Metro Councilman Erik Cole said Monday he is optimistic his bill to allow more flexibility with “cottage-style housing” in Nashville could gain support as he modifies the legislation to ease concerns.The bill awaits a third reading at the council’s second meeting in July.
Currently, cottage developments — examples of which includes Fatherland Court in East Nashville near Five Points and Germantown Court in Germantown — are permitted only within districts zoned for multifamily dwellings. Cole’s ordinance amends the zoning code to add single-family cottage developments as a use permitted with conditions in some two-family (R) zoning districts.
The Metro Planning Commission has already voted for approval, meaning only a simple-majority vote from the 40-member Metro Council is needed.
If Cole’s bill, co-sponsored with Parker Toler, is approved, cottage developments will be allowed on more acreage within the city’s Urban Services District than is currently the case. A minimum of four and a maximum of 12 homes, with accompanying green space, would be allowed.
The use of cottage developments in multifamily-zoned districts began in 2006. As allowed, cottage developments are defined in the existing zoning code as single-family residential developments of four to 10 dwelling units arranged on small lots and sited toward a common open space on at least two sides. Since ’06, developers have not taken advantage of it due to the density restrictions created by the bulk standards, Cole said.
Community worries, in part, spurred Cole’s legislative effort.
“I get some emails from concerned citizens [about how] we were backdooring higher-density duplexes and zero-lot line homes,” Cole said, adding he is amending his bill to 1. limit cottage home development to only specific residential districts (R6, R8 and R10) and 2. remove from it the allowance of on-street parking. However, the original requirement of impervious surfaces for parking will be retained.
Cole, who represents District 7 and the general Inglewood area, said if the bill passes, developers would require only Metro Planning Department site review and planning commission final site plan approval and, as such, would not have to go before the Metro Council. And, he added, “onerous fees” would be eliminated.
As an incentive to developers, Cole said the ordinance provides a density bonus of up to 1.5 times the units allowed under the base zoning district, with no minimum lot size. This would allow, he said, significantly greater density on infill lots in well-established urban neighborhoods. However, the density bonus would not be available if an historic structure has been demolished on the site within the two years prior to site plan approval.
With Cole’s plan, homes must be 1 or 1.5 stories with a maximum height of 25 feet. The maximum building footprint is 1,000 square feet. All units must either face the street or a common open space. The development must designate at least 350 square feet of common open space per unit. In addition, each unit must have at least 200 square feet of contiguous private open space next to the unit for use by the homeowner. All parking must be screened from the common open space, from all public streets and from the properties adjacent to the cottage development. A covered front porch of at least 60 square feet is required for all units.
Cole acknowledged pushback from those who feel the ordinance approaches zoning in such a way that removes some authority currently enjoyed by council members.
Metro Councilman Phil Claiborne said he favors cottage development in a broad sense but opposes Cole’s bill.
“My primary concern is that this is a text change that results in taking this particular zoning category out of control of the council member and out of the influence of the community,” said Claiborne, who represents District 15 and the Donelson/Pennington Bend area.
“In Pennington Bend, I have 130 R-zoned properties,” Claiborne said. “Some are large enough that if the ordinance passes, there could be clusters of 10 of 12 developments in several places of this acreage. It would be excess development, period. This ordinance opens a door that I couldn’t do anything about.”
Claiborne said the bulk of Pennington Bend is accessed and serviced by a two-lane road only.
“Cottage development is fine for some areas but not the entire [Urban Services District],” he said.
March Egerton, an East Nashville-based developer and property manager, said cottage development homes are a “a terrific option” for people at both ends of the age spectrum: first-time homebuyers and those buying their last homes. He said a city’s having a range of housing types is a plus.
Egerton said the bill, which he supports, comes with enough restrictions that a mass increase in cottage development won’t happen.
“From an infill perspective, there is not a lot of acreage to allow for this,” he said. “Critics misunderstand the negatives.”
Cole, who deferred having a second-reading vote on the bill during the most recent council meeting so as to amend it, said he wants to provide incentives to developers wanting to undertake quality urban infill.
“In this economic environment,” he said, “it seems to make good sense to incentivize quality and innovative infill development. This bill would help meet new market demand for various homebuyers.”