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Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 12:00am

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.


11 Comments on this post:

By: gruntz on 7/23/09 at 10:48

Good point! Keep it up.

By: dogmrb on 7/23/09 at 12:40

Wow. It would be painful to watch another go round of this at the Planning Commission. Someone really has some money flowing somewhere.

By: nvestnbna on 7/23/09 at 12:56

Good article - and right on. But it's not only the council folks that need to be engaged in infill development - the Mayor, MDHA, need to as well. I think the planning community is frustrated by a lot of these projects being knocked down.

By: JeffF on 7/23/09 at 4:02

The Gulch is a pseudo in-fill project propped up with the construction of speculation condos. Any real business aside from bodegos servicing the soon-to-be-renters of all that vacant condo space will be gone.

In Fill is a great concept but it requires the parents to tie a steak around their homely child neck to get the dog to play. In Fill development come with the baggage of urban politics, hysterical preservation, anti-growthers disguised as hysterics, and the useless (bordering on dangerous) MDHA. so instead of developing land entirely on the the private dollar, In fill occurs almost entirely on the backs of the government itself.

MDHA is the last group that needs to be more involved with these projects. Their ownership of developable land only causes added expense and complication to developers interested in a project site. If MDHA did not control the Rolling Hill Mill and Riverfront areas, how much more would already be sitting there now? We just gave MDHA permission to purchase several city blocks of SoBro without any plan for using the land. Does this sound like the work of a government interested in real In-Fill growth or one wanting to control it to death?

By: producer2 on 7/24/09 at 6:56

Talk about your instant gratification society, JeffF you sound like nothing has happened in the city core for decades. Let's just reflect on the last 20 years. In 1990 Downtown Nashville was little more than a haven for pornography and strip clubs. That has ALL changed. Beginning with the vitalization of 2nd Ave. and The Ryman downtown has since become a place that both citizens and visitors can be proud of. Is there more to accomplish, yes but in the last 15 years the city has added the Frist Center for the Arts, Country Music Hall of Fame, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Sommet Center, LP Field, Viridian, Encore, Icon, and several more residential projects, the Suntrust and Pinnacle office complexes in the past two years and countless restaurants, hotels, and other attractions. Now the Riverfront Development plan starts, the MCC with at least one major hotel initiative and I would bet some major infill in the immediate area. Next projects will be the Thermal site (baseball or amphitheater) and the continuation of Rolling Mill Hill (which will survive) and the trolley barns. All the while Dean is focusing on the bigger picture of transportation, etc. I know you would like to have it happen yesterday but when put in perspective not terrible growth in recent years.

By: JeffF on 7/24/09 at 8:03

The majority of the growth you mentioned were governemental (non tax roll). The condos themselves were built whne it was our city's turn to fall for the condo hype craze. Some just happened to get built and occupied before the craze wound down to its eventual demise. The riverfront and Rolling Mill properties would have been built out by now without the MDHA thumb-in-the-pit management philosophy. There have been several instances where the history freaks have tried to block development or redevelopment because of old buildings with zero actual historic significance. I am sure that all their efforts did not raise the cost of any of those projects eventually gaining approval. How long did the hotel development (Westin I believe) get stretched out? Just long enough for the economy to collapse. They went through multiple design renditions hoping to garner favor only to be asked for more by the people who were going to oppose them no matter what. I would bet that there would be a hotel going up in that location now were it not for the extra time to meet the needs of the "No" people.

In Fill should not be done without government facilities. But in Nashville the government is the only one getting permission from the government to build anything.

By: producer2 on 7/24/09 at 9:29

Help me understand, the rebirth of Second Ave., The Country Music Hall of Fame, Schermerhorn, Hilton Suites, Viridian, Encore, Icon, Terazzo,all of the new restaraunts and shops in the Gulch, Suntrust, Pinnacle,Bennie Dillon, Westview, Arts Lofts, The Kress, The Phoenix, The Stahlman, are all government projects? I know they received incentives but who doesn't ANYWHERE. As far as the end of the earth as we know it, apparently history was never one of your favorite subjects in school. We are already showing upticks in the economy within 6 months of a new administration. Housing starts are up, the Dow is up, things are progressing. Let's just call it what it is, you are not a downtown person, the suburbs are your domain and that is perfectly fine, just keep it as opinion instead of fact.

By: JeffF on 7/24/09 at 10:07

This is who doesn't receive government incentitives: Everyone wanting to build somewhere other than in downtown. You remember the gasp that went up when Bellevue Mall's new owners asked for them. Elected representatives who previously could not approve them fast enough suddenly thought it was wrong to provide TIF money to private business.

government money AND land was provided for several items on your list. The restaurants replaced other businesses that previously were in those spots (usually other restaurants). The residences (still a relatively small number compared to actual Nashville neighborhoods) received TIF money AND in some cases were placed on MDHA controlled territory.

AS for the local economy you apparently did not read the NCP story here on these same pages this morning. The markets here in Middle Tennessee are still suffering and down with no light at the end of the tunnel. The banks are in trouble in the area.

As for being a suburb person. I am a suburb person like most people in Metro. We just laugh at the incessant and costly development effort placed on an area that has done so much to waste what has been given to it already. Downtown is indeed a slot machine that will apparently never pay off for a majority of the people being asked to support its bloat. Redevelopment is a theory that has done more damage to urbanism than white flight ever did. All redevelopment has done is raise the price of housing on the young and single people who choose to live "innner city chic" until the first kid comes along. Since most people in Nashville belong to families, government sponsored redevelopment as it is defined now will forever be a waste. Redevelopment has destroyed projects that would be beneficial to most Nashvillians in order to benefit a downtown with little actual promise of ever helping itself. Neighborhoods with jobs and homes have been defeated for a neighborhood with knick-knacks and places to bring out-of-town kin to look around. Downtown is for visitors, not Nashvillians.

By: grapa on 7/24/09 at 10:19

In the discussion period of the Mest Nashville Neighborhood Detailed Design Plan commissioners gave praise for the work of Commission Staff and the plan that was presented.

I believe it was mentioned about 11,000 population with 300 people participating in the planning process. What fraction is thes?

Ms. "Greensleeves" praised the plan, BUT, as she said I have to be concerned about the infill and green spaces in this neighborhood. She says that these areas may need more density than the plan calls for and do 'we' handle this in the future, when 'we' might support higher density than, lets' say, not 4 stories as the plan calls for but higher, more stories?

I am not that familiar with infill areas and green spaces in this corridaor, I do shop and travel that area very much, though. Where are these and isn't there enough heavy populated areas in West Nashville. I apologize if I error by saying West N. but if was used heavily last night.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 7/24/09 at 10:41

Do something with the Fairgrounds already!

By: WSPanic on 7/26/09 at 9:58

Green Ribbon report: Nashville Preds now Nashville Whoopin' Cranes