Fast-growing southeast Davidson County has boomed in recent years, transforming Antioch into a magnet for sprawling apartment complexes and strip malls while overcrowding public schools.
But now, three Antioch-area council members are seeking to temporarily halt a major chunk of the new development.
In a move that Metro’s planning director opposes, and one that could raise legal questions over property rights, Metro Council members Jacobia Dowell, Karen Johnson and Tanaka Vercher have co-sponsored legislation that would place a 120-day moratorium on issuing building and grading permits for multifamily developments that are located in their council districts, Districts 28, 29 and 32.
If the ordinance passes, it would effectively place a four-month freeze on new construction of multifamily apartments and condominiums across a wide swath of Antioch. It would not affect all of southeast Nashville.
The bill’s sponsors say Metro needs to invest in more roads, sidewalks, sewers and other infrastructure in the Antioch area before any more construction of multifamily residential homes and apartments is allowed. Such development should wait, the say, until a new master plan for the area can steer growth to places that can handle it.
“There has been so much development without the proper infrastructure concerns being addressed,” Johnson said. “And I think that we’ve got to slow things down, not necessarily prevent any type of future development, but just slow things down so that we can catch the infrastructure up to the demand for housing and also to address the overcrowding of our schools”
Johnson said she’s unsure how many projects the ordinance would affect. She pointed to a massive 548-unit apartment called Whetstone Flats from Indianapolis-based Buckingham Cos. that is going up off Bell Road in Cane Ridge as the type of project that has caused pressures on the community.
But Metro Planning Director Doug Sloan, who called the bill unhealthy for the growth of Nashville, said despite the narrative about Antioch, other parts of Nashville have had just as many — and in some cases more — new multifamily development built over the last five years as southeast Nashville. He said that includes parts of East Nashville and the urban core.
“I think that this is a shortsighted response to the growth that the council members are seeing in their community,” Sloan said. “But in fact, it’s the same level of growth that we’re (experiencing) in several other areas of Nashville.
“I think it sends the wrong message to the community,” he said. “I think it sends the wrong message regarding workforce and affordable housing. I think it sends the wrong message to the development community about our desire to see more housing for people who are moving to Davidson County.”
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Metro Department of Law Director Jon Cooper said he has not reviewed the proposed moratorium and therefore lacks a legal opinion on it. He said he’s not aware of a similar proposal in Nashville like it before.
Others, meanwhile, say the moratorium would clearly violate legal protections afforded to property owners.
“I am confident that once the sponsors fully appreciate the illegal nature of this legislation, they will withdraw it,” Vice Mayor David Briley said.
Dowell, whose district included the former Hickory Hollow Mall, said 3,526 housing units are currently planned for construction in the Antioch area, but said that coordination on that growth lacks between Metro departments. She said a new master plan that she and other council members are helping lead would align new development with infrastructure efforts of Metro Public Works.
“What we’ve not done a good job of is working with public works and saying, ‘Here are the areas where people want new development and here are the infrastructure deficiencies,’ ” she said. “We need to come up with a plan.”
Sloan, of the planning department, said he agrees that Nashville faces infrastructure needs across the county. But he also said that neighborhoods that have greater density would be more likely to receive infrastructure dollars down the road.
“I think a moratorium would be counter to trying to get improved infrastructure,” he said.
Even without a moratorium, Antioch-are council members have slowed down some multifamily housing projects.
The council, at Dowell’s request, voted last month to defer a downzoning ordinance that she had proposed that would limit 19 acres on Hickory Hollow Parkway to only single-family instead of multifamily homes. The downzoning ordinance will come before the council again in October.
Nashville-based Vastland Cos., which owns the property, had previously been contracted to sell the land to Louisville, Ky.-based LDG Development, which specializes in affordable housing, but the multifamily developer dropped the contract because of Dowell’s legislative effort.
Ken Renner, vice president of Vastland Cos., said he’s in conversations with Dowell about how to handle the property. He said his company is looking for other buyers that may have other uses besides apartments, but questioned the proposed freeze on new multifamily development.
“As a general rule, singling out properties in one part of town to take their property rights away is generally not a good idea,” Renner said. “It sends the wrong message to the development community and does not provide any compensation to the property owner whose rights are taken away.”
Nashville real estate attorney and lobbyist James Weaver, who represents the developer organization NAIOP, was harsher. He said the ordinance would “absolutely stymie investment and growth” and could have implications on whether businesses wish to relocate there.
“When you kick one dog off the porch, the other dogs notice and remember and are less likely to come to that porch,” Weaver said.
Meanwhile, concerns over new development in Antioch have arisen from projects besides apartments.
Dowell last week led a one-month deferral of an urban design overlay amendment needed to pass for Metro Nashville Public Schools to acquire property to build a new elementary school. Developers who own the 13 acres school site, park of the the Ridgeview mixed-use community in Antioch near Bell Road, are also hoping to build senior housing on the overall 63-acre footprint that also features traditional homes.
The school is designed to absorb students from overcrowded Cane Ridge Elementary School, but MNPS is crunched for time to get it open by next August.
Dowell said the reason for the delay is because of deed-restriction issues that remain with the senior housing component. But she also said not enough has been done infrastructure-wise to accommodate the new school.
“Typically, neighbors like schools, but we do have issues and I’m not going to ignore those issues,” she said, pointing to concerns over traffic, parking and entranceways and exit routes at the school campus.
“There are people who bought homes there who have concerns. And my concern is representing the neighbors in my district, and I have to balance that with the school.”
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.