Coming to life: Farragut Town Center at Biddle Farms

Board’s 5-0 vote clears ordinance path for Cullom’s next step: site plan

Capping more than a year of meetings, discussions and hundreds of e-mail commentary, Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed on second reading three ordinances during its Thursday, Jan. 28, meeting allowing the proposed Farragut Town Center at Biddle Farms project to proceed.

Ordinance 21-01 amended the future Land Use Map in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan from Medium Density Residential to Town Center; Ordinance 21-02 rezoned the property from General Commercial (C-1) and General Single-Family Residential (R-2) to Planned Commercial Development; and Ordinance 21-03 amended some text in the Farragut Zoning Ordinance pertaining to the Mixed Use Town Center, most notably allowing residential ground-floor apartments.

The vote took place after a nearly six-hour meeting, which included more than four hours of citizen’s comments being read by Town recorder Allison Myers and Town administrator David Smoak, with 244 opposing the project and 19 in support of it. (See separate story starting on this page).

Developer Budd Cullom of CHM Development has worked with the Town since November 2019 on the development, which has been discussed during 19 public and numerous staff-involved meetings.

Plans include approximately 60,000 square feet of retail/commercial, including a 20,000-square foot grocery store and additional buildings along what would be a “Main Street,” consisting of restaurants/shops/professional offices with many areas for walking, gathering and dining outdoors along it, and the planned Town Square/Great Lawn.

The project also will provide a new bridge leading to Concord Road, which, along with two water retention basins, will help mitigate ongoing flooding issues the property has experienced over the years.

Cullom addressed many of the e-mail charges last week, as he has done since September when those e-mails began in earnest, and became upset at charges that somehow Concord Road’s Pleasant Forest Cemetery would be negatively impacted by the development.

“My in-laws are buried there, my parents will be buried there, and likely my wife and I will be buried there,” he said, visibly upset at the accusations. “Let me just say we are not going to do anything to hurt that cemetery.”

Next steps will include Cullom coming before the Farragut Municipal Planning Commission at a later date for site plan approval. The FMPC already approved the concept plan in Summer 2020.

Architectural changes

Alderman Scott Meyer greeted Cullom’s plans enthusiastically during the Jan. 14 meeting and made some architectural suggestions regarding the apartments’ exterior fascia and rooflines, based on the style of the Campbell Station Inn and another development he had seen outside of Richmond, Virginia.

Cullom and his architect, Bob Koch — just as they had done with other staff and officials’ proposals during the last year regarding tweaks to the plans — took Meyer’s suggestions to heart, and by the Jan. 28 meeting provided updated renderings.

Both Meyer and Alderman Ron Pinchok made additional suggestions to the renderings Jan 28, which Cullom indicated he would take under advisement.

Hale responds

After all the comments were read for the final amendment vote, Farragut Mayor Ron William asked Town attorney Tom Hale if “there is any reason stated in (the citizen’s comments) that would prevent adoption of this amendment?

“The law requires you have a rational basis even if it is fairly debatable,” Hale said. “It is appropriate for you to amend zoning maps and zoning ordinances.”

(In the following paragraphs, Hale detailed what he labels as confusion and misunderstandings that have helped fuel, in his view, the anti-Biddle fire).

“I can talk a long time about this, but one of the things one of the groups has attempted to do is convince people that somehow this development is an amendment to the CLUP, which requires substantial public outreach.

“I think everybody agrees there has been substantial public outreach … over the period of a year.

“In your all’s defense … we publish when meetings will be, we publish agendas, and if people don’t come, that’s the reason we have those meetings — to have public input. We can’t get on the phone and call all 24,000 residents of the Town and tell them to come. They have to come to the meetings and keep up with what’s going on, and what goes on gets published in the newspaper.

“I say there has been substantial public outreach … but I don’t believe the changes to the CLUP are major — they are minor at best.

“One way people have been mislead is a misunderstanding. … In the MUTC, it talks about a mix of commercial and residential, and somebody got it in their mind that the only way to have that was mixed-use buildings with business on bottom and residential on top.

“But what it describes is walkability, and mixing the elements together … where residental supports commercial. It’s even in the plan and spells it out. Somehow by adding apartment buildings in horizontal form, that’s what they objected to. If we look at the MUTC, it would have a density of eight-to-15 dwelling units per acre, so what was being proposed … in this document that we’ve had in effect for a long time … is exactly what is being proposed, and there is no significant change being made in the uses of the land.

“What has happened is that people have gotten the MUTC concept mixed up with the zoning, which are governed by two different sets of legal principle. The only thing that has bothered me is that people have been mislead to think we have done something inappropriate.

“We did the appropriate outreach, but the fact is we really didn’t have to based on the existing plan.

“That’s my interpretation of the document, and I think that’s what the staff’s interpretation has been. … If we had to litigate this, I think that is exactly what the judge would conclude.”