NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Eager to be near downtown, developers are putting up towers on lots that were once overlooked and forgotten. News 2 talked with a former Metro official about the big challenges facing downtown Nashville’s growth.
“We are in the middle of this extended building boom that is maybe rivaled only by the initial development of the riverfront in the late 18th century,” said attorney Jon Michael.
Michael, with Thompson Burton Law Firm, would know. He is the former zoning administrator for Metro Nashville and is currently working in the private sector. He said the build sites are there for developers to buy; it just might take a little ingenuity.
“There are nothing but imperfect lots when you’re in the middle of a massive building boom, and so lots that smart developers would have rightly skipped over years and years and years in a row, all at once they have to look, ‘Oh, man, that terrible hexagon lot with floodplain and a TVA easement, maybe I can still build something there after all because there’s nothing else,'” explained Michael.
Many of these developers, especially downtown, are looking to build even higher, but first, that requires Metro’s approval. Michael said there’s a real possibility here for creative negotiations between the city and developers.
“I think height has to be a part of the solution of managing the growth that is happening in Nashville,” said Michael. “Maybe we can find incentives to say, ‘OK, fine. We’ll let you go beyond what the law would have otherwise allowed, if you include a long-term lease with a preschool or childcare facility in the ground floor of your building’ — a grossly needed service in every part of Davidson County and beyond — that maybe we can incentivize without the city having to spend a single dollar to bring more businesses in like that.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the city is a comprehensive rewrite of the Metro zoning code, according to Michael. It’s had amendments over the years, but it hasn’t had a comprehensive rewrite since 1998. For example, in the modern age of ridesharing, the zoning code still states that every hotel must have one parking space for every room.
“So many things have changed,” said Michael. “Everybody is eager to get on this.”
That change, he reminded, won’t happen overnight. “We’re going to have to go through that huge process of the comprehensive rewrite of the Metro zoning code to make it work right for modern Nashville today, and what works correctly for the development of Nashville in the generation to come, and that’s no easy task, as you might imagine.”
Michael told News 2 he wants that new zoning code to foster healthy, prosperous, smart growth that benefits not only downtown, but all of Metro. “The people in Old Hickory and in, I don’t know, Madison have got to feel the benefits of that work in downtown.”
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Michael also said he’s curious what main corridors like Murfreesboro Road and Nolensville Pike could look like with improved public transit.