West End Neighbors Debate Development vs. Preservation

Four new houses squeezed onto two lots on Kenner Avenue dwarf the bungalow next door. The Kenner Manor Neighborhood Association wants a conservation overlay to stop that kind of construction from destroying the historic character of the neighborhood.

By Peter White

NASHVILLLE, TN — Developer Yancy Lovelace met with District 24 residents at West End

Developer Yancy Lovelace wants to build million-dollar homes on the corner of Sloan Road and Westlawn Drive in Sylvan Park.

Middle School last week to discuss his project near McCabe Golf Course in Sylvan Park.  It will require a special zoning change to allow seven new homes where there are now three older homes. 

“It’s not a homerun deal,” Lovelace said. He said the costs of the special zoning permit, the grading permit, the storm water infrastructure, the holding costs, and neighborhood outreach are significant.  But then the houses will each sell for at least a $1 million.

“When you run the numbers it just seems that a bigger house is a bigger lot. You still make out well as opposed to smaller lots. l think that one house difference, you could do pretty close to the same,” said Pat Williams who lives nearby. 

Lovelace wants to build one more house than zoning allows and hopes the neighbors will be okay with his 7-house design because it will provide better storm water drainage in the neighborhood.

Former councilman John Sommers lives on the other side of the golf course. He says if the neighbors don’t object Lovelace will probably get the zoning variance he wants but it’s a devil’s bargain.

If you do this for one developer then how do you not do it for all developers?” Sommers asks. “We have to do this every time someone wants to buy 2-3 lots and tries to consolidate (them). We have a policy and the seven units are inconsistent with that.”

Sommers says making too many exceptions not only ignores the housing maintenance policy but also eventually destroys the neighborhood. Sommers faulted some council members who approve a lot of spot zoning changes in their districts. 

“There’s a couple who do it pretty frequently. The rest do it rarely. If you make enough of these changes then the policy for the whole neighborhood changes,” he said. 

After Lovelace’s presentation, Historic Zoning Administrator Robin Zeigler talked about creating a conservation overlay in the Kenner Manor neighborhood about a mile away from the golf course.

Zeigler was invited by the neighborhood association to explain how the Nashville Historic Commission helps preserve the character of older neighborhoods like theirs. Historic preservation and historic landmark zoning are more restrictive than simple conservation zoning which does not prohibit teardowns but does restrict add-ons that can be seen from the street. 

The language of historic zoning speaks to two audiences: people who embrace the past and want to preserve it and those who don’t. A home in one of Nashville’s oldest housing developments that needs extensive renovation might not be worth remodeling. It could be cheaper to tear it down and start over. You can do that with a conservation overlay but you can’t build a McMansion in its place. 

Somebody did that at 181 Kenner and the four-plex galvanized the neighborhood to stop it from happening again.

Christine Modisher polled her neighbors. She said 35 of the 157 homes in the neighborhood are rentals. Of the 122 owner-occupied homes, 87 people responded. Of those, 81 wanted a conservation overlay, 3 did not, 3 had no opinion.

The houses in Kenner Manor were built in the 1920s. They are mostly bungalows, 1 ½ stories, have basements that leak, but otherwise look charming and are located in a very desirable neighborhood between Belle Meade and West End. 

 But midway down Kenner Avenue sit four two-story boxes on lots once occupied by two much smaller houses with nice yards. The new houses loom gracelessly over the older homes surrounding them, out of place, some would say ugly, but perfectly legal.  A conservation overlay would stop that kind of new construction on Kenner Avenue.

District 24 Councilwoman Kathleen Murphy will hold more meetings; there will be public hearings on Lovelace’s proposed development and the conservation overlay at Kenner Manor. The city council will eventually vote on both proposals.

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