A traditional neighborhood development grows on Nolensville Road
Newer Nashville lives in subdivisions routinely composed of acre lots sporting same-size single-family homes with the garage doors prominently displayed out front, no sidewalks, and a street pattern of cul de sacs feeding arterials with strip malls. Developer Dave McGowan thinks it’s time for a change.
McGowan’s Regent LLC is currently planning a traditional neighborhood development (TND) on a 100-acre site across Nolensville Road from Bradford Hills, just south of the Nolensville intersection with Old Hickory Boulevard. The site plan and design guidelines for the TND, called Lenox Village, are being prepared by the local office of Looney Ricks Kiss Architects.
A TND plan mimics the traditional pre-World War II neighborhood. The plan for Lenox Village currently calls for approximately 575 dwellingsan integrated mixture of single-family homes, townhouses, multifamily and live/work unitsall for sale. The lot sizes vary from 18 feet wide for a townhome to 50 feet wide for a single-family house. Garages are placed at the back of lots, typically accessed from service alleys.
Retail space will occupy a maximum of 50,000 square feet on the Nolensville Road side of the site. But the form is a two-story village center of small shops surrounding parking in the center of the block, rather than the commercial strip type.
Approximately 24 acresmostly on the hilly and heavily wooded eastern sidewould be preserved as common open space. This plan features a network of narrow streets, with three connections to Nolensville Road at the request of the surrounding neighbors, rather than the typical subdivision’s one arterial access.
The sketches illustrating sample streets in Lenox Villagelike most TND schematicstend to have the all-American-utopia look of a ’50s sitcom. But TND is not about architectural style. The key is to integrate the land usesresidential, office, and retailin a compact format, and minimize the intrusion of the car. Providing retail to service the ’hood, and creating a pedestrian-friendly streetscape, encourages people to walk rather than drive to do some of their daily chores. Shared parking among complementary venues cuts down on all the asphalt.
TND is a good idea because it’s an antidote to sprawl. According to statistics from Metro’s Planning Department, new residential development has gobbled up land at a rate more than five times the population increase since 1990. That means fewer people on bigger lots and the loss of the open space at the edge that gives our region its distinctive character.
“The Nashville area is going to grow an estimated 130,000 to 150,000 families in the next 10 years,” McGowan says. “If you put those families in houses one to an acre, like Brentwood requires, you use up to 150,000 acres. Lenox Village will average approximately five units to the acre. It’s just a more efficient use of land. And supplying services such as water and sewer and garbage pickup is more expensive with sprawl.”
Nashville’s planning and zoning have not previously encouraged TND. To build his TND, McGowan will need the Metro Planning Commission and the Metro Council to approve a change to the long-range plan for the subarea in which the site lies, base zoning changes, as well as an urban zoning overlay. Metro’s Planning Department, however, is actively supporting McGowan’s path through the bureaucratic process. Lenox Village will be the first TND in Nashville, and Rick Bernhardt, the department’s executive director, wants to get one on the ground to give our community a 3-D example of the breed.
“TND is a good alternative to conventional suburban development,” Bernhardt says. “And in this particular location, where the development pressures are not going to go away, it could provide a reasonable model for other developers. They might change the lines of their plans if Lenox Village is successful, as I think it will be. It’s a step toward understanding smart growth.”
McGowan isn’t a sprawl-busting ideologue. The former owner of Radnor Homes and Development has built many conventional subdivisions in the Nashville region. With Lenox Village he’s creating a product his market research tells him he can sell. “The home-buying demographics have changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” McGowan explains. “The American family is not just a married couple with two children and two cars anymore. And you have people with small businesses who want to live over the shop. TND allows us to build a more diverse product mix, which allows us to serve more customers.”
To support his case that TND is a formula for success, McGowan points out that he’s had strong interest in his village from three national home-building firms who’ve successfully tried TND in other cities, as well as five custom builders. Prices for housing in Lenox Village will range from $99,000 to $250,000. Yet the village will feature expensive amenities such as buried power lines, sidewalks and street trees, and decorative streetlights rather than the sodium vapor jobsfeatures that comparably priced subdivisions lack. McGowan explains that he can afford the extras for one simple reason: He’s reducing the size of the typical subdivision lot. “Land is the number-one cost component in development,” he says.
McGowan picked the Lenox Village land for other hardheaded business reasons. “Most families are two-income, and it’s centrally located to where the job growth is occurring,” he says. “To job sites in northern Rutherford and Williamson counties, to the airport with Dell, and to downtown is a 25-minute drive. And to CoolSprings and Maryland Farms is 15 minutes.”
It will take more than Dave McGowan to make an urban village. Traditional neighborhoods have main streets along which commerce is clustered, like 21st Avenue in Hillsboro Village. In this case the main street is Nolensville Road. Property across from the site of Lenox Village, and fronting Bradford Hills, is currently zoned to require the kind of commercial strips that already litter Nolensville most of the way to downtown. And the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s long-range road plan calls for the section of Nolensville between Lenox Village and Bradford Hills to be widened to five lanesfour lanes of thru traffic and a continuous turn lanewhich is about as friendly to pedestrians as a Humvee.
Bernhardt says that if Lenox Village is approved by his Planning Commission and Metro Council, his next step will be to negotiate with the commercial property owners across the way to develop a mirror image of Lenox Village’s retail, and ask TDOT to build a street between the two that features a tree-lined median, crosswalks, and minimal curb cuts.
“Lenox Village is not going to solve our sprawl problems,” Bernhardt says. “But it’s a first step.”
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