Candidates answer ‘Citizens for Brentwood Green Space’ preservation questions


Candidates answer ‘Citizens for Brentwood Green Space’ preservation questions

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The voluntary group “Citizens for Brentwood Green Space” has surveyed the five candidates in the May 5 Board of Commissioners election concerning the preservation of green space within the city.

The voluntary group “Citizens for Brentwood Green Space” has surveyed the five candidates in the May 5 Board of Commissioners election concerning the preservation of green space within the city.

The Brentwood 2020 survey, a city administered survey to residents, revealed that the preservation of green space is one of the top concerns of citizens as the city moves closer to build out.

CBGS President Gil Hutchinson published the responses from all five candidates – Jill Burgin, Betsy Crossley, Anne Dunn, Tamela Soltis and Ken Travis. Their answers can be found below in alphabetical order.

Green Space Questions

  1. Where would you rank the preservation of green space in Brentwood compared to other priorities facing the City?

Burgin: Green space absolutely sets our city apart, and I would rank the preservation of green space among the top 5 priorities in Brentwood. One of our city’s advantages is that its neighborhoods simply feel more open and pastoral, much like a natural extension of Oak Hill and Forest Hills to the north. Understanding the value of that openness, both financial and environmental, is why preserving our green space is an important part of land-use planning and aesthetic standards.

Crossley: We have been extremely wise to rank preserving green space highly, especially during the last 5 years. This land protection has acted as a pressure release valve in reducing construction, mitigating potential school crowding and reducing the need for additional new infrastructure in Brentwood. It has added to the value of our community by creating a better quality of life by providing parks, recreational hiking trails and bikeways. The effect of these recent acquisitions has been a key investment in our balanced, planned future.

Dunn: Providing basic services such as police and fire, street and storm drainage maintenance, keeping pace with infrastructure on water and sewer needs and emergency response while keeping the city financially solvent has to be the first priority. Trying to improve traffic flow wherever possible is also a very high priority. We need to retain and attract quality employees. All of these deal with basic services that all residents expect from a well-functioning city.

After those we prioritize amenities. Our library must be kept relevant to the times we live in and our park system including trails need to be well maintained and inviting. I think the retention of Green Space is right up there with these.

Soltis: Many residents feel that green space is a great asset to our city, but with over 961 acres already preserved for future generations, we must address traffic, overcrowded schools, infrastructure, and senior housing as priorities since these will affect our quality of life.

Travis: We are a residential community – green space and parks are a very important part of a residential community. Parks and green space are part of Brentwood. When you think of Green Hills, you think of traffic and business jammed into crowded streets.

  1. Do you feel like Brentwood has enough park land and green space or would you like to see more added?

Burgin: I am always interested in adding more parkland, although Brentwood has more than what many would consider “enough.” The National Parks & Recreation Association recommends that cities maintain a minimum of six acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. Given that our population is just over 40,000 today, according to that standard we should have at least 240 total acres of parkland. Today we have 966 acres total. It certainly would be nice to be able to preserve key properties that have become known as landmark parts of the community, but I would need direction from the residents on how to pay for the acquisition as well as an analysis from the Parks Department of the projected maintenance costs. Even so, as our population continues to increase, our dedicated green space will have to keep up.

Crossley: Brentwood has almost 1,000 acres of park land today with around 50% of that land having been added in the last five years. I believe that when the opportunity to acquire green space, at an acceptable price in an area of town where it would most benefit residents, comes before us we should seriously consider the purchase. However, the acquisition should always be weighed with the scale of how the investment would benefit Brentwood, not just now, but also the impact that purchase would have on residents for years to come.

Dunn: Of our land area, 13% comprises parks, trails, and open space. I am proud of that. I feel that everyone would, of course, like to see more added but as with everything cost is a factor. I realize when certain parcels are sold the opportunity to get it has gone forever, but the city is limited financially.

Soltis: Currently, Brentwood Residents enjoy over 961 acres of parkland and many feel that maintaining those properties are a high priority. Until the Tapestry Apartments, most homes in Brentwood have had their own park like setting either in their backyard or common grounds. This makes Brentwood a beautiful green oasis between Nashville and Franklin. If additional land becomes available, we would need to evaluate it on its own merit.

Travis: I would like us to continue to evaluate all of our open spaces. As I have stated, we need responsible and properly planned growth. That means evaluating each project that is brought forth. Evaluate each opportunity!

