Bill would allow more cottage homes in Urban Services District

Monday, June 13, 2011 at 10:05pm

Metro Councilman Erik Cole said Monday he is optimistic his bill to allow more flexibility with “cottage-style housing” in Nashville could gain support as he modifies the legislation to ease concerns.

The bill awaits a third reading at the council’s second meeting in July.

Currently, cottage developments — examples of which includes Fatherland Court in East Nashville near Five Points and Germantown Court in Germantown — are permitted only within districts zoned for multifamily dwellings. Cole’s ordinance amends the zoning code to add single-family cottage developments as a use permitted with conditions in some two-family (R) zoning districts.

The Metro Planning Commission has already voted for approval, meaning only a simple-majority vote from the 40-member Metro Council is needed.

If Cole’s bill, co-sponsored with Parker Toler, is approved, cottage developments will be allowed on more acreage within the city’s Urban Services District than is currently the case. A minimum of four and a maximum of 12 homes, with accompanying green space, would be allowed.

The use of cottage developments in multifamily-zoned districts began in 2006. As allowed, cottage developments are defined in the existing zoning code as single-family residential developments of four to 10 dwelling units arranged on small lots and sited toward a common open space on at least two sides. Since ’06, developers have not taken advantage of it due to the density restrictions created by the bulk standards, Cole said.

Community worries, in part, spurred Cole’s legislative effort.

“I get some emails from concerned citizens [about how] we were backdooring higher-density duplexes and zero-lot line homes,” Cole said, adding he is amending his bill to 1. limit cottage home development to only specific residential districts (R6, R8 and R10) and 2. remove from it the allowance of on-street parking. However, the original requirement of impervious surfaces for parking will be retained.

Cole, who represents District 7 and the general Inglewood area, said if the bill passes, developers would require only Metro Planning Department site review and planning commission final site plan approval and, as such, would not have to go before the Metro Council. And, he added, “onerous fees” would be eliminated. 

As an incentive to developers, Cole said the ordinance provides a density bonus of up to 1.5 times the units allowed under the base zoning district, with no minimum lot size. This would allow, he said, significantly greater density on infill lots in well-established urban neighborhoods. However, the density bonus would not be available if an historic structure has been demolished on the site within the two years prior to site plan approval.

With Cole’s plan, homes must be 1 or 1.5 stories with a maximum height of 25 feet. The maximum building footprint is 1,000 square feet. All units must either face the street or a common open space. The development must designate at least 350 square feet of common open space per unit. In addition, each unit must have at least 200 square feet of contiguous private open space next to the unit for use by the homeowner. All parking must be screened from the common open space, from all public streets and from the properties adjacent to the cottage development. A covered front porch of at least 60 square feet is required for all units.

Cole acknowledged pushback from those who feel the ordinance approaches zoning in such a way that removes some authority currently enjoyed by council members.

Metro Councilman Phil Claiborne said he favors cottage development in a broad sense but opposes Cole’s bill.

“My primary concern is that this is a text change that results in taking this particular zoning category out of control of the council member and out of the influence of the community,” said Claiborne, who represents District 15 and the Donelson/Pennington Bend area.

“In Pennington Bend, I have 130 R-zoned properties,” Claiborne said. “Some are large enough that if the ordinance passes, there could be clusters of 10 of 12 developments in several places of this acreage. It would be excess development, period. This ordinance opens a door that I couldn’t do anything about.”

Claiborne said the bulk of Pennington Bend is accessed and serviced by a two-lane road only.

“Cottage development is fine for some areas but not the entire [Urban Services District],” he said.

March Egerton, an East Nashville-based developer and property manager, said cottage development homes are a “a terrific option” for people at both ends of the age spectrum: first-time homebuyers and those buying their last homes. He said a city’s having a range of housing types is a plus.

Egerton said the bill, which he supports, comes with enough restrictions that a mass increase in cottage development won’t happen.

“From an infill perspective, there is not a lot of acreage to allow for this,” he said. “Critics misunderstand the negatives.”

Cole, who deferred having a second-reading vote on the bill during the most recent council meeting so as to amend it, said he wants to provide incentives to developers wanting to undertake quality urban infill.

“In this economic environment,” he said, “it seems to make good sense to incentivize quality and innovative infill development. This bill would help meet new market demand for various homebuyers.”

12 Comments on this post:

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 6/14/11 at 6:48

When will the developers be stopped from running the city? If the people want more density they will ask for it.

By: AmyLiorate on 6/14/11 at 8:56

If people want more density then they will buy it. If not then the developers will fail... that's just the way the system works.

Claiborne said. “Some are large enough that if the ordinance passes, there could be clusters of 10 of 12 developments in several places of this acreage. It would be excess development, period. This ordinance opens a door that I couldn’t do anything about.”

Does this display a bit of the control freak some of Metro planners and officials have? Pennington Bend isn't going to suffer if some cottages are built around a open space. Look at Penn Mead sometime. People seem to be doing fine, it's not like Pennington Bend is going to have a lot of sprawl.

