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VOL. 37 | NO. 1 | Friday, January 4, 2013

Green Hills jams about to worsen

New development will add to delays, serve as model for longterm solution

By Renee Elder

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A new 14-story, mixed-use development in the works for Green Hills fits nicely with Metro Nashville’s plans to remake the traditional 1940s neighborhood into a modern, urban village.

Urbanism, sometimes called New Urbanism, is a concept of city planning that strives to create livable, sustainable communities that are pedestrian and bike friendly, offer stores and services in close proximity to residents, and have higher density in residential population, all of which is designed to reduce traffic congestion.

But the construction hassles and traffic

jams necessary to create such a district are bound to raise the ire of many Green Hills residents and commuters who travel along the busy Hillsboro Road corridor and are still smarting from dealing with new Nordstrom traffic.

“It’s going to be the first big construction project in a while, and people are going to gnash their teeth,” says land-use attorney and former Metro Councilman David Kleinfelter. “But in reality, the traffic congestion the project will generate will be quite small when compared to the area’s total traffic.”

Transportation planners estimate daily vehicle counts on that portion of Hillsboro Road – roughly between Glen Echo and Hobbs roads and including entrances to The Mall at Green Hills and to Hillsboro High School – at slightly fewer than 30,000 cars per day.

Southern Land Company's development at Hillsboro and Richard Jones roads is planned to include about 265 efficiency, 1- and 2-bedroom units with condo-level finishes. It also will include townhouse and penthouse options. In addition, plans call for 5,000 square feet of ground-floor restaurant space and 24,000 square feet of Class A commercial office space.

-- Submitted

Southern Land Co. plans to spend nearly $40 million to build 265 apartments, 5,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and 24,000 square feet of offices and structured parking on slightly more than two acres that the company has under contract at the corner of Richard Jones and Hillsboro roads.

The Green Hills Service Center, The Well Coffeehouse, formerly a Burger King, and an office building will be razed to make room for the new development.

The project has been given primary approval by Metro and is expected to break ground in late 2013, says Michael L. McNally Jr., vice president of mixed-use development for Franklin-based Southern Land. McNally confirms also that a site plan was submitted to the city, received comments and a final plan has been turned in, keeping the project on schedule as 2012 came to a close.

Leasing could begin in spring 2015.

“Mixed-use development has been growing in the past several years,” McNally says. “People are focused on more urban environments where they can live, work and play. Nashville has not seen a lot of that, and Green Hills as a submarket has not seen any.”

The closest thing to this type of urban village in Green Hills is The Hill Center, where a strip shopping center underwent a $32 million redevelopment five years ago before opening as a high-end, retail mecca with its own streetscape and office space on upper floors.

The Hill Center has become a commercial success, helping pave the way for new thinking in an area of Nashville originally developed as a commercial corridor surrounded by single-family homes on large lots lacking sewer service.

Among the changes for Green Hills have been less-restrictive lot sizes in certain residential areas and more-compact development of commercial projects, resulting in a denser, more-urban atmosphere overall.

“City planners and developers have seen this modern trend coming for years,” says Mary Jon Hicks, chairwoman and co-founder of The Green Hills Action Partners (TGHAP). “They knew that retrofitting the Green Hills Business District was not going to be easy, but would be necessary.”

Developer McNally says his company so far has found guidelines set out by the planners to be straightforward.

“It’s nice to know what box of rules you have to design and build with,” he adds.

Among the design guidelines are mandatory 8-foot sidewalks adjacent to ground-level retail space, with pedestrian and crosswalk signals at crucial locations.

Green Hills Service Center and The Well Coffeehouse at Hillsboro Road and Richard Jones will be razed to make way for a mixed-use development of apartments, offices, restaurants and retail.

-- Photo: Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

Bike lane improvements also are expected to make it easier for residents to work, shop and dine out without getting into their cars.

One study showed a full 30 percent of traffic in Green Hills can be attributed to shoppers moving from store to store, says Kleinfelter, who also is president of Walk Bike Nashville.

“It’s kind of like the old Yogi Berra quote: ‘Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded,’ ” says Kleinfelter, who has lived near Hillsboro Road for more than a decade. “If we can make it more walkable, we can reduce that problem.”

The right-of-way along the Hillsboro corridor is narrow, so even room for bike lanes and new sidewalks will be limited.

Planners have been looking at the possibility of extending the rapid transit express bus, or BRT, proposed for West End Avenue from White Bridge to Five Points in East Nashville. At present, there isn’t enough room on Hillsboro Road for an express lane.

But despite the transit and traffic issues, Green Hills still has been potential to become the “neatest urban village in Nashville,” Kleinfelter says.

Worth the mess?

Even Hicks, whose Green Hills Action Partners association was formed in response to some neighborhood design proposals, has embraced the idea.

“When we realized that serious changes were about to happen in our community, we knew it was time to get actively involved in the planning process,” she says.

Today, members stay in close touch with councilmen, city planners, developers, business leaders on a variety of plans and proposals.

“Green Hills is forever changing and new ideas come up all the time,” she adds. It’s like renovating a house. During the process, it can be messy, aggravating and costly.… But when it’s all said and done, the end results can be very rewarding.”

New development has its benefits in less obvious ways, as well, she adds.

“Infrastructure is very expensive, and when a developer pays for the upgrade, that’s a big help to all of us,” Hicks says. “In fact, many times developers will even go above and beyond the basic requirements, and that is especially nice.”

Even more change, and the construction and traffic that goes with it, could be in store for the business district.

The Metro Planning Commission is scheduled to consider a zoning change on Jan. 10 to accommodate another large, mixed-use development with a hotel, retail, restaurant and office space at the point in which Crestmoor Avenue curves to become Cleghorn Avenue. Green & Little of Gallatin hopes to break ground in 2014, if approved.

Apartment living

For Southern Land, its mixed-use project has a special appeal because it will bring something to Green Hills that hasn’t been seen in a while – new apartments.

“Apartment stock in the Green Hills submarket is an older product,” McNally says. “We’ve seen some successful deals on West End and in the Gulch, but have not previously been able to come into Green Hills because of zoning, land cost and lack of available sites.”

A slight loosening of lending and investment purse strings in recent months has spurred several new developments, including Southern Land projects on Elliston Place, at the former site of Father Ryan High School, and in Cool Springs.

Rents for the efficiency, one- and two-bedroom apartments at the Green Hills site have not yet been set, but are likely to wind up in the $2 per square foot range, comparable to new residential projects in The Gulch, McNally says.

Steps to help manage traffic at the busy intersection will include a right-turn lane from Richard Jones Road and a left-turn lane for southbound traffic heading into the property.

Commercial real estate analysts say Nashville has weathered the economic storm of the past four years better than most cities, in part because of its cautious approach to approving development.

With storm clouds beginning to part, making sure that development demands are met within stated guidelines could give the region a further boost.

According to a study released earlier this year by the Congress for New Urbanism, neighborhoods that promote diversity in uses, income and access to alternative transportation options proved more resilient than traditional suburbs.

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