  1. As a City Commissioner, please outline your view on the role you believe the City should play in the acquisition of park land or dedicated green space in our community. Please address whether you feel the city should be active in the acquisition of such types of land or passive and addressing only requests or offers made by various developers.

Burgin: I do believe the city should always be open to considering the purchase of key tracts that may be important to the city’s identity in order to prevent development that could change the character of the city in a dramatic way. I believe the city has made good use of the opportunity to acquire parkland from developers of controversial projects, including Powell, Wikle, and Flagpole parks. That, combined with the $20M purchase and development of Smith Park, makes it difficult to consider pursuing an even more aggressive role in purchasing additional dedicated parkland in the short term. However, green space can be considered a valuable part of a community’s infrastructure and must be planned for as such.

Crossley: Any offer of green space to the city brings, not just the land, but also the permanent maintenance of that land. Brentwood residents must feel that acquisition of any property is fiscally responsible before the city considers taking possession.

Dunn: Each situation is so different that a one size fits all rule can’t be applied. The city has been very active in purchasing park land. Crockett Park and Smith Park are huge acquisitions for a city our size. Those were both great opportunities and we determined there was no way we could pass either up. The price was excellent and both would serve the city well for generations. We have gone from 3 parks to 13 since during the years have been on the commission. I am not saying this to take credit but to provide a time frame because all the commissioners I served with and the residents were totally supportive of each of these.

Even those that we acquired through development were not gained in a passive manner. Getting a developer to agree to dedicate land for a park or improve open space with trails, etc. requires some “gentle” persuasion. Primm Historic Park is an excellent example of that.

Soltis: The City Commission should evaluate specific offers of land and help actively determine if they are a viable purchase for the city. Specifics would need to be known in order to make a complete evaluation on the city’s role.

Travis: I believe the City should play a role in the acquisition of park land – as part of our responsible and properly planned growth, a well-placed park or green space could improve neighborhoods and traffic on our roads. I would hope that we would have a combination of the City and developers working together to enhance our parks and green space.

  1. There are still a significant number of sizeable properties in Brentwood (i.e. 200+ acres) that are potentially available for green space or park land. What approaches would you pursue or support to ensure that these properties are not totally lost to development?

Burgin: Realistically, it is not economically feasible for the city to purchase every available large tract of land remaining in Brentwood. If tracts are being considered for residential development, I would be interested in dedicated public trails through the property to increase and maintain pedestrian connectivity. Our OSRD zoning designation is a good option for maintaining large amounts of green space and preserving wooded buffers around neighborhoods along road frontage, as can be found in Raintree Forest. Additionally, Williamson County has more land preserved in trust than any other county in the state, which is a creative option for both landowners and municipalities.

Crossley: Property owners have a right to sell their land as currently zoned. Most of those larger tracts area zoned for residential development. Under our development standards, a certain amount of green space is already required by code.

As with the Smith property, we can work with property owners that have an interest in preserving some of the land. We have worked and continue to work property owners and the Nature Conservancy to discuss ways to preserve the land in a natural state in perpetuity whenever possible.

Dunn: All of these cannot be preserved and we all know that. I feel that how they are developed determines whether parts of each of these can be preserved as open space or not. Some parcels are more “valuable” in the eyes of the public than others and they may be willing to help finance the purchase of certain very prized select properties but certainly not all.

Soltis: Each sizable property would need to be evaluated on its own merit instead of a “one size fits all” methodology. The impacted residents should have active input about prospective developments.

Travis: I am a firm believer in 1 house per acre density for Brentwood. In OSRD Zoning, that might mean 100 homes on 100 acres with lots slightly less than 1 acre and including green space/common grounds. This green space within some of the available properties would give the neighborhoods the open feel that so many people in Brentwood love. Again, responsible and properly planned growth means reviewing the properties and determining what is best for our Brentwood residents. All options should remain open for these types of properties.

  1. The second 2020 Plan Resident’s Survey sent in January 2015 asked citizens if they would be willing to pay additional taxes to purchase the Turner Property, and if so, the MAXIMUM in additional property taxes they would be willing to pay annually to allow the City to acquire and maintain all or a portion of the property. Would you be willing to increase taxes to purchase the Turner Property, or to support a bond initiative for the purchase of the Turner property? Would you personally be willing to pay additional taxes to purchase the Turner property? Please provide details on your stance.

