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VOL. 38 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 26, 2014

NashvilleNext planners move to next step

By Jeannie Naujeck

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Metro Planner Tifinie Capehart’s urban planning blog is at http://cityspeakonline.com.

As the city shifts into fall, planners are gearing up for the final phase of NashvilleNext, a three-year long planning process that will have a major impact on growth and development patterns in Davidson County over the next 25 years.

Next month, planners will present a draft of a “preferred” future growth scenario, based on public input gathered over the summer, for community review. Action and implementation of the finalized plan will start taking place next year, when a new mayor and many new council members will take office.

Over the summer, Metro planners hosted 25 “community lounges” – open houses where they presented three different scenarios to the public, answered questions and concerns, and gathered input.

They also held focus groups and collected comments online. All in all, some 13,000 residents gave their input.

“This was the most important part of the process – having people weigh in on different ways Nashville could grow,” says Tifinie Capehart, community planner with the Metro Planning Department and the community engagement leader for NashvilleNext.

“That growth pattern is going to influence the land-use policies that are applied across the county, and those land-use policies influence decisions like zoning and subdivisions. The way that materializes is new development, subdivision of lots, new housing so that’s why this part of the process was so important.”

All three futures presented to the public assumed that 185,000 new residents and 326,000 new jobs will come to Davidson County by 2040.

The three concepts include a “business-as-usual” scenario where current trends continue with few interventions. Under this scenario, most job growth occurs in the southeast. Downtown will continue to be a hub for new jobs and homes, and housing infill will occur in the neighborhoods close to downtown.

Under this scenario, higher income households move to neighborhoods with more amenities, pushing low and moderate income households to the outer edges of the county and into neighboring counties.

Under the “centers with adjacent infill” concept, bustling centers of activity are created with new homes and jobs in the center and new homes added in nearby neighborhoods, and transit to connect the centers so residents can get around without having to connect through a downtown hub.

These intensified “centers” include places like Bellevue and Antioch that would become more walkable and offer more shopping and employment opportunities to their residents.

More frequent transit service to downtown and other centers is a feature, and new homes are added to surrounding neighborhoods that complement the look and feel of existing homes.

“Accessory dwelling units” such as garage apartments would be zoned in to increase density and rental options, but preserving neighborhood character would be emphasized.

The third concept envisions new job and home development focused on downtown and the pikes that radiate out from it.

Downtown, midtown, Metro Center and industrial areas southeast of downtown would get the most new jobs and homes and would have walkable mixed-use neighborhoods.

New homes and shops would be added along major corridors to make them moderately dense and walkable community centers that include parks and schools. Frequent transit service downtown provides access to employment centers.

Of the scenarios, people appear to favor the intensified centers concept, with additional transit connections, planners say.

That squares with the priorities that residents said they cared most about: affordable housing, transportation choice and walkability. As congestion gets worse, gas prices rise and fewer people choose to drive, it also presents the best opportunity for residents to shop, work and do business close to home.

In NashvilleNext surveys earlier this year, residents cited affordability as one of their top concerns, regardless of what demographic category they fell into. Access to transit also made the top of the list, along with maintaining neighborhood diversity and character.

Planning policy will be implemented through zoning changes and updates to community plans that might encourage different kinds of commercial and retail development, or zoning for higher-density residential development that would provide smaller, more affordable apartments and condos for younger people and seniors who wish to stay in their neighborhood without having to maintain a large house. Adding more housing choice enhances diversity and adds more residents, which attracts retail development.

Maintaining character is also a principle of good planning.

A recently updated plan for southeast Davidson County puts new policies in place for Murfreesboro Road’s undeveloped areas that encourages walkability, streetscaping and uncluttered signage.

In an urban area, buildings might be required to be close to the street with parking in the back to avoid the unattractive tracts of parking lot “deserts” that are now common along Nashville’s pikes.

The ultimate goal for every community is creating a visually pleasant and physically well-designed street that fits its urban, rural or suburban nature.

Traditionally, zoning here has supported the separation of uses, leading to residential-only districts and commercial-only districts, increased use of highways to get between home, work and business, with the result that Middle Tennessee has the nation’s second-worst sprawl after Atlanta.

Current “smart growth” thinking supports mixed-use policy and is more in line with policies that have allowed other cities to flourish – although affordability remains an unsolved issue in many gentrified urban cores.

“We’re trying to create places that people love,” Capehart says.

“People say, ‘I want a cool shopping area in my neighborhood.’ You can’t get that by only having a certain number of people per square mile who are going to shop there. That’s where the disconnect comes. People may not want higher density but you need more rooftops to get the shopping.”

The answer, she says, is to create choice by maintaining Davidson County’s rural communities, suburban subdivisions and urban neighborhoods so people can live their preferred lifestyle.

After further rounds of community feedback and conversation about policy changes this fall, the new preferred growth plan will be taken to the Planning Commission and adopted next year – before Nashville’s new mayor and Metro Council.

“We want people to use it, understand it and hold Metro government accountable for the things that are in it,” Capehart notes.

“In order to get the things that we want – a walkable city, better transit, more affordable housing – some changes have to be made. Folks have been open to the reality that Nashville is going to grow, and we have an opportunity to guide the growth instead of just letting it happen.”

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