By: girliegirl on 6/14/11 at 9:36

More density has been highly criticized by Planning in the past. Now that there is economic plight, they're are realizing it's the future for some areas. Not all of us can afford McMansions.

By: JeffF on 6/14/11 at 10:49

Higher density is not evil, it is actual wise. What happens though is zealots try to reach the golden egg of "smart growth" and the end of evil "sprawl" by enacting laws, rules, and protections to force other people into something they may not necessarily see the need or benefit of.

It would be wise if the planners of government did not get in the way of higher density development as long as it is properly accessible (connections between neighborhoods). At the same time it would be even wiser to start planning public transit systems that were not downtown-centric and start planning to better connect the neighborhoods (including the newer and denser ones) to each other. Listen to but graciously ignore the people who think the Brentwood development style (>1 acre lots, nonconnected adjacent subdivisions, segregated residential and business areas) is gee-wiz.

By: JeffF on 6/14/11 at 10:50

girliegirl I will. point out that McMansions were invented for higher density developments. McMansions are the things people are trying to prevent with protection of large lots.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 6/14/11 at 11:04

The people of Brentwood moved there to get what they wanted. Same goes for Green Hills, Forrest Hills, West Meade etc. When government tries to force people to do what they don't want to do it's always a mistake either in the short term or almost assuredly in the long term. People who don't want what you do, i.e. high density, neighborhood connections, public transit etc., aren't wrong just different in their lifestyle choices. If you want to live in a downtown vertical tube or travel in a public vehicle it's all there for 'ya. Just don't try to change other peoples neighborhoods to your liking. By the way public servants who don't listen to their bosses, the people, won't be public servants long. Just ask the Democratic House or the state legislature. Or maybe the President.

By: localboy on 6/14/11 at 11:21

Replace 'government' with reactionary radicals and you might have a point...

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 6/14/11 at 12:18

The people of Brentwood moved there to get what they wanted. Same goes for Green Hills, Forrest Hills, West Meade etc. When "reactionary radicals" tries to force people to do what they don't want to do it's always a mistake either in the short term or almost assuredly in the long term. People who don't want what you do, i.e. high density, neighborhood connections, public transit etc., aren't wrong just different in their lifestyle choices. If you want to live in a downtown vertical tube or travel in a public vehicle it's all there for 'ya. Just don't try to change other peoples neighborhoods to your liking. By the way public servants who don't listen to their bosses, the people, won't be public servants long. Just ask the Democratic House or the state legislature. Or maybe the President. There 'Ya go.

By: JeffF on 6/14/11 at 2:26

It is not the job of government to protect NIMBYs rights to control the neighboring properties they do not own. People complaining about higher density are not complaining about too many houses on their own land they are complaining about too many houses on the land owned by others.

Everyone is for private property rights as long as it is the other people's property being controlled and not their own. If you don't want high density fine, don't build some many houses on your land. But don't bully the officials elected by EVERYONE into protecting your neighbors out of their own rights.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 6/14/11 at 3:04

"Everyone" has to live in the neighborhood thats why we have rules against barking dogs, burning leaves and in someplace's clotheslines. Higher density doesn't just bring in more houses and people it also brings in all their stuff, more cars, traffic, parties, domestic disputes, traffic signals, stop signs, I could go on and on. Many psychology experiments have shown what happens when to many rats are put into to small a space. Cannibalism! But, if anyone thinks all of this is about social bliss and improving anyone's lifestyle then think again. It's all about the money, how much can a developer cram on one piece of land. Especially when he/she don't have to live with the downside but can go back to their 2 acre bliss. Wise up people.

By: JeffF on 6/14/11 at 6:20

Developers do not build houses on land they do not own. But attacking land owners for selling to build a lot more houses smacks of being a tad bit two faced on propert rights. That is why the faceless evil developer was invented to allow NIMBY types to attack development without attacking the property rights of others. The faceless evil developer will never stand up to a NIMBY while another real property owner in the adjacent property will argue their differing opinion on what to do with their land.

I once watched a group of neighbors testify before another city board about how they watched this one old farmer take care of his beautiful land. When he died his kids and grandchildren did not wish to continue in that business so they sought permission to rezone the land so a development company could build a large mixed use community. The neighbors who not once offered to buy the land they enjoyed for free for years took turns attacking the developer. Not one negative comment about the real movers of the deal, the family/owners. The neighbors eventually were forced to crawl back under the log they crawled from.

By: AmyLiorate on 6/15/11 at 9:38

Great observation Jeff. I live by a nice farm as well. If they die then it is prime for $400,000 homes, very convenient to shopping and not far from downtown. The owners turn down offers all the time.

But if/when they die I will have enjoyed the view for a long time. That's something to be thankful for. If it gets developed then I can accept that or I can move. That's my right.

Now there are bounds, if something will degrade the value of my home, then that has to be factored in. But simply building more homes is not a detriment.

The whole city of Houston Texas has NO land use zoning. You can do what you like. Imagine how much time gets wasted with all this zoning board, fighting, lawyers, etc.