A new progressive set of zoning guidelines known as the “Downtown Code” enjoyed definitive Metro Council approval Tuesday night, officially becoming Nashville’s new framework for future development in its urban core.
Inspired by the 2007 Downtown Community Plan, the Downtown Code bucks the prevailing method of basing zoning regulations on land use categories such as residential, commercial and industrial. Instead, the proposal embraces design-oriented standards — signage, proximity to the street and entrance and parking locations, for example.
Hailed by those in the urban design community, the Downtown Code moves “from a focus on use to a focus on form,” planners like to say. In other words, the function of a building is less important than how it interacts with its surrounding neighborhood.
Councilman Mike Jameson, who represents portions of downtown and co-sponsored legislation to adopt the code, called its passage “enormously significant” in changing the way Nashville’s downtown grows.
The long-awaited final version of the zoning plan — devised to facilitate more mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly pockets within downtown — arrived on first reading at the council in December following a two-year study and community outreach effort conducted by the Metro planning department.
Even before the department embarked on that study, planners had already found the existing downtown zoning system to be out of sync with recent downtown developments, including the Pinnacle at Symphony Place office tower and the Row 8.9 Lofts on Rosa Parks Boulevard. Both projects required exemptions from zoning requirements, hurdles now removed with the passage of the Downtown Code.
The designated area is outlined by Jefferson Street to the north, the interstate highway loop to the south and west, and the Cumberland River to the east.
In addition, the plan divides downtown into four general zones: the Gulch neighborhood along 12th Avenue, as well as north, south and central downtown. Planners who created the guidelines envision replicating the kind of mix-used development found in the 12South neighborhood, downtown Church Street and Broadway.