studied in this plan and by others in this region.    A key recommendation as well is to work on a rural agricultural plan that prioritizes rural land uses such as agri-hoods, small farms, the equestrian industry and more. 

The equestrian industry is a major part of this area’s history and current culture as highlighted in the city of Franklin’s Park at Harlinsdale Farm and Brownland Farm, where for nearly 60 years the Andertons have created and operated a renowned horse show business.  This includes the national caliber Music Country Grand Prix show jumping competition that is also featured charity fundraising event.  A 2010 Williamson Herald story notes that $30 million is generated in local revenue from horse industry, much from Brownland Farm.

An special plan for the NW quadrant for Envision Franklin needs to focus on how to support the agricultural and lower density uses of this area, which will translate into much reduced cost in infrastructure needs from roads, schools, sewer and drinking water expansion, and public safety risk from flooding.   Recent analyses by the U. of Tennessee of the loss of farmland across the region highlights the economic value to integrating into land use plans ways to prioritize low density and agricultural based land uses.

A Floodplain Resiliency Plan is Needed for this area and likely in others

HC strongly recommends that a floodplain resiliency plan be designed for the Harpeth River and West Harpeth river from downtown Franklin to Highway 100 Davidson county line as a key need for any future development in the rural Northwest quadrant of Franklin.   A floodplain resiliency plan would have a goal to reduce property in the 100-year floodplain in subdivisions like Rebel Meadows, Fieldstone Farms, Monticello, and Cottonwood that were designed under prior rules and conditions.  A floodplain resiliency plan needs to include climate change predictions to prevent future flooding, address current flooding caused by man-made conditions (such as roads, bridges, culverts and older development requirements), and protect the natural river floodplain by limiting cut and fill.  Designing resilient communities is planning for the future and is a major lesson from the May 2010 flood that this community needs to embrace with regard to flooding.