Overlay would cover downtown core, be 'developer friendly'

Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 10:05pm

A new historic overlay could be coming downtown to protect the architectural character of the area surrounding the Nashville Arcade and Printer’s Alley. 

Boundaries for the proposed historic overlay would be Third and Fifth avenues to the east and west, and Church and Union streets to the south and north. The overlay would be the third to affect downtown, with protections already in place for Broadway and Second Avenue.

“It encompasses the core of our historic downtown,” said Metro Historic Zoning Commission Executive Director Tim Walker, adding the proposed boundaries include the city’s old business, shopping and entertainment districts.

Metro Councilman Mike Jameson, who represents parts of downtown, sent a letter to downtown property owners earlier this week alerting them of the possible overlay. He said the decision whether to continue pursuing the overlay would be contingent on the majority preference of affected property owners.

“This is an area of town that has several structures of enormous significance to the city’s history,” Jameson told The City Paper.

The public is invited to attend a meeting on Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Downtown Presbyterian Church to discuss the proposal.

Historic overlays establish a set of guidelines to direct future construction, development and other structural changes in the area. They often institute architectural, design and building-material considerations in an effort to preserve historical integrity. 

To be approved, the historic zoning commission, Metro Planning Commission and Metro Council would need to clear the overlay.

Besides the Arcade and Printer’s Alley, other buildings within the proposed boundaries include the Downtown Presbyterian Church, the Southern Turf building, the former Noel Hotel, St. Cloud Corner and several structures on Fifth Avenue where civil rights protestors in the 1960s staged sit-ins. 

“These emblems of our heritage are certainly worthy of preservation, but our efforts must be balanced by concerns for property owners’ rights,” Jameson wrote in the letter. “Accordingly, I am working with the Metro Historical Commission and others to create an overlay that allows flexibility for property owners, supports new development and emphasizes potential financial incentives.” 

Nashville currently has 21 historic overlays, along with several overlays directed at specific landmarks.

Celebrated by historic preservationists, overlays sometimes cause headaches among the development community. In the last year, there have been two clashes resulting from the Broadway historic overlay.

One dispute involved a canopy erected by the bar Rippy’s. The other involved a proposed windowed-wall for Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafe. The historic commission and the principals involved settled differences in both cases.  

Walker said the hope would be to make the new historic overlay “developer friendly.”

“If there’s no support, we won’t go forward with it,” he said.


7 Comments on this post:

By: fdanshep on 1/7/11 at 7:26

"developer friendly" is the key. The Vieux Carre Commission in the French Quarter is so restrictive that owners have to replicate expensive material when a substitute material would be as good or better. For example in the event of roof damage, there are certain sections that require actual slate roofs when a synthetic slate would be as good or better and much, much cheaper. The pigeons are happy but hardly anyone else sees it.

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 1/7/11 at 7:47

While it is a nice idea to preserve "historic" structures, some rules infringe on the rights of the property owner. Within reason and within zoning rules, the person who owns the property should be one who decides what to do with it. If somebody really wants to keep a property from changing, he or she should buy it themselves.

By: Lealand419 on 1/7/11 at 10:49

Taxpayer, your laissez-faire notions may live up to some individualist ideal, but we live in a society, and our downtown in particular is all Nashville citizens' concern. Therefore, it's all Nashville citizens' right to have a say in what our city looks like and how it's developed. Already, far too many historic Nashville landmarks have been lost forever to the whims of private developers. That's not in the citizenry's best interest and does nothing to enhance Nashville's appeal to either residents or visitors. Let's not throw away what's left of our heritage just so someone can make make some more personal (or corporate) profit. I wholeheartedly applaud historic overlays!

By: JeffF on 1/7/11 at 11:20

by all means, lets continue to make even more decisions regarding livability by the citizens based on the city's appeal to visitors.

Tourism is an economic wasteland and is used to justify a lot of heritage-type, bad decisions. If the lives or citizens can measurably be improved by something like hysteric preservation then it is good. If old buildings are being saved in the name of history and no one's lives are being improved then it is a waste of time and resources.

Preservationists need to start backing up their conventional wisdom statements and start giving examples and statistics showing how their work and roadblocks have improved the lives of Nashvillians. Their statements paint pretty pictures of the utopias preservation creates, but there is very little substance in those words.

Same goes for downtown-first, urbanistas. Don't just say a strong downtown is important and all economic development efforts show go there. Tell us where this strategy has ever really truly worked in this country and how your ideas translate to those examples.

By: Lealand419 on 1/7/11 at 1:05

JeffF, I'm guessing you're a supporter of the MayTown fiasco.

Yes, mistakes have been made o both sides, but that does not warrant trashing preservationism. Without it, Nashville would likely be a vast wasteland of "modernism" (much of it trash): McDonald's and many many other chains galore. Let's take a sensible, balanced approach in our fair city: historic preservation of genuine sites along with infill with new, tasteful structures to bolster the city's core and bring it into the 21st century.

Nashville is woefully behind other major urban areas regarding population density, cities like Louisville, Memphis, Charlotte are all more densely populated than Nashville -- while many lots idle vacantly as eyesores, along with derelict buildings. I say preserve what's of historic value, and fill in the blank spots everywhere throughout the city.

Our (little remaining) history and historic sites give the city distinctive character. We don't need any more generic Anywhere USA's.

By: JeffF on 1/7/11 at 2:34

you do realize that there are newspapers in Louisville, Memphis, and Charlotte that tell the problems they are having right. Memphis hysteric preservationists waged a bitter hard-fought fight to take over a church property without having to pay for it. They just recently lost the fight when someone asked the question "is it historic, or just old?"

You tell me, are these properties "historic" or just old?

there is lots of history remaining in the Nashville. The problem is there is too much going on in downtown preservation to allow anyone to realize there is a whole county out there that also considers itself as important and historic as pointy-building downtown.

I agree with you on one point, infill is important. What I disagree with is that MDHA and others are only interested in infill when downtown is recognized as the only place it can occur. Portland, San Diego, the bay area, and other West Coast cities have turned into aged disaster areas with high property values and no families because preservation and "smart growth" groups have gotten land ruled off limits to housing and other development. Now baby boomers are beginning to notice that their children and their families can no longer afford to live in their neighborhoods and growth in California has stagnated. Keep all of Nashville growing and we will not duplicate the West Coast's failures. Keep all the focus on downtown and the disaster will be here soon. It is lucky that the donut counties are still doing the right thing for families and allowing growth to occur.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 1/7/11 at 5:05

Lealand419 I don't necessarily disagree with you but have you signed the Save our Fairgrounds petition yet?