No one ever told pornography store owners they had to be subtle about it. It’s probably better that they’re not, lest unwitting passers-by come in to ask for directions, kids in tow, only to get a face full of etcetera. It therefore might be the right thing that Hot Flix at 1004 Gallatin Ave. in East Nashville, with its purple-and-yellow checkerboard façade, blacked-out windows and double entendre-d sign above the door — “Buy Some, Get Some” (implied pause) “Free DVDs” — practically screams its identity.
But try that logic on people who live or go to school nearby, concerned as they are about their property values, the precious aesthetics of their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, or the fact that they are children. To many of them, the store is a blight on the community and has been since it opened in 2007. Maybe doubly so, now that it’s been closed and shuttered since last spring, when owner Rick Benedict died, and it still looks to all the world like a big purple porn store.
That’s why the building’s owners, Chad and Andy Baker, are trying to do something with the property, they say. And not only is it not another porn store, but it’s something as quintessentially New East Nashville — in other words, a thing that’s simultaneously quirky-sounding and one that nobody really realized they needed up until the past decade — as a dog day care facility.
(Note: Readers might remember Andy and Chad, aka crime-fighting duo the Baker Twins, from their brush with local fame in 2007, when they got some TV coverage of their vigilante anti-drug campaign, which amounted to yelling at the tenants of East Nashville homes the Twins believed to be “drug houses.” Anyway, they’re into dogs now.)
But the Bakers are meeting some resistance from the neighbors, and the building’s future has become central to a controversy involving an unlikely convergence of animals, pornography and zoning ordinance.
Chad Baker said he first began pursuing the idea for the business last spring, when he took it to the Metro Planning Department.
“What I did at that point was literally just walked up to the front counter and said, ‘Hi, here’s my parcel. Here’s what I’m wanting to do. What do I do next?’ ” he said. “That was the beginning.”
He found that the zoning constraints of the Gallatin Pike Specific Plan — a land-use plan designed to make development on the street more “context sensitive” in an as-yet-unrealized pedestrian-friendly, New Urbanist-approved context — didn’t allow for an animal storage business on his property. So he requested a change.
Baker didn’t realize that while he was trying to get his business off the ground, the emerging plan was primed for drastic adjustment. In June, District 5 Councilman Jamie Hollin moved to exempt the parts of his district that are now part of the Gallatin SP. In effect, that would mean all of the west side of Gallatin, from 10th Street to Trinity Lane, would look much different than the other side of Gallatin.
Per Hollin’s request, Metro Council Attorney Jon Cooper examined the plan and said in a legal opinion that a requirement, that existing noncompliant buildings — grandfathered in when the plan was adopted — wishing to expand must do so within the terms of the plan, was illegal under state law.
In a June City Paper article, Hollin called the plan a “hindrance to future development” along the street. He did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Fast-forward to last week, when the Metro Council held a public hearing on a zoning amendment that would change 27 acres of the Gallatin Pike SP — along Gallatin between Chicamauga and Burchwood avenues — from mixed-use residential to mixed-use.
District 6 Councilman Mike Jameson said the new amendment is a step forward in bringing the type of new development that’s actually being sought in the neighborhood. The current zoning requires that new developments incorporate residential space. The new one would not.
“My understanding of the history of it is that there were worthwhile proposals for developments being considered that simply did not, by their very nature, include residential components,” Jameson said. “And after a certain critical mass was reached, the planning department came to the recommendation that that part of the SP guidelines needed amending.”
The ordinance, which was approved last week but still must be voted on again before it can be enacted, was not proposed as a measure to stop Hollin from pursuing his exemption, Jameson said.
“He wanted to combine both this amendment with a consideration for his amendment to opt out entirely, but I had two constituents, Joe Goller and Barbara Brown [who own four properties that would be affected by the current zoning], who were waiting for this amendment to pass. There was no point in holding them up,” Jameson said. “So this not intended as some sort of compromise to keep Councilman Hollin in the fold. It was pretty clearly not the case.”
Indeed, Hollin was the sole sponsor of another ordinance, passed on second reading last week, that would waive any fee for a council member requesting a zoning change for 10 or more parcels, including from a specific-plan zoning to any other type.
In other words, the change, as a whole, really had nothing at all to do with the dog day care, Jameson maintains, which is why he said he was puzzled that Hollin added an entire section specifying that animal boarding facilities be allowed in the plan. Along with Hollin, council members Jameson, Erik Cole and Karen Bennett were all sponsors of the original bill.
“I don’t know [why it was added]. What put me in a difficult situation, as well as council members Cole and Bennett — and none of us are faultless here — was that for the past couple of weeks, while the Gallatin SP amendment was pending and being advertised for a public hearing, the No. 1 question that I got and I think those other two got was, ‘Does this have anything to do with the Baker brothers?’ To which we were able to immediately mollify people by saying, ‘It has nothing to do with them.’ ”
The reason for that concern, Jameson believes, is that many area residents don’t trust the Bakers. First, because they rented their building to Hot Flix. Despite the fact that the plan prohibits adult video stores, Hot Flix operated under an interpretation of zoning law that permitted such a business if less than 50 percent of its inventory is sexually oriented, according to a 2007 City Paper article.
The other issue, Jameson said, has to do with an East Nashville email listserv. On Sept. 1, Chad Baker, under the user name “The Dog Spot,” posted a message with the subject “Help Close Hot Flicks [sic] for good,” urging residents to support a zoning change. It was almost immediately misleading: “The Dog Spot has leased space at 1004 Gallatin Ave where Hot Flix video is located. However, the building is not currently zone for a Doggy Day care. Help us change the zoning and shut down Hot Flicks all at the same time.” [sic]
Nowhere did that first message mention that the Dog Spot equals the Bakers equals the owners of the building, something that other members figured out within the day. That prompted another message from Baker, in which he revealed himself fully and asked that any concerned neighbors contact him, listing his email address and phone number.
“I got on there, and I put my email address and my phone number in case people wanted to chat with me themselves, which no one has done but I have offered,” Baker said.
To his critics, he added, the change will have the effect that many of them have asked for: getting rid of the Hot Flix.
“I’m the only one who’s willing to spend money and fight to change that,” he said. “I’m the one trying to change it, so you would think that — people, politicians get caught for drugs or doing something illegal and they get re-elected. People seem to usually give people a second chance.”