Members of the Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen fiercely debated a new proposal during this week's city meeting on Monday that would allow more flexibility for the development of residential homes on land zoned as agricultural.
Proposed by Alderman Trent Linville, the measure would amend the city's Unified Development Code — essentially a design document for the city — to allow for the development of single-family homes to be constructed on land zoned for agricultural purposes.
The proposal was shot down during a meeting back in September, with the original proposal allowing for landowners to build one home on AG-zoned land for every five acres.
During Monday's meeting, Linville proposed an amendment to make the allotted density for his proposal less generous, increasing the minimum lot area from 5 to 15 acres. However, in the event that a land parcel was smaller than 15 acres, the amendment would still allow for the development of one single-family home given that the parcel is at least five acres.
That amendment was ultimately approved 8-1.
Despite the less generous allotted density, Alderman Hazel Nievies took issue with the proposal in its entirety, and questioned the need to alter the city's AG zoning at all. Nieves also pointed out that those who own AG-zoned land can already develop a home on their property given that the home is for agricultural operations.
"There are some city leaders who are justifying this change that's before us because there's an increase in our population and it results in the increase in density close to AG zones," Nieves said. "When I look at this, it contradicts what the citizen directives have been, what the comprehensive plan [and] the UDC says, and what our BOMA directives have been in the past."
Nieves argued that residents have routinely ranked persevering Spring Hill's rural character as one of their main concerns, and that approving Linville's proposal could jeopardize the city's "country living" environment.
"What we're doing tonight is we are making it possible for [farm land and natural features] to disappear, quickly," Nieves said.
"We already have a very small amount that's available to us. Us taking action to approve this is putting us in a position where we are going to lose the last of our agricultural land we have. Many surveys that have been conducted with our citizens, they say they want green space, open space, farmland, agricultural; it's a part of the character of this town that people don't want to see leave."
Nieves went on to point out that when it came to land parcels zoned AG, the city only had 14 in Williamson County, and 32 in Maury County.
Alderman John Canepari mirrored Nieves' concerns, and questioned the need to alter the AG zoning at all.
"Why do we need to change agriculture [zoning] at all?" Canepria asked.
"There's only three zonings that protect rural space; there's R-R, R-A and natural area right? Is there another ulterior motive behind doing away with agriculture [zoning]? Because that's what we're doing."
Canepari instead suggested that the city could approve a zoning change for landowners wishing to construct a home on AG-zoned land.
In response, Linville said that he also felt strongly about protecting the city's rural character, and that he felt his proposal would actually help preserve rural land, not erode it.
"I also recognize the need for green space in Spring Hill, I think it's one of the most important things that we can do up here as a board, preserving that rural character," Linville said. "I just have a different approach to how we get there; I think this amendment actually advances that goal."
Essentially, allowing owners of AG-zoned land to build one home per 15 acres, Linville argued, was a better method of preserving the city's rural character over the city frequently approving zoning change requests, something Linville suggested could be abused by developers.
Ultimately, the proposal was approved 6-1-2, with Nieves voting against, and Mayor Jim Hagaman and Canepari abstaining.