If you’re a developer interested in a project in one of Nashville’s most desirable neighborhoods, such as downtown, East Nashville or the Charlotte Avenue corridor, then the vocal opposition to May Town Center from city leaders should actually be encouraging.
Everyone from Metro Council members to planning commissioners have made it clear Nashville’s priority should be infill development, particularly inside the city’s urban core. Rather than swapping rolling green pastures for a second downtown, it has been decided the focus ought to be on raising the downtown occupancy rate above its current level of 37 percent.
That’s what Metro Council members such as Mike Jameson, Erik Cole, Megan Barry, Jason Holleman, Emily Evans and other neighborhood-first representatives said to justify their opposition to May Town Center construction in rural Bells Bend. Forget for a moment that the Planning Commission might actually give the 520-acre, $4 billion May Town Center project an unprecedented third vote.
The comments by Metro’s leaders, including the five planning commissioners who already have voted against the amendment to the land use plan that would have allowed May Town Center, ought to speak for themselves — “Preserve open spaces, build up downtown.”
Mayor Karl Dean has said as much himself, although he managed to do so without ever technically opposing MTC.
Prior to the Planning Commission vote last month, Dean told The City Paper that his preference was to use Nashville’s existing infrastructure and develop downtown first. The mayor followed by creating a new initiative to inventory and preserve Davidson County’s open spaces.
But supporting infill development comes with a price, and it’s a hefty one for “neighborhood” Council members to pay.
Instead of paying lip service to infill as an idea only, Council members must proactively work with Nashville’s development community; the time has come to move beyond preaching the value of land reuse and infrastructure utilization. The Council member ought to be soliciting development in their districts.
Immediately after the Planning Commission voted down the Bells Bend bill last month, an exasperated Metro Planning Director Rick Bernhardt pointed out the trouble with the “neighborhood” approach to development. Developers were proposing a multi-family housing development for the Green Hills area called “Valerie Crossings.” The proposal included about 300 units, and naturally the neighbors balked.
“I think the commission had a lot of good debate. I think the real issue is beyond this specific project,” Bernhardt said. “The issue is how do we do everything that was talked about tonight? How do we begin to have infill development — how do we make it easy to redevelop and to infill?
“Every project becomes a personal project that nobody wants,” he added. “We had a meeting last night in the Green Hills area, in a location that was exactly what we’re talking about, an infill location immediately adjacent to Green Hills that met everything that was talked about today, and the community doesn’t want it.”
It certainly bears mentioning that Green Hills has its own traffic and infrastructure issues. So while Bernhardt is technically correct that the Valerie Crossings proposal fits the criteria set out by neighborhood activists who opposed May Town Center, it is also smack in the middle of a traffic flow nightmare.
Another development worth watching down the pike is a mixed-use proposal for 10th Avenue South.
District 17 Councilwoman Sandra Moore is expertly navigating a complicated development proposal for the neighborhood. The proposal would bring 14,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space to what is currently a strictly residential street. It’s essentially 12South bleeding into 10th Avenue.
The proposal would use existing infrastructure and it would do so by fitting into the character of the neighborhood. Still, neighbors are split on the project.
“It is a trade off,” said Holleman, a pro-neighborhood Council member who regularly fields calls for proposed developments along Charlotte Avenue. “If we want to be committed to preserving open spaces, then we have to focus on infill development.”
Although Council members owe it to the development community to do more than verbally supporting infill development, developers also need to play a part.
Developers should be offering ideas, which fit within the character of an existing neighborhood, while also using its existing infrastructure.
Take The Gulch for example. The neighborhood in the railroad gulch between Broadway and Division Street has been transformed from a half-industrial wasteland into one of the sharpest neighborhoods in the country — yet many of the warehouse-style brick buildings are reminiscent of how the area looked years ago.
On July 23, the Planning Commission will decide if it is masochistic enough to consider May Town Center zoning again. That’s all well and good. But one must wonder if time and energy wouldn’t be better served talking about the fairgrounds, the riverfront, the area south of the proposed convention center site, or corridors like Charlotte Avenue.
It shouldn’t take three commission votes to give developments in those areas the green light.