Wilson: citizens ignored on Town’s MUTC change

At the Dec. 17 Farragut Municipal Planning Commission (FMPC), the next step to approve the Biddle Farm (Town Center) development was approved. Namely, the FMPC approved the text amendments to the Mixed-Use Town Center (MUTC) portion of the General Commercial (C-1) zoning district.

The most notable change was to allow ground-floor apartments in the MUTC area when using the Planned Commercial Development (PCD) zoning ordinance. Prior to this change, high-density residential units were allowed provided they were on the upper floors.

Both the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) and the applicable zoning ordinances made clear that the desired development was to be residential over commercial, to create a high-glass walkable town center.

Why did this change happen? Based on comments during the meeting, Town officials went to a conference and discussed the MUTC development plan with several companies. These developers advised they would need to develop tall structures and possibly parking garages to accommodate this type of vertical development (i.e., residential over commercial).

Town leadership did not believe this was acceptable for Farragut. This new information meant the MUTC would not be developed as planned and that the character would need to be significantly changed to a more horizontal type of development (i.e., residential next to commercial).

Upon learning this, the Town failed to address this concern with the citizens using the significant public outreach called for in the CLUP — (offsite discussions let them know what was likely feasible; they didn’t have any developer in front of them wanting to do anything with either property in question.)

In comes the Biddle Farm development request. As the development was discussed, two things were realized: One, the need to change the PCD zoning ordinance to allow for ground floor apartments. Two, this change creates an issue. Similar developments in other areas of the MUTC, specifically the Ford property (possible second Town Center site), could include the same type of high-density residential units.

The Town initiated changes to the CLUP in order to limit high-density development in other areas of the MUTC, specifically a known development on the Ford property.

During these public meetings, BOMA repeatedly stated the reason for the CLUP amendments were to “protect existing neighborhoods.” The MUTC area with this concern is the Ford property. However, simply reviewing the 2019 Future Land Use Map with a ruler would show you that the MUTC area stops approximately 750 feet from the existing neighborhood property lines. This fact, the identified density transitions indicated on the map and other zoning ordinance requirements provided the needed protections already.

What does this mean for us as a town? BOMA has taken it upon themselves to determine what type of development will happen in the MUTC regardless of our objections and calls to discuss the future of the entire MUTC area.

Second, by using the CLUP amendments to target another developer, the Town is now in a position to either approve a similar development on the Ford property or face probable legal action.

The citizens of Farragut ought to be disappointed and angry about the actions the Town has taken. Regardless of your opinion on these specific apartments, in this situation BOMA has placed its desires for the MUTC over those they were elected to represent.

Michael Wilson