This is the latest in the Tennessee Tribune’s series on affordable housing.
NASHVILLE, TN– Gentrification nearly captured Fort Negley, did capture the old State Fairgrounds, and could soon claim the last remnant of the old Edgehill District—seven acres known as the Beaman property. It abuts South St. that has been completely gentrified.
Last week, the Planning Commission approved the North Edgehill Commons project with two 9-story, one 8-story, and three 5-story buildings provided the builder leases first floor space to a large retail grocery store. District 19 Councilman Freddie O’Connell introduced a bill to Metro Council Tuesday that passed by voice vote on its first reading.
The project would be built where Beaman Toyota has a parking lot and body shop. Staffers in the Planning Department did not support the original plan to put a hotel on the site. Nor did they approve a later version with two 9-story buildings. The commission approved it anyway with only one dissenting vote.
North Edgehill Commons would look a lot like other developments in the Gulch but unlike the majority of single-family homes in the Edgehill District. The area has a 5-story height limit on new construction and anything higher requires an amendment to the Edgehill Community Plan. Marquette has not made an application to amend the plan. Local residents worried about traffic congestion.
“They are suggesting at least 6,000 new car trips per day for that development,” said Brian Eckert, a local resident. “Six thousand trips in 24 hours is 500 new cars trips every hour, eight cars per second on South St. and Hawkins. Our concern is a public safety concern as a result of density and density comes from height,” he said.
“This Marquette guy. He did a real number. He literally bused people in,” said Alice Rolli, a neighborhood leader. She said about a dozen Edgehill residents were recruited to tell the Planning Commission they supported the project because it would have a grocery store.
Project supporters wore green T-shirts that read “We want to Work, Live, and play at N Edgehill Commons” on the front. On the back they read “Approve North Edgehill Commons”.
Such displays are examples of astroturfing and they are designed to give the false impression that a certain policy or project enjoys widespread grassroots support of the community when little such support exists. In short, it was pure theater and the commissioners didn’t bat an eye.
Marquette has reserved 10% of residential units for workforce housing. Spokesperson Chris Yuko said the company would not agree to put that promise into a deed restriction to make those units permanently available. A lot of people want a grocery store in the area and Marquette wouldn’t put that in writing either.
North Edgehill Commons would look a lot like other developments in the Gulch but not like the majority of single-family homes in the Edgehill District.
The Edgehill Community Plan allows for a maximum of five-story developments in the area. The property is zoned as an Industrial Warehouse District. The Marquette project would require a Special Use Permit.
O’Connell urged the Planning Commission to approve Marquette’s proposal citing a long list of reasons but permanent affordable housing was not one of them. The project does not include a single unit of low-income housing—the very thing hundreds of African American families were promised when Urban Renewal destroyed their neighborhood in the 1950s.
“If this proposal moves forward after tonight I will continue to explore ways to secure the affordability component,” O’Connell said.
He noted, however, that state laws prohibit mandating affordable housing quotas so developers have to voluntarily include low-income units in their projects. A better-organized Edgehill could put the pressure on like it did back in the day when Rev. Bill Barnes and Organized Neighbors of Edgehill (ONE) successfully blocked a bad public housing proposal.
O’Connell could meet with Edgehill residents and then negotiate a Community Benefit Agreement with Marquette but at this point the company is not making any promises. The city could offer to buy or swap other land for the Beaman property.
“If you try nothing then we know what’s going to happen,” said King Hollands. “But, yes, I think we have a shot at it.” Ronnie Miller, a longtime resident, is skeptical the Beaman property can be saved because the land is worth too much.
“Housing would be wonderful if you could do it but I imagine Metro would say ‘we could build a whole lot more housing (someplace else) instead of giving Beaman these millions and millions’,” Miller said.
He recently wrote to the Planning Commission, staff, and Councilmen Sledge and O’Connell, opposing Marquette’s plan and wanted it deferred. “On a personal note, my family lived on South Street in the 1920s, and owned properties on the Beaman site, which was purchased under the Urban Renewal Project. I also attended church on that site,” Miller wrote.
Metro could condemn the property like it did to much of the Edgehill District, turn it over to MDHA, and build seven acres of affordable housing on the site. In a better world, that would be a sweet bit of justice and a small compensation for the destruction of the historic Edgehill District and the removal of African Americans who once lived there.