The Thompson’s Station Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved changes to the town’s zoning laws that would allow more housing in front of Tollgate Village. The area previously allowed shops and restaurants, but prohibited most types of housing.

The board discussed the proposal at a meeting on Tuesday night, but few of the arguments focused on the changes. The board spent much of the meeting debating whether or not some aldermen had a conflict of interest.

At a previous board meeting, Aldermen Graham Shepard and Ben Dilks asked Aldermen Brandon Bell to recuse himself from the vote. They argued that he could benefit professionally by voting for the proposal because he works in the real estate and development industry. They repeated that request on Tuesday.

Bell is an architect who works for the architectural firm Gresham Smith and Partners. Bell said that he and his company don’t have a business interest in Regent Homes, the company that requested the change to the zoning law. 

“Is it far-fetched really to see how this would help your career if you decide to apply for a job at one of the architectural firms that Mr. McGowan’s company (Regent Homes) does business with?” Shepard asked on Tuesday.

The town’s lawyer, Todd Moore, looked into the accusation. He interviewed all three Aldermen, and then sent a memo to the board stating that he didn’t find any evidence of a conflict of interest.

“Ben and Graham allege that Brandon support of Regent Homes as the developer could be beneficial to Brandon and his employer in the future,” Moore wrote in the memo. “This type of hypothetical allegation does not even establish an indirect conflict of interest that would require Brandon to disclose any such relationship, much less a conflict that would require him to recuse himself from the discussion and a direct vote on the matter.”

Mayor Cory Napier called the accusations a conspiracy theory, and said they were “boneheaded.” Shepard had also accused Napier of a conflict of interest at a previous meeting because his wife owns a restaurant in town. He argued that putting houses in front of Tollgate would leave less space for new restaurants, and would potentially increase business at the restaurant Napier’s wife runs.

During a public comment period, Tollgate resident John Peterson compared the argument about conflicts of interest to the game “Six Degrees Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” In that game, players link an arbitrary Hollywood actor to Kevin Bacon through their film roles. The idea is that any actor can be linked to Bacon.

Ultimately, Bell did not recuse himself. Dilks and Shepard voted against the proposal, while Napier, Bell and Aldermen Brian Stover voted for it.

The vote paves the way for a plan by Regent Homes to build hundreds of townhomes in front of Tollgate. It has already received approval to build several commercial buildings that would house a coffee shop, restaurant and a gym.

Graham explained that he voted against the proposal because he thought that Thompson’s Station needs more commercial businesses, and he didn’t think that most Tollgate residents support the plan from Regent Homes. Dilks said that he voted against the plan because he ran for office promising to fight for more commercial space in front of Tollgate and wanted to follow through.