What is zoning?
I think it is fair to say that zoning is something that is not on most people’s mind, unless you are in the business of development or investment. Most people don’t even think about it until they receive a rezone request or a public hearing notice from a nearby property owner or developer. Then panic sets in, and all types of questions pop up. “What is my zoning?” “What will the re-zone mean; what will be built there?”
Zoning is a set of rules that governs how land may be used and developed, including density, building placement, lot coverage, parking, signage, landscaping and buffering requirements. Zoning and land use policy were established to protect our community’s safety, health and welfare.
There are many different zoning classifications throughout Nashville and Davidson County. The vast majority of District 23 is zoned residential, either RS (single family residential), R (one and two-family residential) or RM (multi-family residential), with few exceptions of CS (commercial service), OR (office and residential) and SP (specific plan).
Residential Zoning in District 23
The majority of residential zoning in District 23 is RS40. It permits one single-family home per 40,000 sqft or roughly one house per 1 acre. RS20 permits one house per half acre and RS80 permits one house per 2 acres and so forth. Former District 23 Councilmember Gary Odom had the foresight to rezone almost all R zoning to RS when the RS zoning classification became available in1987. Back then, there was no zoning classification to differentiate between single-family and two-family homes. However, several property owners “opted out” in order to remain R zoning even though a single-family home structure was there; also, some duplex property owners “opted in” and rezoned to RS even though the use remained as duplex.
Evolution of R zoning
For years most of us thought of duplexes as a single structure containing two housing units, each having a separate entrance, but sharing a common wall. In Nashville, many of these older duplexes had one owner who lived in one side and rented out the other. This changed sometime in the 1970s. Through an attempt to be precise, Metro code defined a duplex as “a two-family structure is two attached dwelling units forming a single structure connected by not less than eight feet of continuous floor, roof and walls.”
One might say the definition of a duplex was poorly written, or the person who thought of how to construct a house that looked like the description was “thinking outside the box”.
Whichever the case might be, the duplexes that popped up around 2005 were not received favorably. Some called the connector wall as the “umbilical cord”.
To appeal to the eye of the beholder and to better define the two-family structures, BL2008-115 was introduced by CMs Holleman & Tygard. The adoption of this ordinance created a detached duplex, separated by 10 feet. Unfortunately, outside-of-the-box-thinkers then squeezed “tall & skinnies” onto small lots and created out-of-character structures in established neighborhoods. BL2014-770 was introduced by CMs Hunt, S. Davis, Allen & A. Davis and adopted in September 2014. This bill established the distance between two structures from 10 feet to 6 feet and limited the height of the building to one and one-half the width.
You may have heard the term HPR (Horizontal Property Regime). It is Metro’s official term for two detached houses on one lot. HPRs were initially used for condos, where units are stacked on top of one another. Today if you purchase an HPR (two houses on one lot), you only own the land under the footprint of the house. The land surrounding the house is a common area, but can be limited, governed by an HOA. It may sound strange, but two owners will need to create a Homeowners Association if you own a detached duplex (HPR).
Zoning and Community Plans?
Although the majority of District 23 is zoned RS40, not every RS property is treated equally. It can be rezoned if the property owner wishes. However, whether the wish can be granted will be dictated by the Community Plan Policy.
The majority of residential property in District 23 is under T3 Suburban Neighborhood Maintenance Policy. In layman’s terms, it means the community desires to maintain the existing neighborhood character with no drastic changes. Under the existing T3 Suburban Neighborhood Maintenance Policy, it will be nearly impossible to change RS40 zoning to increase density or change it to another zoning classification, such as office or commercial use or even to R40 in order to build a detached duplex (HPR). However, it does not prevent an existing ranch-style house from being torn down and being replaced by a modern looking or much larger single-family house.
A few small areas in District 23 are under a Supplemental Policy rather than the T3 Suburban Neighborhood Maintenance Policy. Some Supplemental Policy areas provide guidance as to how the property should be developed when higher density is sought, and other Supplemental Policy areas provide how best to utilize the property when the current use ceases.
