Developers have choice to donate land or pay based on land value

By Kevin Walters
/ The Tennessean

When it comes to new city park land, Franklin residential developers get a choice before launching a new development: Dedicate land for new parks or pay money to be used to develop more parkland.

So far, it’s been an easy choice for developers. In the five years since that regulation was approved, only one developer has ever paid Franklin any money — called “in-lieu of” fees — for new parks.

Now, Franklin aldermen and city officials are exploring changing the formula they’ve used to calculate how much money residential developers must pay the city before they break ground. The current formula is based on the value of land, but that could be changed to be based on per unit or per bedroom basis, among other options.

“The density and the type of housing is more directly related to park needs than just a land value,” said City Administrator Eric Stuckey. “I think that’s a better basis anyway.”

Changing the regulation would make new development potentially less expensive, particularly along the Interstate 65 corridor, which is now the hottest development area in Franklin.

Franklin officials are willing to take less money from developers in exchange for creating a more equitable arrangement on new developments across the city. They worry that the city’s parkland fees could make new development too expensive.

“It makes it a little bit more fair across the board,” said city Parks Director Lisa Clayton. “(You’re) talking about $13 a square foot in the Cool Springs area, and someone across town is only paying $5 or $6 a square foot. It also can be a make-or-break deal for a developer.”

It might mean more money instead of land comes Franklin’s way from developers to cover new parks. So far, payments have been rare.

Until last month, it was only Charlotte, N.C.-based Crescent Communities — which is the new name for Crescent Resources, a key developer of Cool Springs office space. The developer, which is adding its 428-unit Venue at Cool Springs development near Carothers Parkway and McEwen Drive in Cool Springs, paid Franklin nearly $1 million in parkland fees.

The parkland fees originated in 2008 as part of the city’s new zoning ordinance was unveiled. The parkland fees are separate from Franklin’s facilities tax fees, which are collected from developers to cover the costs of adding new police, fire and solid waste resources.

Among Franklin aldermen, there’s no early consensus about which path they’ll choose when it comes to making a change — or if they’ll support one at all. If aldermen do make a change it would affect developers’ plans that are in the pipeline.

Alderman Ann Petersen wondered about the kinds of parks that Franklin would be adding in the future and adding more smaller parks.

“Now there’s so much emphasis on youth getting, say, 60 minutes of play a day,” Peterson said. “I question whether that wouldn’t be better served by small parks nearby. I guess our emphasis has been especially in recent years in very large parks.”

Clayton hopes to bring back recommendations for possible changes to aldermen later this summer with the possibility of voting on changes this fall.