10th Avenue South plan is splitting a Nashville neighborhood

Friday, August 14, 2009 at 3:50am
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It’s an issue that has divided a neighborhood and left longtime residents wondering what will become of their homes in the future.

At some point soon, Metro Council will have to consider a rezoning request to bring a 13,000-square-foot mixed-use development to 10th Avenue South. Then it can hope the neighborhood will reunite.

The proposed development sits next to the Waverly School building, about 50 feet north of Waldkirch Avenue — and just southeast of Belmont University — and consists of 2,000 square feet of restaurant space, 4,800 square feet of retail space and 6,800 square feet of office space. It would create a much different look in an area typified by mid-century brick homes.

When the Specific Plan zoning request passed second reading at Metro Council, it was clear the issue had split neighbors, some of whom have lived in the area for generations.

“The worst thing about this project is the tragic split between two sets of neighbors who have many, many of the same goals,” said nearby Paris Avenue resident Ken Winter, pointing out commonality on issues like preserving older homes and maintaining the tranquil residential mood of the neighborhood.

Where some neighbors see an opportunity to replace a vacant lot and sparsely used boutique building with a progressive development with new amenities, others see the nearby and fast-developing 12South area slowly creeping into their neighborhood.

“We are troubled,” said Ronnie Greer, the former Council representative for District 17. “The use of SP zoning to drastically change a residential neighborhood such as this is wrong.”

Randy Morgan, who is co-developing the project with Mary Hardin, said the development team is committed to creating something that will benefit the community and fit into the context and feel of the neighborhood.

Many of the residents have lived on neighboring streets for many years. The fear among some longtime residents is twofold.

First, they wonder if allowing a larger commercial development will open floodgates to more non-residential projects.

Second, they fear the project will push up property values and therefore property taxes, which could force them to leave their longtime homes.

“I’m against it, but it don’t matter,” said Cecil Pope, whose home of 20 years is across the street from the proposed site. “When they get ready to do something, they’re going to do it. You can’t stop it. You can’t stop progress.”

‘Still going to happen’

But current District 17 Metro Councilwoman Sandra Moore said fears are unfounded. Pointing out the fact the existing shop was once a convenience market, Moore said the neighborhood design plan has always called for commercial use on the lot.

Moore said that the development was still on track, but added that amendments are being worked out pertaining to traffic and noise in an effort to assuage the fears of some neighbors.

“It’s still going to happen,” Moore said. “It’s hard when you present information and people get misled. That was the hard part. The fact is, this plan was discussed among the discussions for the neighborhood design plan, and it is called for in the plan.”

Greer said pressure would be on the school district from developers to sell the Waverly School building, which will lead to another likely commercial development.

“They are taking a building that’s a non-conforming commercial use and turning it into the inspiration for a development that the neighbors don’t want,” Greer said.

Greer’s vocal opposition comes against the backdrop of rumors that he plans to try to reclaim the seat from Moore in 2011. Greer said he “didn’t know” if he would run again, but insisted his interest in the proposal was strictly to preserve the neighborhood.

For her part, Moore said she had no comment about Greer’s opposition to the project, but offered assurances to neighbors that the proposed development would not open the floodgates.

“There’s no other commercial developments that will be on that strip,” Moore said.

In the pink

In terms of the design itself, the developer’s vision for the 10th South building is progressive and in line with the maturing infill projects turning up on 12South.

The proposed 13,600-square-foot development takes its design inspiration from a one-story pink building with a storied history in the neighborhood.

“It’s been pink, it’s been white, it’s been blue. It’s been several types of stores. At one point it was a place where a guy ran numbers,” Morgan said.

Morgan said that he hopes by incorporating the existing iconography of the neighborhood into the proposed project, the community will rally around the development.

“[The project] has the opportunity to be a neighborhood center. People already identify with it, and this is a way to confirm an identity,” he added.

Developers have had nine meetings with members of the community and presented the neighborhood with three design options from which to choose.

“These guys who live here immediately in the area know more about what they want than us as developers could ever imagine. And we all believe that one of the things that makes us a unique design team is that we think the more community input, the better,” Morgan said.

The community eventually chose a two-story design that’s sensitive to the street and has parking in the back. During the community meeting process, the neighbors also expressed concerns about the possible tenants of the development. As a result, Morgan and his team agreed to limit the possible tenants the project could house.

“People didn’t want tobacco stores, single-beer joints, all the nuisance uses,” Morgan said. “People also don’t want to see a late-night bar, so we wrote into the SP a major provision that businesses can’t stay open past 9:30 at night.”

Principles of progress

Besides their community-minded approach to hammering out the design specifics, the developers behind the 10th South project are also guided by a distinct development philosophy responsible for quality infill work in areas such as East Nashville.

Morgan says his team’s main goal is to create a project that will compliment the neighborhood but also fulfill the principles of infill building — a development focus that creates nodes of development rather than cluster it in one area.

“A true neighborhood has a diversity of housing types, usually some kind of walkable retail, an identifiable center, open space and a connected street system,” Morgan said. “All the bones for making a true neighborhood are in place and functioning well.”

Infill development shouldn’t be left along single roadways, these principles hold, but spread in pockets of mixed-use developments that hopscotch from one neighborhood to another.

“The idea is that you don’t want a lot of places like Eighth Avenue, Gallatin Road or Nolensville Road, where you have these long strips of commercial,” Morgan said. “You really want to have as much as you can in small nodes.”

Two streets over

Also, mixed-use projects of this scale represent the natural progression of infill principles. Two streets over, development in 12South is maturing and has moved past the stage where developers simply come in and rehab old houses for coffee shops or boutiques. Now, they look to build smart mixed-use projects that are sensitive to their surroundings.

The prime example of this now is Core Development’s current project 12th & Paris, a mixed office, retail, condo and apartment project in its final stages of construction.

Like the 10th South project, Core Development was equally sensitive to the community when it designed its projects.

“We’ve always been willing to compromise and change our design or program a little bit once we’ve talked to people and listened to them and incorporate the feedback,” said Aaron White, Core’s principal.

3 Comments on this post:

By: JeffF on 8/17/09 at 8:09

I worry about a city that fights off in-fill development and new urbanist large-scale development with equal fervor.

By: Time for Truth on 8/17/09 at 9:39

Without even seeing a picture of the proposed development this project sounds like a plus for the area. The undesirable uses have been addressed, they are using a streetscape design, and they are providing walkable retail services. This walkability is part of why East Nashville and other areas are so popular.

The councilperson in office supports this, it is former councilperson Greer, known for such brilliant legislation as a proposal against dog owners having their own pets' poop in their yards, who is opposing this.

By: govskeptic on 8/17/09 at 12:18

This is a little more complicated than some zoning cases. This may just be the
right case for the Courts to determine if SP zoning is nothing more than a new term for Spot Zoning. which many of us believe it to be in many instances. A lot of tax dollars have been spent on 12 South to provide a venue for this type development..