Aldermanic, mayoral hopefuls talk growth, growth, growth


Aldermanic, mayoral hopefuls talk growth, growth, growth

Growth — and just about everything related to it — was the prevailing theme in election forums Thursday night for two mayoral candidates and four aldermanic hopefuls in Thompson’s Station.

Growth — and just about everything related to it — was the prevailing theme in election forums Thursday night for two mayoral candidates and four aldermanic hopefuls in Thompson’s Station.

Candidate Graham Shepard said “first and foremost” he would listen to town residents about growth and preservation.

“I certainly wouldn’t look to alter something of long standing such as a park,” Shepard said. “We need to do a better job managing development and growth, and we need to listen to the people so we can give them what they want. We can’t ignore codes as we grow, and if elected I’d like to show we can do better.”

Candidate Mike Roberts called the subject of growth and preservation “a challenging issue.”

“Growth here is inevitable, but it isn’t something we have to be anxious about. We have plenty of time to back up and think. When we experienced a lot of growth some years ago, the developers who came here had the upper hand. The town planners at that time didn’t have much experience. We need to do more to have complex codes to ensure the right kind of growth. One of the biggest challenges in this regard will be managing growth such that we don’t cross thresholds that require us to have a police or fire force that we can’t yet support. That’s a big undertaking.”

Candidate Cort Bethmann explained his family’s decision to move to Thompson’s Station in 2012.

“We came here because of what we found here,” Bethmann said. “We could have found a cheaper house, but we wanted to enjoy Thompson’s Station’s rural feel. We need to preserve our historic battlefields. I don’t want to see a bunch of fast food [restaurants] come here. We need high end places and boutique shopping that can draw visitors here from Franklin or Spring Hill.”

Candidate Brandon Bell said his professional background as a development planner for neighborhoods in Memphis and throughout the country qualify him to address the topic.

“I’m a firm believer in zoning maps and code overlays,” Bell said. “Thompson’s Station first incorporated to protect itself from all the growth happening to our north and south. We don’t have to listen to what developers tell us to do. We have something spectacular here and it’s important that we involve the public in all questions of development. We want as much input as we can get on questions of zoning, or where to locate a seniors home, or the kinds of boutique shopping to allow.”

The candidates had differing views on whether developers should pay the town impact to offset the cost of residential and commercial growth those developers create.

“Developers who want to come to Thompson’s Station should be able to foot the bill if they want to join us,” Bethmann said. “The two parties should be like a tag team and cooperate on great development. The [Board of Mayor and Aldermen], the Design Review Commission, and the Planning Commission all should do everything possible to ensure that development matches our town’s character. And we need as many people as possible involved in the task of taking care of Thompson’s Station.”

Roberts said he’d seen the consequences of allowing developers to shift the burden of cost to the town.

“We can’t repeat past failures,” he said. “The developers need to carry their weight. Roads such as Pantall, Critz, and Thompson’s Station Road are all in need of access fixes and are dangerous. That’s our responsibility. But we have to make developers more accountable for the [safety and usability of the town as they build].”

Roberts also noted the importance of better overall planning and said he would want more traffic impact studies prior to okaying developments if elected.

Shepard was a bit more cautious about charging developers to build.

“I’m for quality development,” Shepard said. “But we can’t overcharge firms who propose to build here because if we do they’ll just go somewhere else.”

Bell said developers need to pay the typical impact fees as they exist nationwide.

“That’s fairly standard practice. If we don’t assess those, and instead provide them with incentives to build we miss out on valuable dollars for much needed infrastructure. These companies can and should pay what’s necessary as they go.”

Sewer issues have plagued Thompson’s Station for several years and the candidates were asked about them.

“It’s complicated and it has plagued us,” Bell said. “Our house is on sewer not septic, so it affects me directly. I think the solution lies outside the town. We need to look for outside ideas. Something this complex needs long term, expert consultation.”

Bethmann thought there were two issues on the table.

“The first thing to see is that some of the issues with the Schaeffer system have been resolved, while others have not,” Bethmann said. “The other thing to think about is the question of ‘What’s next?’ I met last week with [Town Administrator] Joe Cosentini and we spoke for about 15 minutes about the lines for the drip fields. He let me know that in the short term, our capacity is okay. But it’s going to be an issue as we grow. The sewer should be a moneymaker and great asset for the town.”

Roberts said that Thompson’s Station is destined to have drip fields.

“Why is it costing us a million [dollars] a year when it could be so much cheaper?” he asked. “We’re not even handling 200,000 gallons a year. I spoke with someone in Mississippi where they’re doing that volume annually but it’s costing them just $65,000. On the one hand we need to be more efficient; on the other and we must realize that this kind of operation is going to be expensive in Williamson County regardless of how efficient we are.”

Shepard said he was about to make a political gaffe by speaking honestly on the question.

“I have no plan,” Shepard said. “I’ve read both plans from Alderman Cooper and Mayor Napier, and I support the mayor’s plan because I think it’s a good one.”

Each was asked about what he man would do to work fairly for residents of all parts of the town.

“One thing that’s good for one area of town may not be for others,” Bell said. “The noise ordinance that came up at a recent BOMA meeting is an important question in a dense subdivision but irrelevant in agricultural areas. Each has its unique needs.”

Bethmann endorsed balance – “I wouldn’t represent my neighborhood here, I’d represent Thompson’s Station overall. As an American, I feel that property rights are important. Owners have the right to use their property however they want to.”

