New Nashville Law Gives Neighbors A Regulation Tool

Councilman Walter Hunt, who sponsored the contextual overlay district, which passed on Tuesday. Credit: Bobby Allyn

Councilman Walter Hunt, who sponsored the contextual overlay district, which passed on Tuesday. Credit: Bobby Allyn

Nashville communities now have another tool to help regulate development. On Tuesday, Metro Council passed a new law adopting the so-called contextual overlay district, and supporters say it’ll combat new buildings that chafe against neighborhood fabric.

It places restrictions on what builders can do in terms of height and width, taking into consideration the average shape of homes on either side of a proposed development. It’s not a blanket law; residents apply to be considered for the overlay. If a neighborhood already has a historic overlay, residents there can’t apply for one.

“It’s a tool on the shelf that you can use as you need,” said Councilman Walter Hunt, the lead sponsor. “It’s just like a spare tire in your car. If you never have a flat, you never have to put your spare on.”

Nonetheless, Hunt said many residents feel like the city is teeming with flats. At one point, he held up a thick stack of papers tied together. He said they’re the thousands of emails he’s received in support of the bill. That’s only half of it, he said. There’s another stack of them sitting on his office desk.

In an email to fellow realtors, John Brittle, the fiercest critic of the contextual overlay district, or COD, said it will likely stagnate property values and create hurdles to home renovations.

“I support wholeheartedly the application of a COD on a block face if all neighbors want this,” Brittle wrote. “But, if it is only a portion of the block and there are neighbors opposed, then the application of these restrictions is just wrong.”

Another measure seeking to regulate skinny duplexes was pushed back two weeks for more community input. The Council also indefinitely deferred a plan that would’ve made it difficult for chain stores from opening up on Lower Broadway.

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