By LANDON WOODROOF
For the latest installment in our Brentwood year in review series, we talked to Brentwood Mayor Jill Burgin and City Manager Kirk Bednar about what they viewed as the biggest developments in the city in 2017.
A lot went on this year in Brentwood, in terms of new development, new policies, new events, new capital projects and more. Here are some of the highlights from the conversation.
The biggest story in commercial development in Brentwood over the past year was the opening of many new businesses at Hill Center Brentwood. While a couple of restaurants and stores first opened at the center in 2016, it was in the last 12 months that the center fully sprang to life.
From restaurants like Holler & Dash and Nama Sushi Bar to businesses like Sur la Table, Dress Up and so many more, Hill Center Brentwood has provided the city with a new retail destination.
Burgin said the development, as well as the CityPark development down the street, have been great for Brentwood.
“The majority of people I’ve spoken to love the new additions,” she said. “I feel they’ve really enhanced the area and not taken away from it.”
Burgin cites the convenience that both self-contained shopping complexes offer residents as one of their main benefits to local residents.
“The convenience factor, it’s honestly turning out even better than I anticipated when were going through the approval process for both of them,” she said.
Part of the reason for that is the efforts that developers made to ensure that these new destinations fit in with the surrounding community.
“I think that the way the staff planned with the developers to add improvements such as some road improvements, new turn lanes, configurations, I think that has helped all the new stuff integrate into Brentwood and improve it, mainly for the residents,” Burgin said.
Of course, not all commercial development in the city was retail-related. The city also had some new high-profile tenants take up considerable amounts of office space in town in 2017.
First Tennessee Bank moved into its new office at Hill Center Brentwood back in June. Farther south in town, Phase II of the Mallory Park welcomed Verus Healthcare to the city. And at the corner of Virginia Way and Granny White Pike, site work started on the Virginia Springs office development. Vaco will be occupying 37,000 square feet of the first building to be constructed there.
About 180 permits were issued for single family homes in Brentwood in 2017, which is around the same number that were issued in 2016.
“The last few years have been down from our historic average if you look over the last 20 or 25 years,” Bednar said. “I think that’s somewhat to do with the pricing of homes. You’re talking about home prices now that have a much narrower market in terms of new construction.”
By narrower, he means of course that the prices are higher, a fact attested by some of the luxurious new subdivisions under construction in Brentwood like Witherspoon on Crockett Road and Avery on Murray Lane.
Bednar said he thinks Brentwood residents are fine with not experiencing the same level of residential development growth as some neighboring cities.
“I think over the last few years there has been clear action taken by the commission where the development community recognizes that it’s not all about whatever they can maximize, it’s what’s appropriate for this community,” Bednar said.
NEW ORDINANCES AND EVENTS
A subject of much discussion at many city meetings this year was a new city ordinance to allow food trucks to operate more freely in town. Previously, food trucks were banned in some commercially zoned parts of the city, like Maryland Farms.
The new ordinance established a permitting system where food truck operators could gain access to those spots. The ordinance also made it easier for organizes like churches, HOAs and schools to get permission to have food trucks at special events.
Burgin also drew attention to some new community events that the city tried out this year, including movie and Nashville Predators watch parties in Crockett Park.
“It was a way to let people participate in the excitement that was Nashville-related,” she said. “Just some ways we like to have fun here, too.”
Another ordinance that drew a lot of attention this year was one that rezoned the Maryland Farms Greenway to allow for a trail eventually to be constructed there. The idea garnered both praise and condemnation from nearby neighbors, but in the end the City Commission decided that the benefit to the city as a whole from having a trail that would connect both ends of Maryland Farms represented the greater good.
CAPITAL PROJECTS AND IMPROVEMENTS
At the beginning of September, a groundbreaking was held for a long-awaited road project: the widening of Franklin Road from Concord Road to just south of Moores Lane.
The $26.7 million dollar project will eventually result in two northbound lanes, two southbound lanes and a continuous center turn lane on this stretch of Franklin Road. There will also be a 10-foot-wide multi-use path constructed along the eastern side of the road.
“That will be a story for a few more years to come,” Bednar said.
Other road projects this year include a roundabout at the intersection of Crockett Road, Raintree Parkway and Green Hill Boulevard. That roundabout replaces a four-way stop that gets very congested at peak commute times.
Another large road project in the city is currently underway near the intersection of Sunset and Ragsdale Road.That intersection is one of the most hazardous in the city. The $9.9 million project will realign the intersection and improve stretches of both roads. A new bridge has been built across Owl Creek as part of that project.
Down on Split Log Road, the city has bid a project to signalize the road’s intersection with Sunset Road. The goal is for a signal to be operational at that intersection before the new Jordan Elementary School opens just down the street in fall 2018.
Other improvements this year have been centered around the Brentwood Middle School and High School campus. Phase I of Williamson County Schools’s plan for the campus resulted in a new turf field for the schools this summer. Phase II called for a new access road to be built leading from behind the schools, through a small sliver of Granny White Park and out to Granny White Pike across from Foxland Drive. A new traffic signal is being installed there before the road officially opens.
Finally, the City of Brentwood added to its park system this year with the completion in early October of Phase II improvements at Marcella Vivrette Smith Park. The additions to the park include two new multi-purpose fields, a new playground, new restrooms and the extension of a loop road and bike path next to the Ravenswood Mansion.
One big issue the city staff tackled this year had to do with short-term rentals like Airbnb. There was a legislative effort in state government this year to pass a bill that would have curtailed local governments’ power to prohibit short-term rentals in their municipalities.
Brentwood does not allow short-term rentals, and city leadership as well as many residents who spoke at public meetings wanted to keep it that way.
Bednar traveled to Capitol Hill in Nashville in March to voice the city’s opposition to the proposed bills at a legislative hearing.
“Zoning is what makes each city unique,” he said at that hearing. “It’s how we decide what land uses go next to each other, and what land uses need to be separated. It’s why we don’t have bars next to churches, and why we don’t have hotels in the middle of neighborhoods.”
Bednar said local governments are in the best position to decide their own zoning regulations.
The bills were ultimately defeated.
This year, the city implemented the results of a comprehensive pay study it conducted in order to make sure its compensation packages for employees and prospective employees were competitive.
The city also added new staff and prepared to say goodbye to some who have worked at City Hall for a long while.
As far as new staff are concerned, Richard Parker joined city staff in January as Brentwood’s new director of the Finance Department.
More recently, several longtime employees announced their retirements. These people include City Recorder Debbie Hedgepath, City Attorney Roger Horner and Fire & Rescue Division Chief Nancy Jones.
“We’ve had some significant staff changes here at City Hall,” Burgin said. “You always knew this day was coming. You feel lucky to have long tenured people that are good and help make the city what it is.”
In October, the City Commission voted to change the name of the Brentwood Library in order to receive at least $4.2 million for the library.
The vote was the result of a 30-year-old will drawn up by O’Delle Holt, the widow of John P. Holt. The couple owned the Holtland/Wildwood home on Crockett Road as well as the surrounding land. That land was left to the couple’s nephew, Charles Witherspoon, with the understanding that after he died any money from selling the family property would be split between Brentwood United Methodist Church and the Brentwood Library. The library money came with a hitch, though: in order to receive the funds, the library would have to be renamed after John P. Holt.
Both the Library Board and the City Commission agreed the name change was worth it, so the money was accepted and the Brentwood Library became the John P. Holt Brentwood Library.