Cooperation seemed the key for Roberts.

“We all win when we work together as a town. It doesn’t matter whether you live on a farm or in a subdivision, it should be all about all of us cooperating. We represent everybody first.”

Shepard differed slightly with Bethmann and referred to the Golden Rule.

“There are some definite limits to what a property owner can do with property. You can’t put up an adult entertainment business in a subdivision, for example. You can’t have farm animals in one either. The way to think about it is, you shouldn’t put anything up in a neighborhood that you wouldn’t want located in your own, unless it’s something the people there specifically want.”

One question was whether the candidates thought it wise to allow egress onto Thompson’s Station Road from either the Alexander property in Spring Hill or from Interstate 65.

Shepard answered those questions first.

“I have a bias against the idea of an interchange there. I think it would mean more traffic and congestion in town. I’d have to look at the Alexander property question more to know [what to do], but I’d be opposed if it worsened traffic.”

Roberts was in favor of egress from the Alexander property but opposed to an interchange from I-65.

Bethmann was ambivalent — “I don’t see a clear yes or no on either possibility. Let’s ask the property owners on the road and represent their responses on the BOMA.”

Bell said more research would be needed to know for sure.

“We’d need to know the arterial load there and have a traffic study. It could mean tax revenue for the town, of course, but the question is what kind of businesses or traffic it would bring.”

Mayoral candidates Nina Cooper and incumbent Corey Napier did not refrain from voicing their disagreements during their section of the forum.

“I want to improve our town plans and retain our rural character that everyone loves,” said Cooper, an aldermen who gave up that seat to run for mayor.

“This head-in-the-sand attitude of the present mayor is a disaster. It won’t help to strengthen us, and in fact it is a plan for future failure that solves nothing. There is great value in preserving our historic heritage. Thompson’s Station has a wealth of history, and we must not let that heritage slip through the cracks.”

Napier praised the forum’s great turnout of a few more than 100 residents.

“It’s great to be with neighbors,” Napier said. “Nina just gave us some Interesting background. A lot of her words were factual. But let’s all think about why we chose to live in Thompson’s Station. Some of you have lived here all your life, while some have arrived only in the last few years. All who live here are choosing to retain the town brand that’s been here since we incorporated in 1990. In the years since we’ve built Thompson’s Station into a world class community. I want to see our investment carry on.

“Yes we’ll have growth, and in fact this town is at the epicenter of growth. Our two closest neighbors, Spring Hill and Franklin, are both struggling with growth. And in each of those cities their taxes are much higher than ours. I prefer the tortoise approach to growth. I believe we need to understand the risk and return on any possible growth before we open the floodgates.”

Cooper said the town should not suspend growth.

“The sewer could have been paid for through sewer tap fees — $750,000 in fees were available but instead the town borrowed the money and now for the first time ever we’re in debt for over $1 million. We could have grown smartly, and we could have taken on new development that fit the town’s character.”

But Napier said the sewer question was larger and more complex.

“When we got the loan, the town was in a position not only to borrow but to borrowing from itself. When you look at what we’re saddled with now, everyone among the 750 or 800 residents affected is responsible for about $1,000 in that note. We still have a leak in pond one. During the recession we often had just four or five houses for sale a year, whereas we are now closer to 200.”

When the topic of growth was broached, both candidates were ready.

“Thompson’s Station does need more commercial development,” Cooper said. “That brings the tax base up. We’re currently living on taxes generated from Kroger and the Heritage Commons amounting to $750, 000 a year. That’s not enough money to widen [Hwy.] 31 or address our infrastructure. Without commercial growth we won’t meet those needs.”

Cooper also noted that as great as it was to have Mars Petcare locate its national headquarters in Thompson’s Station and donate amenities, such moves do nothing to increase grow the town’s tax base.

But Napier said the Mars relocation as a great event of his 10-year tenure.

“There was a $110 million investment by Mars. We also have Heath Clark’s distillery next door, and we have the great news about the Homestead Manor development. Many businesses are choosing to set up shop here. On a personal note, my family and I made a huge investment with Circa Grill. We don’t need Panera here, or Chick-fil-A, or any neon.”

Cooper countered.

“Chick-fil-A is an example what people want,” she said. “Families with kids getting out of a sports game are not going to go eat at Circa. There’s nowhere to eat in Thompson’s Station and more everyday places are needed.”

In closing remarks, Napier and Cooper highlighted what they considered the heart of the matter in the Nov. 4 election.

“What do we expect out of a leader?” Napier asked. “The role of mayor is bigger than the person in office. I represent all of you, and I’m your neighbor. People connect with me one-on-one. A mayor’s role is to be an advocate and protector with the heart of a public servant. We are on the cusp of something remarkable in Thompson’s Station.”

Cooper reiterated the value of history and development.

“Here in Thompson’s Station we have a wealth of history we need to protect,”she said.

“As your mayor I will try to keep our community character alive and healthy. I will work with all state agencies to promote sound development and seek the input of citizens. I’ll work to help grow a good tax base, improve our infrastructure and our parks. Moreover, I will implement leadership through transparency because the people deserve open government.”

Staff writer Greg Jinkerson covers Spring Hill for Home Page Media Group. Contact him at greg@springhillhomepage.com or follow him on Twitter @Greg_SHHP

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