What will happen to the agricultural land in the path of the Mack Hatcher extension?


What will happen to the agricultural land in the path of the Mack Hatcher extension?

Planning documents show the city expects the agricultural land in the path of the Mack Hatcher Parkway extension could become residential. / Photo Matt Blois

By MATT BLOIS

The Tennessee Department of Transportation is on track to complete the extension of Mack Hatcher Parkway by the fall of 2021.

The new road will pass through an area of mostly agricultural fields and livestock pastures, but Franklin’s comprehensive plan shows that the land could become residential in the future.

The Envision Franklin plan describes the long-term vision for the development of the city. The document is supposed to guide land use decisions.

The area around the future Mack Hatcher extension is currently zoned for agricultural use, but maps from Envision Franklin identify the land as a good area for a type of development called a conservation subdivision.

A conservation subdivision calls for dense clusters of single-family homes with substantial areas of land set aside for conservation. These developments need to preserve at least 50 percent of a property’s open space, specifically protecting scenic views, pastures, trails or woodlands. 

That type of zoning would preserve a substantial portion of the open area, but would be much more dense than the current agricultural zoning. Agricultural zoning allows one house per 15 acres, while a conservation subdivision could support dozens of homes on a 15 acre lot.

While Envision Franklin lays out suggested long-term land use, Franklin’s Assistant Planning Director Kelly Dannenfelser said zoning doesn’t usually change unless a property owner requests it.

“Envision Franklin sets the vision for how an area should grow and develop, but that plan is really a public-private partnership,” she said. “The community is setting the vision through this adopted plan, but it’s up to the private side … to request development to really implement the plan.”

There are only a few property owners next to the Mack Hatcher extension because most properties are large agricultural tracts.

MORE: The number of farms in Williamson County increased in 2017, but the overall trend is still pointing down.

One landowners with the most acreage in the area is Livingfield More — the road will pass directly through several of his properties.

According to a database of farm subsidies, More has grown wheat, corn and tobacco and raised livestock in Williamson County over the last 22 years.

In many ways, the future land use around Mack Hatcher will depend on More and his family because most land use changes start with property owners.

During the process of updating the city’s zoning ordinance, city officials reached out to the More family to ask whether they were interested in changing the land’s zoning. He told the city he’d rather keep the land agricultural.

However, if the land changes hands, another property owner could request a change. The Envision Franklin documents suggest the city would be open to that kind of request.

More said he didn’t want to comment for this story, calling it a personal matter.

Franklin real estate agent Loy Hardcastle predicts that eventually the land will become residential. He said selling houses on that land is just much more lucrative than selling wheat or corn.

“That land out there, you would almost bet the pressure would be on. There are only two or three big landowners out there. They’ll have to sell,” he said. “Even if they pass away and leave that property to their heirs, the heirs will probably immediately dump it.” 

However, Hardcastle admits that predicting how a city will develop isn’t so straightforward. He has lived in Franklin his whole life and recently found a Franklin Review-Appeal newspaper from 1969.

The headline announced the approval of a road project following nearly the same path as Mack Hatcher Parkway. The old project is a slightly smaller circle.

A Review-Appeal from 1969 announced the approval of a road following a path similar to Mack Hatcher Parkway. / Photo Matt Blois

According to the newspaper, the 1969 Board of Mayor and Alderman expected to start with a connection between Hillsboro Road and Highway 96, essentially the same path as the current Mack Hatcher extension.

That timeline worries Hardcastle. He doesn’t think the city’s road infrastructure has kept up with the population and he would rather see growth slow down.

“As a realtor, making my living selling real estate, if they never put up the first house that’d be OK with me,” he said of the agricultural land around the Mack Hatcher extension.

In 1969 Franklin had a population of about 10,000 people. Since then, the population has grown to nearly 80,000 people.

During the same period, the amount of farmland has fallen precipitously. Nearly three quarters of the county was covered by farms in 1969, now farms make up just over a third of the total area.

While it’s not possible to know with certainty how the new section of Mack Hatcher Parkway will affect land use, the Envision Franklin plan seems to acknowledge changes that are already underway.

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