Burgin: I would want the residents to weigh in on this decision via referendum. Personally, I would be willing to consider paying additional property taxes, although I would certainly need to see specific numbers before making a final decision.

Crossley: Personally, I would be willing to pay extra taxes to purchase the property if our community chose to purchase the land. Of course, the first step in all of this is that Mr. Turner would have to determine if and when he would sell the land and the price of sale.

As with any community tax increase, especially one dedicated to pay for a specific project, I believe that there would have to be a referendum for a bond initiative to fund the project… bearing in mind that the issuance would encumber the city for twenty years repaying the loan with interest. Additionally, the maintenance cost would have to be added into the increase in taxes to account for additional personnel, for upkeep, equipment and management of the area. It would be a huge step that must have a large majority of our residents favoring the project.

Dunn: I believe if the owner is willing to sell it and a cost for the purchase and maintenance in perpetuity for that property is determined, it will be obvious that this could only be done with a tax increase. A referendum should be held specifying exactly what the tax increase ramifications would be. I know such a referendum was held before and I voiced to several Green Space members at the time that I thought the proposal wording was what made it lose narrowly. At that time it referenced whether a resident would be willing to pay x amount of dollars for the purchase of green space. It was not site specific. I found that problematic because if the city set aside that amount then when the first new proposed subdivision after that came up the abutting neighbors would all want it spent on buying that property to keep land next to them open. I thought the referendum should say specifically something like x amount of dollars to purchase the Turner property. I think that may very well pass.

Soltis: The Turner Property is a beautiful green space in the heart of Brentwood and Mr. Turner has managed the property and maintained its beauty ever since he purchased it. Nearly every Brentwood resident sees and enjoys the property’s beauty every day. Currently, it is zoned residential R-2 with a strip of the property on Franklin Road zoned residential AR (Agriculture Residential).

Low taxation is one of Brentwood’s big selling points and any increase of taxation for the sole purchase of Turner’s property would need to have the support of the community at large.

Travis: I love the openness of the Turner Property! And I would personally be willing to pay an increased property tax to maintain a portion or all of the property. In order to make an informed decision, I would need much more information on the costs associated with acquiring the Turner Property. Any acquisition would need to fair for both sides.

  1. Surrounding communities like Nashville and Franklin have adopted Open Space Master Plans. Franklin is in the process of revising their original Plan. Open Space Master plans include such things as an inventory of the City’s remaining open space; specific criteria to guide the City in evaluating parcels being considered for open space acquisition; defined measurements for the assessment of the costs and benefits of acquiring open space; and funding strategies for the Plan’s implementation. Would you support the commissioning of such a study for the City of Brentwood?

Burgin: The city does maintain an inventory of remaining open space, but for market reasons the staff and the commission have been reluctant to do anything that appears to earmark certain properties as being more important from a green space perspective than others.

I do think there would be some benefit to having established criteria by which potential acquisition of properties would be judged, such as historic preservation, proximity to existing parks or trails, environmentally sensitive, etc. I don’t think the city needs a plan that identifies specific tracts as targets for acquisition. However, some agreement for how the city would prioritize future opportunities would be worthwhile so that we can be ready when an opportunity presents itself.

I also would prefer a plan with some dedicated funding mechanism attached to it so we know exactly what we’re voting on and how it would play out.

Brentwood is different from Nashville and Franklin in that our OSRD zoning does require preservation of significant amounts of open space, and while those acres are generally privately held, they are still preserved.

Crossley: The city currently has a map of remaining tracts of zoned land that have yet to be developed. In the 2020 plan, we did ask questions regarding the largest of those tracts. Unfortunately, the tracts value as green space vs. their value as residential properties are very different and do change with time. I believe that keeping that inventory current is important.

Our past Capital Improvements Plans have included projections for the acquisitions and maintenance of each of our parks as they have become available. So, in a sense we have been conducting a study for each property acquired. Though, perhaps a final inventory provided by a consultant, including our entire Urban Growth Boundary would be helpful in projecting some future strategies for open space preservation.

Dunn: I feel like we have good information on those items. Our 2020 plan addresses these issues and I think it may be redundant to have a committee. I would not oppose it, but I am not sue it is necessary.

Soltis: Yes, I would support an “Open Space Master Plan” for the city to develop. We should investigate alternative funding options such as land trusts, estate gifts, and private donations to fund projects. Also, we should look to see other creative ways to fund projects successfully without causing an additional tax burden on our residents. There may be other cities to study besides Franklin and Nashville that have outstanding green spaces that are fiscally responsible.

