Franklin receives 2018 TCMA Award for Municipal Excellence

As a community steeped both in history and a city with one of the fastest growing economies in the nation, leaders with the city of Franklin have worked to preserve the community’s unique identity while still making it a welcome place for businesses to operate and residents to raise their families.

The efforts of Franklin officials to direct the city’s long-term growth in a way that is not only manageable but maintains its quality-of-life is why the Tennessee City Management Association (TCMA) recognized Franklin with its 2018 Award for Municipal Excellence.

As Franklin updated its Major Thoroughfare Plan in 2014, city leaders realized that the rapid growth of their community needed a comprehensive planning effort that encompassed land use, transportation, infrastructure, historic preservation, and to meet the needs of local residents. The Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen decided to overhaul the city’s 2004 Land Use Plan into a new plan: Envision Franklin.

The Envision Franklin plan articulates the long-term vision that will direct future development in a way that strengthens the city and creates exceptional places for people. Guiding principles and themes of the plan include managed growth, economic vitality, vibrant neighborhoods, historic preservation, natural beauty, exceptional design, connected community, and context-responsive infill. The plan includes 17 keystone design concepts, each of which are mapped with desired land uses, building form, site design, transportation, and special considerations.

The process brought together more than 250 citizens, developers, homeowner’s associations, and other stakeholders to create a plan with clear and relevant guidance for the fast-growing community. City staff worked closely with the citizens over multiple neighborhood meetings to identify their vision for their community. Franklin also worked to develop programs that would improve service delivery to citizens as well as generate cost savings to the municipality.

One of the major goals of Envision Franklin was directing growth in such a way that it could be fostered by adequate infrastructure and services. Franklin worked with Smart Growth America to identify areas suitable for growth and then measures that would direct growth into those areas.

Franklin conducted a year-long height overlay study that looked at expanding areas allowing up to 12 stories in locations supported where infrastructure is most robust. The resulting map creates a predictable development form and focuses higher intensity toward I-65, while maintaining a pedestrian scale throughout the remainder of the city. This directs higher intensity of regional commercial, office and research development, multifamily residential, hotels, and assisted living into a localized area. Additionally, the height overlay allows the city to generate higher tax revenue on existing commercial properties while preserving outlying lands and keeping low tax rates for citizens. Companies can also expand their footprint in Franklin by building up rather than out.

Adoption of the height overlay study was followed by a proactive rezoning of land near the Interstate to allow for increased stories. Previously, these sites were rezoned on a case by case basis. Proactive zoning saves time and associated costs during the review process for staff, developers, and elected officials.

Envision Franklin also provides guidance and specificity to handle the city’s significant growth and better defines the desired built environment by streamlining the collaboration between city and stakeholders. Franklin adopted proactive land planning practices and fiscally responsible methods of extending infrastructure to ensure both smart growth and the future fiscal stability of the city.

Preserving historic resources and sensitive environmental features was another task Envision Franklin has accomplished. The city formed a technical Infill Working Group to address infill development concerns within the historic districts and surrounding areas. Their recommendations formed the historic residential design concept and guiding principles. Mapped areas show where the existing character needs to remain, transitional areas where change is appropriate, and infill opportunity sites.

To provide more connectivity, the plan incorporates trends in pedestrian-oriented development, connectivity, and strategically located neighborhood commercial nodes. The plan transitions from suburban to a more urban form through setbacks, parking placement, mixed uses, and expanded housing types. Planning staff and elected and appointed officials traveled to benchmark cities to study their guiding plans and built environments.

After years of work, community outreach, and discussion, the plan was passed by the Franklin Municipal Planning Commission in 2017. Since adoption, every zoning and land-use decision relies upon the plan’s guidance. Staff are now able to guide property owners and developers with clear guidance and in a way that remains true to the city’s vision. The new plan created more clear and concise guidelines such as:

• More accurate definitions of residential housing types including single-family, accessory dwellings, duplexes, townhomes, big houses, and multifamily, along with their appropriate design concept and location;
• Adding developer-requested plan amendments to the approval process;
• Creating exceptional places for people through design of new development, building form, uses, setbacks, activated streets, and pedestrian focus;
• Directing higher intensity and taller buildings toward I-65 where infrastructure can support a thriving economy comprised of a balanced mix of regional office, commercial, and multifamily uses;
• Preserving historic areas and established character and ensure contextually compatible infill development;
• Emphasizing active transportation for both destinations and recreation by connecting land uses through multi-use paths, sidewalks, and trails; and
• Protecting Franklin’s natural beauty along its edges by preserving scenic corridors and view sheds as well as sustainable programs that provide a long-term benefit to the community.

Additionally, the city and consultants worked together to make Envision Franklin a sleek, user-friendly, image-heavy guide to define the community vision and provide the development community with the specificity needed to achieve that vision. The information is laid out for the user in a well-organized format so that the design concept can be identified and looked up alphabetically to quickly find the pertinent information in a structured, table format.

The material is content heavy, but not process heavy, adapting to the goal of this document and today’s need for quick information. The plan is web accessible with various online and on-the-go platforms and hyperlinked to make moving through the document efficient.