East Bank

The city’s Imagine East Bank Vision Plan sailed through a special-called meeting of the Metro Planning Commission Thursday despite open questions about the future of city-owned land.

The overwhelming majority of public feedback received by the Planning Commission raised questions about the city’s 100 acres, now home to Nissan Stadium and surrounding parking lots. Residents have specifically called for Metro to use the land to guarantee affordable housing and employment opportunities. Organizations affiliated with business interests and tourism filed letters expressing unconditional support of the plan. After six weeks of public engagement sessions, Metro Planning extensively revised the plan two days before going before the commission.

New recommendations call for 60 percent of units developed on Metro land to be accessible for residents making between 61 and 80 percent of Nashville's area median income, and for 40 percent to be affordable for those making below 60 percent of AMI. Nashville's AMI recently rose to $96,700.

Before the vote occurred, Chair Greg Adkins addressed his colleagues about the proposed future for the East Bank. “This is the first concrete step for making it a reality,” said Adkins. “The one person who can make this a reality is our mayor. I want to thank him. He’s talked to me and the director ad nauseam about making this happen.” After a presentation from Planning Director Lucy Kempf, commissioners made occasional references to city-owned land during discussion and voted unanimously to approve the plan.

Most of the Vision Plan revolves around the redesign of the East Bank street grid, currently a mess of mismatched streets that congest a much-traveled corridor between downtown and East Nashville. By smoothing out the East Bank jigsaw, the city preps the whole area for development: apartments, restaurants, retail and parks are all rendered in Planning slideshows that have made the rounds over the past month. It's hard to overstate the time, money, attention and person-power this project will demand from the city and its departments in the coming years.

The majority of feedback submitted for public comment criticized the plan for its lack of clarity around the future of Metro land. Nearly two-thirds of letters written to Planning called for specific commitments around affordable housing and employment opportunities for residents. Much of this feedback took a familiar form, citing Nashville’s skyrocketing costs of living, with several individuals identifying themselves as members of Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, a local community advocacy group. Scrutiny of the future use of Metro-owned land lines up with a survey carried out in April by Stand Up Nashville, which collected feedback from more than 300 residents whose main concerns were employment opportunities and increasing affordable housing capacity.

Most of the rest came from pro-development business organizations praising the plan and urging its implementation. The commission received letters of support from the Nashville Downtown Partnership, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Nashville Business Coalition, the Nashville Chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association and the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. Merissa Khachigian, a vice president at Oracle, filed a letter of support on behalf of the corporation, which recently began construction for its new East Bank campus. Three individuals unaffiliated with a business or organization expressed support for the plan’s cycling infrastructure.

Metro has little power to curb decision-making by private developers, who control around 200 acres of the East Bank, a fact conceded Thursday by commissioner Jeff Haynes. In fact, the city appears poised to subsidize private development on the East Bank with new tax-increment financing deals.

“I know there’s some uncertainty, but in my mind, at the end of the day, I think the property owners — this is going to be a really good thing for them,” said Adkins in his closing remarks. 

The rest — a little more than 100 acres — is split between MDHA, the Metro Sports Authority and the Metro government. Metro Sports Authority, governed by a mayor-appointed board created in the 1990s as the city’s formal Titans liaison, controls nearly all of the Metro-owned land. New or renovated, a stadium will take up a significant portion of its holdings.

The rest represents potential. After a lengthy public engagement process, Planning revised its commitment not to sell the land outright (reiterated at the meeting by Housing Director Angie Hubbard). When asked by At-Large Councilmember Burkley Allen — acting as Mayor John Cooper's representative at Thursday night’s meeting — about bringing that land into a trust, Hubbard told Allen that a commitment not to sell the land is functionally the same thing as a land trust.

“We offered a broad vision," said Metro Planning spokesperson Richel Albright. "The next steps in our role, for Metro Planning, will remain in close communication with other departments to facilitate implementation: the mayor’s office, NDOT especially, and Housing, who helped set benchmarks for affordability."

Tasked with a plan and clear goal, the parcels could make a huge dent in the city’s deficit of affordable housing. Metro could also lease it to developers with no conditions. Those decisions sit with Mayor Cooper.

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