Fine Arts or Auto Parts? Charlotte Avenue Corridor struggles to reinvent itself

Monday, May 19, 2008 at 2:20am


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District 24 Councilman Jason Holleman knows so much about land use and zoning issues that it’s almost difficult to have a conversation with him about either topic — like talking to the office “Web” guy about Java script.

From his time in law school at Tulane, to his stint in the Tennessee Attorney General’s office and now as the city attorney for Mt. Juliet, Holleman has long viewed studying urban land use as much of a hobby as a profession. Just seven months into his first term as a Metro Council member, already Holleman is viewed as a resource on land use and zoning issues.

But the first real land use issue facing Holleman isn’t simply about technical terms like Urban Design Overlay, Detailed Corridor Design Plan or Special Purpose (SP) zoning. It’s about the timeless struggle between Old Nashville and New Nashville. This time, it appears to be between established business owners who like things the way they are and a young Councilman who is pushing for change.

That’s why Holleman initiated a series of public meetings through the Planning Department concerning the future land use plan for the Charlotte Avenue Corridor, which runs along the pike between 42nd Avenue North and Richland Creek.

Holleman gave a television interview where he described the potential for the corridor to be “exactly like Hillsboro Village or better.”

“I think in an ideal world, what you would see is we bring it back to look a lot like it did 50 years ago,” Holleman told The City Paper. “Thriving local businesses, pedestrian-oriented traffic. You’ve got a park that’s utilized. You’ve got people that live in the neighborhood shopping at the businesses along the corridor, rather than just being car-oriented and national chain type stuff.”

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Auto businesses dominate corridor

As it is now, the corridor serves as Nashville’s unofficial auto district. Car parts stores, repair garages and custom body shops line the corridor. The businesses are established — some have been there for more than 50 years.

“This is a very tight-knit community out here and we are all extremely inter-related,” said Mark Lambert, owner of the custom car shop Lambert Auto. “I’m the new guy between my two neighbors and I’ve only been here 25 years.

“We’re all connected, we trade business back and forth. We are all established and we’re already developed here.”

Lambert and real estate attorney Lee Cohen, whose family has done business on the corridor since the 1940s, have served as the unofficial spokesmen against Planning’s Land Use Plan, which just concluded its fifth public meeting last week.

Cohen and Lambert insist they aren’t categorically opposed to change, but take issue with how they say Holleman has gone about initiating it.

“I am not opposed to change,” Cohen wrote in a letter to Council and Mayor Karl Dean. “I am opposed to change being thrust upon me.”

It’s a point Holleman takes serious issue with, arguing he has made every effort to discuss the issue with Cohen and Lambert.

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A district divided

The battlefront for the debate on the future of the corridor has been the 87-year-old Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ building. Earlier this year one of the national chains for which Holleman expressed a distaste, Rite-Aid pharmacy, pulled out of a $3 million deal to purchase the property.

Holleman initially attempted an SP zone change to the property, which created a whirlwind with both the church congregation and neighbors on both sides of the issue.

“You’ve got a church, 200 bedrock members of this neighborhood, and this is the way he goes about his business,” Lambert said.

But Holleman has pressed on. He’s vowed to find a use for the property that prevents the building from being demolished and fits with the future vision he sees for the corridor.

At the center of the potential future of the Charlotte Avenue Corridor Holleman sees is the creation of a budding Arts District. Already arts-related businesses have taken hold along the pike — storefronts like LeQuire Art Gallery, the Darkhorse Theater, Fabu decorations and the Global Education Center.

Those business owners view arts as a possible tool to bring outsiders to the neighborhood and to bring something more to the corridor than McDonald’s and Mrs. Winner’s

“I think it’s a friendlier neighborhood when there are businesses that are open and inviting and have interesting things in them,” said Darkhorse Theater owner Shannon Wood, who has been on Charlotte Avenue for 20 years. “Having it be an arts corridor here would be fabulous.”

And the controversial church building may be the catalyst for the corridor’s change-over from auto to arts. A group of local artists is in the process of banding together with a developer in a potential effort to purchase the building for use as an artist co-op, where painters, sculptors, writers and perhaps even musicians can use offices as studio space.

The group, fronted by Adrienne Outlaw, hasn’t made a bid on the property, yet, but it is touring the church building this week.

