August 03, 2015

Complications of Mixed-Use Don’t Deter Tennessee Developer

– New Urban News –

Boyle Investment Company hopes to break ground by early this month on Berry Farms, a partly new urbanist project in Franklin, Tennessee, south of Nashville. The mixed-use development, a significant step forward for the 58,000-population Williamson County seat, consists of three tracts totaling 602 acres.

The first tract to be developed — a 233-acre parcel in the Goose Creek area west of Interstate 65 — will get 600 housing units, 500,000 sq. ft. of retail, and 500,000 sq. ft. of offices. Called Berry Farms Town Center, it will be the most walkable and mixed-use of the three Berry Farms parcels. To mollify existing large-lot households who border this tract, density will step down along much of the parcel’s periphery, says Franklin Planning Director Jaime Groce.

The other two tracts, encompassing 369 acres, will have extensive surface parking serving office tenants and retailers. However, like the first tract, these areas will also feature some continuous streetscapes and well-defined public spaces.

Groce says Franklin, which is growing rapidly through annexation and development, has a “split personality,” which is reflected in the varied character of the plan for Berry Farms. Part of Franklin is a walkable settlement built in the 19th century, revolving around a traditional business district that has grown stronger since the National Trust for Historic Preservation helped organize a Main Street program there more than a decade ago. Other sections are more recent and spread out, like the typical suburbs of the past 60 years.

Since 2001, when Andres Duany led a charrette for Franklin’s Westhaven development and won some residents over to compact design, the government has been trying to encourage new urbanist thinking on selected sites, while allowing conventional suburban development at other locations. John Wieland Homes, from the Atlanta area, will build detached houses, zero-lot-line houses, and townhouses in the low-density portions of Berry Farms’ initial phases.

“We struggled to have more connectivity to the adjoining residential areas, but were cut back on several connections by the politicians,” Rusty Bloodworth, Boyle’s executive vice president, told New Urban News. Boyle worked on Berry Farms’ design with Paris Rutherford of RTKL’s Dallas office and Gary Vogrin of LandDesign in Charlotte and Nashville. The project has been cited as an example of “quality growth” by Cumberland Region Tomorrow, a smart-growth education and technical assistance organization in Middle Tennessee.

Boyle, a Knight Fellow in Community Building at the University of Miami in 2006, helped organize a Knight charrette that year, focusing on turning the medical district of Memphis into a more appealing and pedestrian-oriented area (Oct. 2006 New Urban News). Before then, the company was already progressing in the direction of New Urbanism despite the challenges it presents.

In a Business Tennessee roundtable discussion in 2004, Boyle said, “We’re trying very hard to mix uses much more complexly than we did 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. In fact, if you chart our company’s large-scale developments in the 200-400-acre range, over the last 30 years, we’ve gone from having just two or three land uses on a 200-acre tract to having 14 land uses on our Schilling Farms tract [a 443-acre mixed-use development in Collierville, east of Memphis]. There are some economic incentives to doing that because you create an increase in the pace of development.”

“It is much more difficult to accomplish,” Bloodworth observed. “High-quality, mixed-use development requires a huge team of really top consultants to do the work. We employ today 11 or 12 different consultants on [the Berry Farms] team. … Thirty years ago, we would have had two.”

“What we’ve found at Schilling Farms is that it’s difficult right out of the chute to create a sufficient sense of place and an understanding of really the kind of quality environment you’re putting together,” Bloodworth said. “It takes having enough of it put together that people can visualize it. We’ve found that while we’ve probably lost part of the market, at the same time we are putting a product out that, long-term, is a much better way to build communities that will not suffer the very clear obsolescence that most suburban areas that have been in existence for 20 years are suffering.”

At Berry Farms, each of the three tracts will contain three to five sites for churches, post offices, and civic functions, says Phil Fawcett, who is in charge of Boyle’s multi-use development in the Nashville area. The overall project is expected to take 10 years or more to complete. It will have approximately 1,100 housing units, 1.6 million sq. ft. of retail, and 3.5 million sq. ft. of offices. Groce says each planned-unit development in Franklin “is getting us further toward walkability and community focus.”