Chapel Hill’s future development plan focuses on Horton Park

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What does Chapel Hill want to look like in 20 years?

That was the overarching question at the March 9 first meeting of the steering committee tasked with developing a long-term plan for the town.

The committee met with representatives from TDOT and AECOM, the town’s consultant for the process, to begin laying the groundwork for the plan.

Earlier this year, the town received a $50,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation for long-term transportation planning.

The scope of the grant allows for additional economic development and land use planning as well, and Town Administrator Mark Graves wants to use the process to create a 20-year strategic plan for Chapel Hill’s growth and development.

“It will be about transportation and how that helps us develop into what we want to be,” Graves said.

One definitive fact presented is the inevitability of growth spreading to the region. Historic and projected population growth showed a continuous expansion of the Nashville metropolitan area along the I-65 and I-24 corridors, leaving Chapel Hill positioned in between those two population centers in Williamson and Rutherford Counties.

By 2040, the population spread and development will be on the town’s doorstep.

“Do you want to be a community the follows the growth,” said Mark Meservy, the project manager for AECOM, “or do you want to be the community that dictates the growth?”

Consultants presented several similar towns on the edges of the Nashville region with which to compare Chapel Hill.

Committee members looked to Nolensville as probably the best comparison, a similarly situated town dealing with very rapid growth, and as an example for dealing with the wave that is coming.

One challenge seen in Nolensville was not so much the growth within the town limits but the much larger surrounding population that strained the town’s infrastructure.

TDOT expects the plan to be a community-driven process that captures “the needs and aspirations” of Chapel Hill residents.

Committee members were asked what vision and identity they wanted to present in 20 years.

“What do you want Chapel Hill to be?” asked Doug Tennant, senior vice president at AECOM.

Dottie Morton, a Chapel Hill alderman, expressed a goal of developing Chapel Hill as a destination and opposed to a town that people just drove through, while maintaining the small town feel and charm of the area.

One notion that met with wide agreement was the importance of the town’s relationship with Henry Horton State Park. The park and its programs, especially centered on the Duck River, serve as an important draw to the area. It brings in visitors who provide an important part of the town’s economy.

“I think you need to make that connection as strong as it can be,” Tennant said.

The development of strong zoning and development codes to guide growth was also identified as an important tool.

After long discussion, Tennant summarized the core of the committee’s desire for the future of Chapel Hill.

“Growth should not change our lifestyle,” he said.

The consultants estimated a nine to 10-month time line for the development of the plan, already in its third month of preliminary work.

Public meetings on the possible plan will be held later in the process, probably during April or May, and Graves hopes that Chapel Hill residents will consider what they would like to see as part of the plan and bring those ideas to the meeting.

Tennant emphasized the importance of developing a plan and remaining firm in implementing it, citing Franklin as an example of a city which maintained its vision in the face of pressure from development.

“If you don’t know what you want to be in 20 years, you’ll look back in 20 years and wonder how we got here,” said Tennant.