The Hillwood High School Property is one of the Supplemental Policy Areas in District 23. I have talked about how we can uphold this Supplemental Policy to keep the Hillwood High School property for the best use for the community in my earlier blog. You can read about it in here.
The Charlotte Pike corridor across from Nashville West is another Supplemental Policy Area. It was identified as a suitable area for higher density infill development considering it is located across from a high intensity commercial area that transitions to a single-family residential area. The first zone change in that Supplemental Policy Area was the Hillwood Court development. The first phase of the Hillwood Court development was initiated by our previous Councilmember Emily Evans, and it set the tone for density and building design.
There are quite a few properties across from Nashville West under Supplemental Policy that are currently zoned RS40. Therefore, that area can be transformed to add some density and maintain the existing neighborhood character with the right vision and collaboration.
How the rezoning process works?
Please keep in mind, every rezoning request must be approved by Metro Council through an ordinance. The ordinance needs 21 votes for approval of a rezone request if the plan is recommended by the Metro Planning Commission; 27 votes if the plan is disapproved by the Metro Planning Commission.
During my past four years in office, rezone requests typically went like this. First, I received an e-mail or phone call from someone who wanted to change their existing zoning. I provided my input as to whether the rezone they were seeking was either in line with our Community Plan Policy or not.
For example, I received several inquiries from individuals who wanted to develop their property for hotel/restaurant/office use, but the only higher-density use currently permitted was residential use. Therefore, I told them that those uses were not permitted under the current Community Plan Policy. You have not heard about any of those inquiries since none of them proceeded any further.
If the proposed plan passed the first hurdle, the next step was for me to set up a community meeting to connect the applicant who wanted to rezone their property with surrounding community members. I had a minimum of two community meetings to as many as five community meetings prior to the plan being filed at the Planning Commission.
On my watch, a rezoning request is only put on the Planning Commission agenda when a general agreement has been made after several community meetings. I have made it clear to applicants and to community members that I would not carry a bill to rezone a property if it was disapproved by the Planning Commission. Some rezoning requests have been withdrawn due to my policy position.
At this point, the rezone request became an ordinance, following the approval of the rezoning request by the Metro Planning Commission and moved to Metro Council for consideration. By this time, I had conducted several community meetings to make sure all the concessions and conditions were incorporated into the ordinance prior to the final passage.
Specific Plan and Final Review
Specific Plan (SP) zoning was created in 2005 to allow for more flexibility for the developer in order to meet market demands. It also assures Council members and community residents of a greater certainty as to what the final project will look like. Community members have a better chance of negotiating conditions, requirements and limitations. Although with good intentions, it appears there have been some disconnects in between preliminary SP and a final SP plan.
My first bill I passed was to cancel an outdated development plan that would have allowed ridge top development to create 900 multi-housing units on 245 acres. I’ve worked with the developer, the surrounding neighbors, and the planning staff to reduce the size of the development to 360 units on a limited 14 acres keeping more than 200 acres as open and natural space. Also, I added that the final plan was to be reviewed by the Metro Planning Commission as one of the Specific Plan conditions.
Because of this specific condition, I was able to meet with the development team, the planning staff and community members to make sure the final plan captured precisely what we had agreed on during the preliminary plan discussions four years ago. Typically, the final SP plan is reviewed by each department and approved by the planning staff. No other final SP plan is reviewed by the full Metro Planning Commission. However, history was made, and the final SP plan was approved by the full Metro Planning Commission on August 22nd.
Experience and knowledge
Much of a District Council member’s work is dealing with zone changes and zoning policy. Zoning and community plan policies are not black and white or simple numbers. It requires comprehension of all the technicalities and nuances of our zoning code.
I have demonstrated during my first term how appropriate development plans can fit into our community and make it even better by working together and rejecting plans that do not fit. I am committed to protecting and preserving our wonderful neighborhoods, and to working with you to enhance them. However, I can only continue my efforts with your support and your vote for me for District 23 Metro Council. Early voting for the Runoff Election runs through September 7, starting at Belle Meade City Hall on Friday, August 30. Runoff Election Day is Thursday, September 12, 2019. Please cast your vote for Mina Johnson.
Mina For Council https://www.minaforcouncil.com/