July 22, 2015

A Smarter Way to Fund Growth

By Editorial
– The Commercial Appeal –

It isn’t often that this page accuses local government officials of being too tough on a developer.

However, in the case of the Braystone Park subdivision in Collierville, the town might want to cut Boyle Investment Co. a little slack.

Collierville’s dilemma over what to do about Boyle could be an object lesson for other local governments that are studying ways to pay costs associated with growth.

Boyle hopes to begin work soon on the fifth and final stage of Braystone Park, which is filled with upscale homes. However, in order to handle the expected increase in traffic after the new homes are built, the town’s development rules require Boyle to widen a two-lane stretch of Shelton Road.

Boyle is resisting because company officials say they would like to save a row of trees along Shelton.

When developers around this community start talking about how much they want to save trees, there’s often reason to be skeptical. Some developers apparently subscribe to the belief that the only good tree is a bulldozed, cut up and pulverized

But this situation is different.

Gary Thompson, Boyle’s vice president, believes traffic counts are likely to stay low on Shelton for the next couple of decades, particularly after Wolf River Boulevard opens on a parallel track to the north.

Also, the trees hide a power line and what will be the back yards for some of Braystone Park’s homes from the view of passing motorists. Saving the trees would be better for everyone involved, he contends.

Matt Thomson, Collierville’s town engineer, isn’t quite convinced, though. Thomson believes Boyle’s information about projected traffic counts needs closer scrutiny.

Also, Thomson said some of the trees will have to come down, regardless of whether the road gets widened, because of safety issues.

The town’s cautious approach seems appropriate, but for one fact: Thomson says Boyle is willing to pay the town the amount of money needed to widen the road and reserve roadside land for that purpose, provided town officials hold off on doing the work unless it becomes necessary.

In other words, even if Boyle’s assumptions about traffic are wrong, the town would still get the road improvement money.

As for the danger posed by some of the trees, Thomson may have a point. Some trees have branches hanging low over the road, which could create a hazard after a storm. But it’s the town’s responsibility to address those types of public safety issues, no matter whether Boyle builds the final phase of Braystone Park or not.

It seems like the real problem here is Collierville’s policy of requiring developers to pay to widen roads directly in front of their subdivisions. That creates situations where road widths abruptly change, which can lead to traffic bottlenecks.

A better approach would be to require developers to pay money into a road-building fund, based on the calculated impact new projects would have on local traffic. Then town officials could spend that money when and where they see fit.

Collierville officials should be commended for trying to make developers pay for some of the costs associated with growth. However, this case illustrates why a more flexible approach is needed.