Scene readers square off over the teardown phenomenon raging across Nashville 

There Goes/Here Comes the Neighborhood

There Goes/Here Comes the Neighborhood

Bobby Allyn's Dec. 19 Scene cover story "Demolition Derby," about the current boom in real estate teardowns, struck a nerve with readers in neighborhoods across the city. Whether they were considering density and long-term growth, or just concerned with the house next door, readers from South to East Nashville had strong opinions about the pace of demolitions and the effect of the "2-on-1" duplexes often replacing them. Some of the best comments and letters follow below.

I live on a small cul-de-sac in Green Hills where four out of six houses have had awkward "duplexes" built onto the original ranch houses. In every case, the resident cashed out on his house and then moved to Brentwood, where development is regulated. These people used the neighborhood to raise their children, then sold out their neighbors when their lifestyle needs changed. Redevelopment should not be a retirement plan for people who are done with the lifestyle the area afforded them. Of course, the city will support anything that feeds their insatiable appetite for tax dollars, so any changes will only come through changing the council members who encourage development at the expense of their constituents. Greg Estes, via email

Hey, I'm really sorry that those of you who bought houses 10-plus years ago don't get to have your neighborhood stay at exactly the level you like it, along with having your property values skyrocket — but people who were not so lucky would also like to be able to live somewhere not 15 miles away from everything. That means the older, close-in 'hoods need to get denser. If you want the residential side streets to stay the same, you need to be more open to multi-unit developments on main streets. More stuff like 12 South Flats, more development along the West End corridor, etc. Putting your fingers in your ears and pretending density will go away and your neighborhood will stay locked in 2006 forever won't work. "Greg," via website

Last year I sold the 1925 Tudor that I bought on Ashwood Avenue in Hillsboro Village 15 years ago, largely because over the years no less than nine "hippos" were built where either open space or smaller historical homes had previously existed. When I bought the house I was able to sit on my back-porch swing and watch sunsets. The current owner can gaze upon the three-story Dryvit wall of a duplex, which is attached to a historical stone home by a shared wall, which serves no purpose other than to have allowed a greedy builder to make money. Many of these huge homes are selling for prices in the million-dollar range, which greatly changes the nature of the neighborhood — as well as property taxes. A historical overlay protects streets from Vanderbilt to Blair, and I worked with HWEN [Hillsboro-West End Neighborhood association] to downzone so no further duplexes could be built, but what's coming in instead are two three-story houses on previously single-home lots, with nothing but tiny front yards and driveways. It's very sad, and the lost character and historical value can never be reclaimed. "04henri," via website

One of those "duplexes" [former Metro Councilman] John Summers described was constructed around the corner from my house a few years back. There are two 4,000-plus-square-foot properties crammed onto what once was a fairly generous lot in my neighborhood, which generally has lots between two-tenths of an acre and four-tenths of an acre. Both sides went on the market for more than $900,000. The only saving grace was that the owners of both units invested in expensive and extremely nice landscaping that helps their units blend in with the rest of the neighborhood. Had they not, it would look awful. Most developers won't and don't put that kind of effort into making new construction suit the neighborhood. "Katz," via website

Not all builders are the bad guys. Plenty of us build size- and style-appropriate infill homes. In fact on more than one occasion I have had neighbors complain because the houses I was building were TOO SMALL — they wanted big houses that would increase their property value!

This is a classic NIMBY situation. Everyone understands the need for density and old houses must sometimes be replaced with new, but Not In My Back Yard. Also, not everyone has the same tastes so just because you personally HATE a house doesn't mean everyone has to agree with you. Most of these neighborhoods mentioned were eclectic blends of styles to begin with.

As a final thought, for those complaining, buy that teardown house next door and fix it up yourself. Risk the financial well-being of your family on your ability to save a poorly built, improperly maintained house. See how hard it is to not lose money on the deal. But please try to limit your complaining if you are not personally willing to risk your own money on these homes. It is not as easy as you think and no one is minting money building infill houses! "dogwalk615," via website

I think the nature of the houses being torn down is being a little misrepresented in this article. As a resident of one of these neighborhoods I can tell you that historic, well-built and architecturally significant houses are not being razed. There are exceptions, obviously, but the vast majority of the houses being torn down are 1950s-1970s houses that were built cheaply and were the epitome of mass-produced. The turn-of-the-century houses that aren't already well maintained are being renovated and restored. Historic houses are worth far more than the land they sit on, even if they are in poor shape. Furthermore, well-maintained houses from the '50s-'70s aren't being torn down because they too are worth too much to tear down. The vast majority of teardowns are happening to houses that have no one living in them, are small and architecturally insignificant, and in poor shape. In my opinion, the new houses are a significant step up from the ones that were there previously.

As far as the 2-for-1 developments, I understand the concern. However, this is the way of the future. Nashville developed with far too low density. That lack of density has led to many of our traffic woes. The Nashville metro area is adding 25-30,000 people per year, and they have to live somewhere. Nashville is far better off if they live in the city as opposed to Spring Hill or Mt Juliet. And with the increased urban population comes additional amenities for those neighborhoods. "Hey_Hey," via website

Three cheers and heartfelt thanks for your story "Demolition Derby." It came too late for my neighborhood, and I only wish it could have contributed to the "conversation" (actually a one-sided, screaming battle of wills) that took place here earlier this year.  Issues that were not mentioned include developers' ability to take out building permits in anticipation of purchasing a lot, and then dragging out the overlay process for as long as possible; also recruiting clients by selling them particular floor plans at an early price point, without any reference to neighborhood context. It was bittersweet, but reassuring, to read Bobby Allyn's excellent analysis. Molly McCluer, via email




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