Chapel Hill growth plan comes into focus

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Go to any meeting in Marshall County and eventually the subject of growth will come up.

Chapel Hill is trying to plan for it.

The town presented the progress so far on a development plan to the public Thursday evening at Henry Horton State Park.

Doug Tennant and his team from AECOM, the consultants conducting the study, shared their potential vision for the future growth of the town, a Chapel Hill of 5,000 residents in 2040.

They offered a vision of a Chapel Hill aimed at maintaining the residential feel of the town while also offering the space for the commercial development needed to sustain the town.

Their vision called for maintaining the northern areas of town for single-family residential development, while allowing denser, mixed-use development within the southern parts of the town limits along Highway 99.

The residential character of the existing town would be preserved and the existing downtown area developed into a ”Main Street” commercial area.

Growth in the northern part of the county is inevitable as population grows outward from Nashville through Williamson and Rutherford Counties, forcing Chapel Hill to make a choice about its future.

Tennant and his team have repeated the statement of “do you want to grow or do you want to develop?” throughout the process, citing Spring Hill as an example of growth and Franklin as an example of development.

“At some point you have to say what you don’t want to be or you have to say what you do want to be,” said Tennant. “You’ve got to say one or the other.”

“If you say what you want to be then you have a vision, an aspiration, and you can chase after that,” he said.

Tennant said that his team is about halfway through the nine to 10 month process.

They have been meeting with a steering committee made up of community residents and leaders who are trying to shape the future of the town.

Residents attending that meeting expressed concern the Chapel Hill might lose some of the features that make it was it is.

A loss of green space, a loss of the town’s rural feel and identity, and concern over becoming merely a bedroom community for Williamson or Rutherford Counties were all expressed.

“There are a million suburbs,” said Tennant, “but you want to be a place, not just a spot on the side of the road.”

The group has identified Henry Horton State Park as a key part of developing the town as a destination, but participants agreed that more could be done to develop a draw for future tourism and economic activity.

“We don’t capitalize on our history,” said Alderman Marion Joyce.

Development of the plan is funded through a planning grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

While the focus of the grant is based on future transportation needs, TDOT has allowed the town to broaden the scope of the study to include land use and growth planning as well.

All parties agreed that a vision of the future needed to be in place before transportation needs could be fully addressed, Tennant said.

The team will take the feedback from this public session and tweak their ideas to fit the resident’s needs.

Chapel Hill Mayor Danny Bingham said that he had been talking to his counterpart in Spring Hill.

“You guys are so far ahead of where we were” as far as planning for the future was the message that Bingham received.

“It’s a good time to be in Chapel Hill,” said Bingham. “There’s a lot of good stuff happening.”