“I was really attracted to the beauty of the architecture of the church,” Outlaw said. “It’s right off the interstate, it’s situated with Charlotte Avenue and Sylvan Park. The Darkhorse Theater is there, Fabu is there, LeQuire gallery is there. The Global Education Center is there.

“I was following that area as one that hasn’t happened yet, but it could.”

Jennifer Carlat with the Metro Planning Department says history shows arts can help improve a neighborhood — whether its 12South here in Nashville, or in other cities throughout the country.

“I think artists… bring in people to see their galleries, and that draws in people who maybe want to go to dinner or go to a coffee shop,” Carlat said. “Maybe they stop and look at books on Rhino. I think it does draw people in.”

But a group of neighbors remain who take issue with how the process has started, and question why current business owners weren’t consulted about whether the corridor needs to be revitalized at all.

“I’m not naïve enough to think this is just a land use plan,” Cohen said. “I believe an Urban Design Overlay (which applies more specific zoning for future development) is coming.”

It’s that high wire act between the business owners’ gripes and the belief that the Charlotte corridor could become Nashville’s next Hillsboro Village and a destination district for the arts community that Holleman is trying to walk.

“I think the arts is a draw so it broadens the base of interest in that area,” Holleman said. “I think arts are the kind of thing people will travel out of their own area to see. When you’re talking about theater and art gallery, it’s a destination location. Once they come for the arts area, they’ll stay for retail and restaurants. It will help from a marketing standpoint.”

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By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 7:00

If anybody thinks Charlotte Pike and the "nation" are ready for prime time they must have just smoked a doobie.

By: Funditto on 12/31/69 at 7:00

The Nations is becoming more and more gentrified and Sylvan Park, which is just a block away from this area has turned. I see lots of traffic in that area, both good and bad. It's too early to tell what will happen but Holleman's intentions are good, IMO.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 7:00

An arts center would be a good use for the church. Certainly better than knocking it down for a chain drugstore, or another 'adaptive use' for a church building I've seen next to I-40.As for established businesses, they are already there and have every right to stay there. There should be more effort made to coexist. In many older cities, industrial and retail uses coexist with artist lofts and the like. Diversity of uses in neighborhoods is actually good planning.There is an auto shop in that area which looks like it is re-using an old fire hall. Like this proposal for the church, it is a use that allows the building to remain viable rather than be replaced by a cookie-cutter national chain building.

By: nvestnbna on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I agree the 'Nations' are moving in a positive direction. Charlotte as an arts district sounds good to me as well. Thanks Alan LeQuire, Dark Horse and Fabu.What is more problematic is when an activist council person starts rezoning folks property to thwart a legal sale he/she happens to oppose, regardless of his well meaning intentions. Taking of property in this manner is unfair to the owners, in this example members of a church that have been in this community during thick and thin and don't deserve to have their property or value confiscated in this manner.

By: bnakat on 12/31/69 at 7:00

When Councilman Holleman tells you he has made every effort to discuss an issue, that translates to "convince you to do it my way." The man is adept at political maneuvers, or whatever it takes to ram through what HE WANTS. It matters not who gets harmed. He tells the public about his efforts to work with people, but that is simply disingenuous--and that is being kind.The whole tenor of this article centers on "my way." A small vocal group backs him, some out of genuine concern, and others for reasons unknown. This is not a case where a few disgruntled folks resist his ideas. This is a clear case of MINORITY rule. When business owners are polled, or meetings of the opposing sides are held, he loses. But he has the power, and resources, so he just uses leverage, and once again, "gets his way."

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 7:00

sorry but only another church could ever buy the building. You cannot selectively enforce the deed restrictions councilman. Let the building rot or raise the money to buy the church for what the drug store was going to pay.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Too bad there were no similar deed restrictions on the church that became a nudie bar.With the deed restrictions, Jeff is right. Church services would have to be held there.

By: sandburn on 12/31/69 at 7:00

nvestnbna, I don't mind an "activist council person" -- that's what we elect them to do. (What I DO mind is activist judges, whose job it is to interpret and apply the law, not change it.)A Charlotte Avenue arts corridor is intriguing. That would no doubt attract folks who'd spend money, as well as enhance property values. As Time for Truth pointed out, established businesses should be able to co-exist very nicely with them -- it doesn't have to be "either/or."
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