By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — Haynes Heights Neighborhood Association President Winnie Forrester says she and her neighbors want the appearance of their community protected with land use rules established like Eastwood’s not Edgehill’s.
“Edgehill became extremely divided,” Forrester says. “Eastwood passed their conservation zoning without dissent, so when we approached planning [department officials], we said we wanted to do it like Eastwood.” And whatever’s decided, she wants it to be a result of community deliberations.
Toward that end, the executive committee of the Haynes Heights Neighborhood Association was set to meet tonight, Aug. 30, in private with prospective members of a steering committee that would plan and publicize open meetings so everybody can participate together. According to some residents at Edgehill, they didn’t get that. Conflict there was so deep that two brothers were on the opposite side of the issue, their mother told metro planning commissioners.
The result was mostly confusion, a lack of information, and disinformation filled the void. Some Haynes Heights residents have been afraid overlay zoning would prevent them from building a wheelchair ramp, a front porch or a deck.
“We don’t review ramps or decks,” Historic Zoning Administrator Robin Zeigler says. “They can do it like they do now.” But, a porch? “A front porch would depend … It depends on so many things.”
Those things include how a proposed ordinance is written. These zoning laws are supposed to be custom-made to fit the preferences of what the residents want, Zeigler says.
Therefore, she says, “A [planned] porch that meets the design guidelines could certainly be constructed…
“The beauty of the design guidelines is that they are guidelines, and not hard and fast rules, so the [Historic Zoning] Commission can address the realities of the site and take each request on a case by case basis,” Ziegler said.
Zoning overlays are called that because, before computers, to show where additional land use controls would be enforced, a transparent sheet of plastic was laid over a map and the area being discussed would be highlighted with pastel highlighting the affected area. Hence overlay.
For example, a broad section of the city might be zoned, or classified, for single family homes on quarter-acre lots. Some blocks of such a residential zone might include homes designed by an architectural firm hired by the subdivision developer and the character, or general appearance of the neighborhood, might be seen as having a consistent curb-appeal worth preserving.
As a result, a back porch could “possibly” be added with just a construction permit, Zeigler says.
That might be especially true if the home isn’t on a corner lot and the back porch isn’t visible from the street in front of the house. If a front porch was part of the original home, there’s an excellent probability that it could be built again.
Furthermore, Zeigler says, “Dormers that meet the design guidelines can be added” to create a bonus room from what was an attic.
Haynes Heights is bordered by: Malta Drive to the north; Whites Creeks Pike, on the east side; West Nocturne Drive on the south; and Walker Lane to the west, Forrester says.
Haynes Heights was built in the 1950s, Forrester says. It was one of the first subdivisions of homes where African American physicians, college professors, attorneys and other professionals raised their families. Nashville’s southern character was still affected by Jim Crow laws.
In other cities — Washington, D.C., is an example — such subdivisions were nicknamed the Gold Coast, a sometimes subtle slur referring to part of Africa.
“We want to preserve the name, the culture and history of the neighborhood,” Forrester says of Haynes Heights.
Remnants of segregation, integration and the Fair Housing Act — seen by many as the earliest of the Civil Rights laws — might be seen as influencing some Edgehill residents’ comments to metro’s planning commission on the conservation overlay zone proposed there. Racism was alleged at least once during the hearing. Gentrification was also a topic of discussion.
If overlay zoning is laid over a neighborhood, decisions on what meets the design guidelines (as selected by participating residents) are made by the historic zoning department staff or the Historic Zoning Commission. There’s no fee to apply or have plans reviewed, approved, or subject to suggested changes before permission is granted if a permit is needed.
In 2017, Nashville issued 675 permits for projects affecting the outside of homes in overlay zones, Zeigler says. Interior changes aren’t affected by overlay zoning. Half of the 2017 applicants were issued permits administratively, meaning a city employee, not the historic zoning commission, reviewed and approved the applications. About, 25 percent considered by commissioners, were approved on the consent agenda, meaning they were all approved together with one vote.
Some applications among the remaining 25 percent were denied, but those applicants were usually asked to “come back and resubmit for approval” after suggested changes were offered, she says. Historic zoning staffers will explain how the guidelines are applied, and people who ask for help “will have an easy process.”
Historic overlays are the most complicated, but residents in Edgehill sought a conservation overlay, the least restrictive of the four classifications. In Haynes Heights, Councilman DeCosta Hastings says there’s been some discussion about having a “contextual overlay.”
“We’ll have to look at all the pros and cons and do what’s best for the community,” says Hastings who, as a metro councilman, will have one vote on each of three of the proposed zoning ordinance readings after a planning commission public hearing on the legislation he must sponsor. “It may be that an overlay isn’t necessary,” Hastings says.
Stringent overlay zoning is seen as a way to protect a home from demolition. It can prevent replacement with two tall skinnies; houses that might have 3-4 levels maximizing living space in the “building envelope,” where housing remains within “set-back lines” paralleling the property line.
“Of course we want historic homes to be preserved,” Zeigler says. But if a house is beyond repair, demolition is “absolutely” allowable.
Meanwhile, no request has been filed for a Haynes Heights overlay zone with guidelines on new construction.
“Out buildings” are a typical applicant’s request. Those include, for example a storage shed, a Dutch barn, within the building envelope.
It’s easier to list what’s permitted, instead of what’s not, Zeigler says.
Those structures include: handicap ramps, an uncovered deck, replacement siding, replacement windows, replacement doors, re-roofing and an out-building with less than 100 square feet; perhaps a green house, a gazebo or a chicken house.
However, the codes department should be consulted if the request is for the birds.