Zoning, Zoning, Zoned

DURING THE SUMMER OF 2014, Nashville witnessed zoning issue debates that were hotter than the temperatures.
     The Council public hearing on July 1 witnessed a Conservation Zoning Overlay filing for West Nashville’s Sylvan Park neighborhood that prompted over two hours of public debate on that one bill alone with the pro- side wearing green armbands and the anti- side donning pink tee shirts. At the end of the impassioned debate, Council Member Jason Holleman asked the Council to defer the bill indefinitely and implored the two opposing sides to seek common ground.
     By contrast, later that same evening the Lockeland Springs neighborhood’s second Conservation Zoning Overlay expansion of 2014 passed with literally no opposition expressed. The Lockeland Springs Neighborhood Association board and volunteers had already spoken to their neighbors to determine the level of support for this second CZO expansion prior to requesting CM Peter Westerholm to file the rezoning. After passing this public hearing on July 1st, the second Lockeland Springs CZO expansion was finalized on July 15 and went into effect a few days later. Building permits issued prior to the Overlay’s effective date are still valid for six months from their origination date, so Lockeland Springs may still experience a few nonconforming building projects this Fall.
     The same July 1 Metro Council hearing also included debate about the East Greenway Park Specific Plan (SP) for the intersection of Eastland and Rosebank Avenues in the Rosebank neighborhood. Proponents cited the addition of sidewalks on and adjacent to the site, the inclusion of a tree save and a greenway connection as community benefits of the development. Representatives from the Rosebank Neighborhood Association expressed residents view that the benefits offered in the SP did not offset concerns about traffic and quality-of-life changes that would be brought about by the addition of 62 residential units and the insertion of a corner commercial use in the low-medium density residential area. CM Westerholm reiterated the benefits of the SP proposal as he requested and received Council approval for this rezoning.
     A third bill that was heard at the July 1 Council public hearing was for a Landmark Overlay District rezoning for 1627 Shelby Ave in Lockeland Springs. The Landmark Overlay District identifies a structure as a community landmark and grants additional land uses such as office, retail or recording studio uses to that parcel as a preservation incentive for retaining that unique structure. The owners of properties with this kind of zoning must acknowledge that the additional land uses are conditioned upon the preservation of the landmark feature and that demolition or removal of that feature will result in the loss of the additional land uses, which may be contrary to the residential-only land-use policies set forth in the Community Plan.
     In this case, 1627 Shelby Ave is a house with an attached corner structure that originally served as the Simpkins Grocery but for the last several decades has been zoned residential only and has previously been excluded from expansive neighborhood corner commercial use considerations. The property owners leased the building to Andrew Clancey, who moved to East Nashville from New York City and expressed an interest in opening a fashion retail store called Any Old Iron at the site.
     Several nearby neighbors expressed opposition to aspects of the retail use included in this property’s Landmark Overlay District rezoning at the July 1 Council public hearing. But CM Westerholm requested and received Council approval after indicating that he would work with the applicants to craft a final site plan that addressed neighbor concerns about specific uses, hours, parking arrangements and other details.
     The follow-up Planning Commission hearing in August witnessed a final impassioned debate on this application. The property owners and rezoning supporters cited the unique nature of the structure and the benefits to the immediate neighborhood that a corner retail offering would bring.
     Opponents countered that the recent Conservation Zoning Overlay expansion protected the historic structure and removed the threat of its demolition from any bargaining agreement. They also argued that the majority of the supporting letter writers did not live in East Nashville — or even Tennessee — and provided a statistical and mapped analysis of letters received by the Planning Department staff which demonstrated that all letters written by nearby neighbors within a one-block radius were in opposition to the request.
     Neighbors who spoke in opposition went on to state that retail uses in general and Any Old Iron in particular are welcome in East Nashville, but that the specific constraints of this particular building and intersection make retail use there inappropriate, although some neighbors acknowledged that other limited commercial uses might be feasible and acceptable at that corner. LSNA president Elizabeth Smith cited a lack of advance communication on the part of CM Westerholm and the property owners as reasons for opposing this corner retail rezoning application, which she said should have been approached with careful community planning but instead resembled capitulation to random individual property owners.
     At the end of the testimony CM Westerholm stated that he “respectfully disagreed” with the immediate neighbors and requested and received Planning Commission approval for the final site plan to allow the retail use. After the hearing, some neighbors who testified against the rezoning congratulated Andrew Clancey and welcomed him to the East Nashville business community regardless of how the rezoning was achieved.
     In addition to these specific zoning efforts, East Nashvillians participated heavily in ongoing efforts over the summer to pass countywide infill housing reform bills.
     Passage of BL2014-769, which expanded eligibility to build Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (apartments over garages or “mother- in-law apartments”), was covered in the July|August edition of The East Nashvillian.
     BL2014-770: Two-Family Dwellings (the “duplex bill”) has been deferred due to significant developer opposition, and community meetings to debate the amendments are being scheduled before the bill is brought up for a final reading. At press time, the amended bill would disallow building permits for umbilicalcord duplexes countywide and would allow the removal of such connectors on existing buildings. The bill would require that 20- feet or 80 percent of the building’s length — whichever is greater — attach “attached duplexes,” starting at the front facade. In the case of detached duplexes, the bill would limit the height of new structures to no more than 1.6 times the width, although up to three feet of foundation height would be excluded from that height calculation. Finally, the bill’s current amendment proposal would ban front-loading garages and front parking pads on duplexes and instead require rear or side garage access. The final bill language is still being determined at press time.
     BL 2014-771: Contextual Overlay District had been previously deferred until August 19 when it passed its final hurdle thanks to a county-wide grassroots letter writing campaign urging Council approval of the creation of this Overlay option in spite of prominent real estate investor opposition. The Council deliberations culminated in the bill’s sponsor, CM Walter Hunt, holding up reams of countywide supporting constituent emails and calling for a vote. CM Hunt’s motion carried with a comfortable 29-6 margin.
     The Contextual Overlay District is now an option that is available to neighborhoods across the county who wish to work with their Council Members to apply for it. This kind of an Overlay does not prevent demolitions and does not require design reviews, but it does limit the size of new construction homes or additions to existing homes to be no more than a certain percentage larger than the average of the four neighboring properties. At press time, the Metro Zoning Administrator is preparing guidance for calculating these measurements for building permit applications as neighborhoods begin evaluating whether or not this new tool meets their objectives.