By Kevin Walters
The Tennessean

On the cusp of Franklin’s long-awaited widening of Hillsboro Road, the city may create a new zoning designation for the homes and properties along the route the city will widen.

Alderman Dana McLendon, who represents that area, has asked Franklin staffers to explore creating new zoning regulations to cover properties on the portion of Hillsboro Road near Franklin High School that will be widened.

He’s hoping a new zoning overlay might help current and future homeowners along with city staffers better manage the changes and spur more positive developments.

“We are about to bring significant change to what has been a very stable, long-term string of homes. Some of those homes have been occupied by one or maybe two families during the course of their existence,” McLendon said. “We are doing it for our community, but we are also doing something to that neighborhood unlike anywhere I can think of in the recent past. I don’t think we’ve taken a road widening project and threaded a needle like this.”

Hillsboro’s widening will mark a significant and expensive project in Franklin’s history and its preparation for future growth. After more than a decade of waiting that included years of planning, disagreements with state road planners about the size of the road, and sticker shock regarding costs, Franklin will seek construction bids on the first leg of the more than $20 million project later this year.

Crews will widen Hillsboro Road between Mack Hatcher Parkway to near its intersection at Highway 96 West when the road becomes Fifth Avenue. As part of the two-phase project, the Hillsboro construction crews will also add sidewalks, curbs, bike lanes.

McLendon believes the work might also devalue properties along the road compared to their value with a smaller road that is not as close to the front doors of the houses.

“I fear to say that some of the homes there are not going to survive the change that comes,” McLendon said. “They’re just not.”

Realtor’s request led to idea

The proposal for a zoning overlay has only come up because of a recent proposal to subdivide a vacant lot along the road.

Realtor Loy Hardcastle wants Franklin aldermen to approve rezoning a vacant piece of land at 711 Hillsboro Road from the city’s R-1 “low residential” to the R-3 “high residential” designation. With the rezoning approval, Hardcastle planned to sell the property so someone else might build a house there.

Hardcastle’s property was four-tenths of an acre too small to be included in the current R-2 “medium residential” designation and still be allowed to be divided into two lots. Instead, he had to ask for a “high residential” designation which would have allowed additional uses of the property that aldermen feared.

Rather than vote on the rezoning — which would have failed — the request was deferred until January for a second vote. By next year, city staff should present city aldermen with an overlay proposal for the Hillsboro Road corridor.

Hardcastle, who is a former city alderman himself, was frustrated with the lack of support for the rezoning but is willing to wait to hear what city zoning proposals might include. He said aldermen should not fear the high-residential designation for his property and how it might establish a precedent for future projects.

“You take them as you come,” Hardcastle said about making decisions. “We’ve gotten so technical today really with numbers and zoning and political correctness and all that kind of stuff that we’re gradually backing ourselves into a corner.”

But Hardcastle agrees with McLendon’s prediction that the Hillsboro Road’s widening will radically affect the homes there.

“He’s exactly right. It’s going to change,” Hardcastle said.“(The houses are) extremely dated. Somebody’s going to come along and buy a lot and take a house down and put a different house on the lot.”

The new, wider road will affect the value of the homes now and in the future, McLendon said.

“When (the) Hillsboro Road project is done, there’s still going to be beautiful lots with homes that are aged and that sit very, very close to the road. That’s a fact. That’s what’s gonna happen,” McLendon said. “I don’t want to have people with good ideas that may be decent results that might be good for the community to be stuck with the same bad choices that we have — or silly rounding errors.”