Lipscomb runs into neighborhood opposition to its expansion

Monday, October 1, 2012 at 12:18am

A full spread in a glossy pamphlet advertising Lipscomb University’s $125 million fundraising campaign stresses the importance of community. “Living our values where we live,” the page proclaims.

But some neighbors in Green Hills aren’t feeling the love.

Lipscomb is attempting to make several changes to its institutional overlay, a set of zoning rules that stresses cooperation with surrounding residential communities.

The main point of contention is a Lipscomb-owned apartment complex, Parkwood Terrace, that the school wants to convert to a development office (which coincidentally will oversee the aforementioned fundraising campaign). But Parkwood Terrace isn’t in the school’s institutional overlay. The building is on the west side of Belmont Boulevard, across from Lipscomb.

Neighbors contend that about a decade ago the school promised never to cross Belmont Boulevard.

“We took them at their word,” David Perkins, a longtime neighbor of Lipscomb, said. “We did and still do view their promise as a verbal and moral contract.”

The staff of the Metro Planning Department and the Planning Commission has agreed, at least in part, with the neighbors. The staff recommendation was to disapprove Lipscomb’s proposal because it doesn’t “exemplify the proactive ‘sensitive and planned manner’ for campus expansion intended by the Zoning Code,” according to the staff report.

Specifically, they recommend that Lipscomb come up with a long-term plan for expansion west of Belmont Boulevard, rather than plopping an administrative building in a residential neighborhood. But any kind of long-term plan would likely put the university further at odds with neighbors.

Councilman Sean McGuire, whose district includes Green Hills and Lipscomb, has attempted to promote a compromise. At a community meeting in the Second Presbyterian Church gym last week, McGuire proposed relinquishing the Parkwood Terrace building in exchange for a promise not to build west of Belmont Boulevard for 20 to 25 years.

“I think this is an opportunity to really give the neighborhood something to hold on to,” McGuire told the crowd. “I think that if we were to just flat out say no, you can’t cross Belmont Boulevard, that Lipscomb might withdraw their request, and they might come back in a couple years.”

Lipscomb officials say they are amenable to the compromise — but many neighbors are still opposed. George Spain, who has lived on Observatory Drive for more than 30 years, said the transformation to an office building could create a domino effect in future years. Another neighbor said for Lipscomb, a span of 20 to 25 years would be “nothing to them.”

Neighbors also voiced worries about Lipscomb buying up additional properties on the west side of Belmont. But Lipscomb officials said they intend to use that property only for residential and investment purposes.

“In fact, Lipscomb’s institutional overlay demonstrates that the university sees its growth in the foreseeable future to be toward Lealand Avenue on the east side of the campus and to the north toward Grandview Drive,” a university press release said. “We are very proud to be a part of this residential community, and want to maintain its character.”

Lipscomb President Randy Lowry said in a letter to neighbor Elizabeth Thompson that “the fears expressed [by some neighbors] will not be realized.”

“Instead of harming the neighborhood, we believe the use will improve the neighborhood,” Lowry wrote in the letter, pointing out that the administrative building will be used only during daytime hours.

In addition to neighbors, members of the Planning Commission also had concerns about Lipscomb’s proposed amendment to the institutional overlay. After hearing public comments from eight people in favor of the plan and 11 opposed to it, the board voted to approve several small changes to the plan but ultimately to deny the conversion of Parkwood Terrace.

Councilman Phil Claiborne said he didn’t like the idea of Lipscomb’s expansion from a zoning perspective.

“To come and say, ‘We want to move across to one place,’ is an example of spot zoning,” Claiborne said. “You’re moving a commercial use into a residential area. That’s against our principles of zoning as it’s adopted in our code.”

The commission also raised the question of whether Lipscomb could find another place within the overlay to put the development office, rather than infringing across a previously established boundary.

“We could tear down some houses, maybe ... and put a development office in. But right now, on the map, those are all slated for other institutional uses,” Lipscomb’s general counsel Phil Ellenburg said.

But, ultimately, the commission wasn’t willing to grant Lipscomb the addition to the overlay.

“What raises a red flag ... is when you have a large portion of the neighborhood opposing,” Commissioner Greg Adkins said. “I don’t feel like the university has worked out the differences.”

Ellenburg said he plans to re-evaluate the proposal based on the commission’s feedback — and hopes to come to an agreement with neighbors.

6 Comments on this post:

By: Rasputin72 on 10/1/12 at 6:39

The neighbors should be glad that they were not part of the Vanderbilt land grab 30 years ago via eminent domain by a private school.

The domino effect will be good for these neighbors.

By: 4gold on 10/1/12 at 7:53

Sad that one persons only hobby is hating Nashville's largest employer.

Verbal contracts are not worth spit. My Green Hills street let a developer build an apartment complex saying nothing would ever be built in the grass tree filled lawn leading down to Hillsboro Rd. Bunk. They built two more huge complexes in that space and it is now condo village. If there is money to be made the developer always gets what ever they want. Single family Green Hills is under seige from make a buck developers. They will distroy it before long.

Metro has distroyed the Walter Stokes Elementary property on west side of Belmont. Why are they not complainning about that project? What is metro doing? The lawn and playyard are an enormous gravel pit.

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!

By: Preacher on 10/1/12 at 1:05

It is nice to see that Metro's Planning and Zoning Commissions are actually working as they should and listening to the neighborhood's concerns.  Recently, Lipscomb decided they wanted to build out athletic fields complete with stands, stadium lighting, and a field house in the City of Oak Hill.  Our Board of Zoning Appeals, chaired by lawyer Tom Lawless, approved their requested usage immediately even though every single neighbor in attendance opposed this in their literal backyards.  Also, known to Mr. Lawless was that many adjacent and nearby property owners had not received notification of Lipscomb's intentions and, therefore, did not attend this meeting.

Just as in the above story, these surrounding property owners also had an unwritten promise by the City of Oak Hill to never develop this property because it was in a flood plain. To break that promise, current city officials just claimed that it wasn't them that made that promise.  That's pretty dirty if you ask me and certainly not a city government that is looking out for its residents.  According to our city ordinances, any development that would hurt surrounding property values should be disallowed, so Mayor Austin MacMullen just insisted that it actually would help property values to be that near a lighted athletic stadium.  I can bet you that he has never had a real estate license, because that statement is not fact.  Actually, it is a lie.

We all know that development is eventually going to happen, but it should be slowed as to not come at huge expenses to existing properties or be detrimental to the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, Lipscomb's counsel told attendees to the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting that they will come back every year and fight for more allowances until they ultimately get what they want (Lipscomb already went back a month later and was able to increase their allowed usage under the lights by 50% even though that was not on the agenda and unknown to neighbors as even being proposed). This shows a blatant lack of concern for the people who live in these neighborhoods and that alone should scare the hell out of everyone who lives near this school.

By: pnance on 10/1/12 at 2:58

Lipscomb has been a considerate neighbor. The improvements to the campus, especially in the past five years, have enhanced the community and benefited property values. It's natural to resist change, but the university has proven to be thoughtful and communicative.

By: shinestx on 10/2/12 at 5:56

Has anyone noticed what Montgomery Bell Academy did to their neighbors along Brighton Road.

By: Rasputin72 on 10/3/12 at 7:27

MBA is the best neighbor of any elephant type institution in this city.