Franklin aldermen reject controversial development


The Brownland Farm residential development in Franklin appears to be dead in the water three years after it was first announced.

The Franklin Mayor and Aldermen’s Council unanimously rejected a rezoning application for the controversial development Tuesday night after a two-hour public hearing. Therefore, residential development cannot move forward.

The vote marked the end of a prolonged debate around the project. Since it was first announced, the development has been the subject of public protests, community meetings, fierce online debates and several new submissions to the City of Franklin for approval.

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“This thing has gone on too long for the projects coming into the city of Franklin,” Franklin Mayor Ken Moore said before the vote. “I’m afraid that if we approve this project, we’re going to have a whole flood of similar projects with a lot of floodplain manipulation.”

Here’s what to know about Brownland Farm.

What is Brownland Farm?

Brownland Farm is a 233 acre property located at 1155 Hillsboro Road in Franklin. The Anderton family, who still own the property, founded a farm there in 1963. In 2001, it became the headquarters of the Music Country Grand Prix horse show.

In 2019, owners Robin and Michelle Anderton announced plans to launch a residential development there. Early designs would have brought 485 residential units to the property.

Why was it controversial?

The project has long been mired by community backlash, especially from residents who live in nearby neighborhoods. Some raised concerns common to all new development, saying that adding new homes would erode Franklin’s small-town character by increasing density, congesting major roads, and overwhelming local schools.

Residents protest the development of Brownland Farm during a meeting of the Mayor's Council and Franklin Aldermen at City Hall in Franklin, Tennessee on April 26, 2022.

As the debate continued, many naysayers — some of whom lived through Franklin’s severe flooding in 2010 — coalesced around safety concerns since the site sits along a floodplain near the Harpeth River. Groups including the Harpeth River Conservancy argued that a 100-year flood would inundate Hillsboro Road with up to 2.25 feet of water and cut residents off from emergency services. A 100-year flood is a flood that has a 1% chance of occurring in one year.

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“That’s the fundamental flaw in this plan that’s been there all along: Do we have a way out when it’s a 100-year flood for the people who live here?” Dorie Bolze, president and CEO of Harpeth River Conservancy, asked at a planning commission meeting in April to discuss the development. “Let’s think about something else here that doesn’t put so many people at risk.”

The development team, led by Kevin Estes of Land Solutions Company, said it would alleviate flooding issues by modifying the area’s floodplain. The team commissioned a flood study from Barge Design Solutions, which they said proved the land could be safely developed as a residential area.

City planning staff have consistently recommended that Council not approve an application to rezone the property, saying development as proposed would not meet the goals of Envision Franklin, the city’s comprehensive land use plan. the city adopted in 2017.

What happened on Tuesday?

The Brownland Farm site is zoned for agricultural purposes, consistent with its previous use as a farm and horse show venue. Franklin’s council of mayor and aldermen voted Tuesday on a rezoning application, which would have paved the way for redevelopment.

Residents protest the development of Brownland Farm during a meeting of the Mayor's Council and Franklin Aldermen at City Hall in Franklin, Tennessee on April 26, 2022.

Several development opponents picketed Franklin’s town square ahead of the vote, holding signs with slogans such as “Stop More Flooding/Tell BOMA Don’t Vote Brownland” and “Turn, don’t drown”.

At least 47 residents spoke at a public hearing ahead of the vote. About 35 of those speakers opposed the development. Sixteen speakers supported the development, including at least four members of the development team and the husband and wife owners of the Brownland Farm property, Robin and Michelle Anderton.

And now?

Alderman Patrick Baggett said he hoped to see Brownland Farm develop somehow, if not as a residential development. Several city officials, as well as many opponents of the project, have also said they would be open to non-residential development on the site.

“You have the right to sell your property. Everybody does,” Planning Commissioner Marcia Allen said at a March planning commission meeting on the residential plan. “I think it can be developed in a way that will suit Envision Franklin. I just don’t think it’s the right way.”

Developer Kevin Estes told the Tennessean ahead of the meeting that his team would “most likely” pursue a non-residential development plan if the rezoning application fails.

Residents protest the development of Brownland Farm during a meeting of the Mayor's Council and Franklin Aldermen at City Hall in Franklin, Tennessee on April 26, 2022.

“If it’s not us, someone will come back and do something on this property. They decided to move horse shows,” Estes said. “The property, located 2.5 km from the circle? It’s not going to stand still, I’ll say it.

Cole Villena covers Williamson County at The Tennessean, part of the USA Today – Tennessee Network. Contact Cole at [email protected] or 615-925-0493. Follow Cole on Twitter at @ColeVillena and on Instagram at @CVinTennessee.


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