Travis: As you know, I have attended the majority of the majority of the City Commission meetings for the past year. During that time I have heard much about our parks and open spaces. In just the last few months, two new parks were approved very close to my Willowick subdivision. I have seen a map shared that shows our current park lands, so I believe we are well on the way to having an Open Space Master Plan.

I have stated several times that we are running out of space in Brentwood, and our successful future is contingent on responsible and properly planned growth. Part of responsible and properly planned growth could include having an Open Space Master Plan.

  1. Connectivity through alternative means like sidewalks, bike paths, and trails can assist in alleviating traffic congestion and improving the quality of life in Brentwood. 74% of those responding in the recent 2020 Plan Resident’s Survey agreed with expansion of bikeways and sidewalks as an action that could be taken to improve traffic in Brentwood. Do you support investment in such improvements to improve pedestrian/bikeway connectivity throughout the City?

Burgin: I would love to be able to enhance Brentwood’s already-great trail system. There are neighborhoods that do not enjoy connectivity to our parks or other neighborhoods, however, and I certainly support an investment in trails and bike paths to improve connectivity.

New neighborhoods are required to be built with sidewalks. The sidewalk issue is a bit more complicated in our older neighborhoods. If a location under consideration for sidewalks already has underground drainage, than adding sidewalks would be a little easier but would still require 100% property owner cooperation in terms of granting easements (if necessary), allowing/accepting removal of landscaping, etc. If an area does not have underground drainage and only has open storm-water drainage ditches, like Brenthaven or River Oaks, then it becomes much more challenging and costly. In these cases, the city could easily spend $1 million in drainage just to have $150,000 worth of sidewalks.

The other issue to consider would be whether homeowners who benefit should bear a portion of the cost. I am generally not in favor of spending tax dollars on a project that would benefit only a few neighborhoods. State law does allow for creating a special assessment district for sidewalks, which would mean an extra amount added to everyone’s tax bill for a certain number of years to pay off a portion of the cost. Honestly, though, I would not support that unless there were 100% commitment from those residents, given the size of some of our older neighborhoods. If we just made it 100% city funded, I don’t know that the city would be able to meet the demand.

However, I am very interested in exploring any ways we can add bike lanes and other walkable features to those neighborhoods.

Crossley: People have wanted more sidewalks along Centerview Drive and near Brentwood Place Shopping Center for years; they are coming on line as we speak. We now require sidewalks to be built in new subdivisions. Our total bikeway length has greatly expanded in the last 4 years. Of greatest interest to me, is finding some way to connect the west side of town across Concord to the east side of town. Right now the only connection is directly by the road, with no bike path. A pedestrian/bike path here is not just an amenity, it is necessary to offer alternative transportation routes for residents. Whenever we can find solutions to mitigate traffic within the confines of the city of Brentwood, we should seriously consider implementation.

Dunn: I really feel that in every new subdivision there should be sidewalks. I, like probably some of you, grew up in a small town where we walked everywhere on the sidewalks. I loved it. Trying to get them into the older ones is really difficult. It’s not that the city isn’t interested, but sometimes you just can’t get all the pieces to fall into place: finances, engineering, and citizen cooperation for example. You have to buy right of way from each property owner and all it takes is one hold out to kill the project. (We have had situations where we could connect a trail–not nearly as complicated as a sidewalk) but the homeowners would not allow us to get an easement across the edge of the property even for that.

The construction of the sidewalk and reconstruction of driveways into each lot would be a monumental expense. We particularly looked at this on Wilson Pike in trying to find a way for residents to get up to the trail system. We found that due to the topography in some instances when putting in a sidewalk the cost of reconfiguring the drainage would be ten times the cost of the sidewalk.

This is a goal that is desirable wherever possible. We are always looking for opportunities where the factors align in such a way that we can connect trails and neighborhoods for pedestrians.

Soltis: Yes, I support the further development of safe sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike paths to help encourage physical activity and reduce some traffic. We need to look at the interaction between traffic and pedestrian/bikes to create a safer and more usable solution.

Travis: I do support the investment of improvements such as pedestrian/bikeway connectivity throughout the City. One only has to ride down the completed section of Concord Road to see the improvements that include pedestrian walk-way and bike lanes. And, I have reviewed the plans for Franklin Road and bike lanes and pedestrian walkways are an important part of this project. These two projects are steps in the right direction!

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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