Photos by Rachael Long
By RACHAEL LONG
Eight of nine candidates for the Brentwood Board of Commissioners race appeared at Tractor Supply Thursday evening to debate issues from mixed use development to the creation of affordable housing and much more in between.
Candidate Dale Pacetti was not present for the debate due to an unavoidable out-of-town commitment.
Most candidates were in agreement about the issues which have been described as the “core values” of Brentwood, such as low density housing requirements, maintaining the “world class” business community at Maryland Farms and the notion that crime is a problem, but the city is working to address it.
Moderated by WAKM’s Tom Lawrence, the debate was hosted by the Williamson Herald, WAKM AM, Williamson Inc., and the Williamson County Association of Realtors. It was live streamed by Williamson, Inc., and can be viewed here.
Four panelists asked questions of each candidate and gave them a chance to respond to one another.
When asked what solution the candidates saw for creating more “affordable and attainable” housing in Brentwood, most candidates responded that attainable housing was simply not a Brentwood priority.
“I don’t think Brentwood needs to be all things to all people, and I don’t really see going through making affordable housing a major initiative for the City of Brentwood,” Nelson Andrews said.
When it was her time to speak on the issue, incumbent Candidate Anne Dunn said, “Attainable, affordable housing has never been a priority, and you can be the judge of whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but that’s just the truth of the way it is in Brentwood.”
When the issue of a feasibility study for a Brentwood city school district was brought up, the responses were a mixed bag. Most leaned away from the idea, with the exception of Susannah MacMillan, whose platform is largely based on a desire to fight for schools.
“Let me dispel something. I am not for a city school system,” MacMillan said. “What I am for is a feasibility study… that information, if we ever go to a city school system, it would go to referendum and the citizens and the City Commissioners would need the information.”
Candidate and current Planning Commissioner John Magyar disagreed saying, “I believe, to run our own school system would be astronomically expensive. Honestly, I think that would be a disaster. Therefore, I think to even go down that road of a feasibility study would just not really be a valuable use of our funds.”
Panelists asked candidates to consider how to maintain the city’s “first class” business community in Maryland Farms.
Andrews, a businessman by trade, had plenty to share on the topic.
“The real issue of Maryland Farms is that it stays good, Class A office space,” Andrews said. “Contrary to some of the rumors you hear, that’s not about building the buildings bigger. It’s about making it more attractive to the current workforce, and a lot of that has to do with making Maryland Farms more walkable.”
The lack of sidewalks, crosswalks and paths in Maryland Farms, Andrews said, contribute to much of the traffic congestion in the area. Focusing on those areas of improvement, he said, would help appeal to younger workers and help maintain the “Class A” business community in the long term.
“I think our business community is vibrant, and I think if you drive down through Maryland Farms, you see a lot of attractive buildings,” Candidate Terrence Smith said. “I don’t think we need to change the commercial-residential mix or anything like that to attract more businesses. They know we’re here, and they have already set up shop here, and there’s a reason for that.”
Incumbent Candidate Ken Travis said people come to Brentwood for its one-acre zoning, rolling hills, parks system and schools. Working in Maryland Farms, he says, is a bonus.
When the topic came up, as all knew it would, of finding proactive ways to combat the growing problem of traffic congestion, not many concrete answers could be given.
“There’s nobody up here that doesn’t recognize that it’s a problem and if one of us knew how to solve it immediately, that’d be unbelievable,” Candidate Wyatt Rex Allen said. “In reality, as most people said, they’re state roads. We’ve got a lot of neighborhoods that don’t connect to a main road, so there’s not a lot of ways in and out of Brentwood. And that’s not something you can solve in a year, it takes a lot of planning…but there’s no easy solution to that question.”
Candidate and current Planning Commissioner Stevan Pippin said, “You cannot pave your way out of traffic flow issues, you just cannot. But you’re talking to a guy who, 20 years ago said out loud, ‘I would really like to see Wilson Pike as a Boulevard like Murray Lane.’” Mobility inside the Brentwood area such as walking and biking paths, Pippin said, is a good place to concentrate efforts to ease the congestion problem.
When it came time to talk about the need for more high-density housing options for senior citizens looking to downsize, most said an innovative solution that did not involve a high-density housing model needed to be considered. Again and again, candidates said many senior citizens wanted to stay in their homes, demonstrating that the need for downsizing options may not be as immediate as some say.
Travis gestured to a man sitting in the audience who he said was a senior citizen in Brentwood who “lives on much more than once acre.”
“I think he’s pretty happy with his house and where he wants to be. That’s how I feel, that’s how I think a number of people in this room feel. There’s no need to downsize,” Travis said.
“I’ve got the house I love, I’m in the neighborhood I love,” Travis continued. “We don’t have the solution right now other than to say, ‘Work within the OSRD-IP and be happy that you’re a senior in Brentwood right now.’”
Dunn, who has sat on the Board of Commissioners since 1990, said the City Commission once came close to a solution but it would have required stepping over the “one-acre density line.”
“I just cannot write off a whole generation and say, ‘Well, they can move,’ or they can say, ‘Well, I have a lot of friends who are happy in their big house.’”
“I have a lot who aren’t happy in their big house,” Anne continued. “So we need to keep looking, but don’t violate the one-acre density.”
Full answers and lightning round questions are available for viewing in Williamson Inc.’s live video, which is saved on its Facebook page here.
Another candidate forum will be held by Preserve Brentwood on April 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Brentwood Library.
Early voting begins April 17 and will take place through May 2. More information on the 2019 Brentwood Municipal election process is available here. For voting questions, contact the Williamson County Election Commission office at (615)-790-5711.