Can Music Row’s Historic Properties Be Saved By Selling Their ‘Height Rights’ To Other Developers? | Nashville Public Radio

Can Music Row’s Historic Properties Be Saved By Selling Their ‘Height Rights’ To Other Developers?

Dec 14, 2015

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What will it take to balance rapid growth and historic preservation along Nashville’s Music Row? The answer could be an uncommon policy that allows some buildings to be very large — but only if their developers pay to protect smaller recording studios and home offices.

The novel idea is stirring up excitement — and a lot of questions — as tensions simmer in the development battleground that Music Row has become.

Residents, property owners, and the Metro Planning Department have been working on a community plan for the Row’s future. Among the challenges so far: deciding how tall — or dense — to allow buildings to be.

“What a lot of people are concerned with is the height of their neighbors,” said Bill Gatzimos, who’s been on the Row since the 1970s. “And that’s true in Paris and London and now in here. That’s the bottom line: people are saying, ‘I don’t want it to go too high.’ ”

He and most others agree there should be size limits. There are now.

But planners have a new idea making waves: What if developers who want to build taller than zoning limits could do so — but only if they pay to help preserve other historic properties?

This is called a “transfer of development rights,” or a TDR incentive.

The way it works, owners of small historic buildings that want to stay that way can choose not to build bigger. And if those properties are in an area that allows for more height — that they aren’t using — they can sell that height allowance to other nearby developers who have reached the size limit.

Preservation Incentive Detailed

This development trade-off would hinge on how Metro draws the height boundaries along Music Row. An early draft of the map suggests the highest density, and buildings up to 20 stories, on the north end of the Row, near Demonbreun Street and the roundabout (see dark red on map).

This early draft map shows how the north end of Music Row could be zoned for higher density, with more restrictive building sizes farther south — and the yellow are, near Edgehill, capped at three-story construction.
Credit Metro Planning Department

Moving south, the maximum heights would be between three and eight stories — with the most restrictive areas abutting residential areas, like the Edgehill neighborhood, so that new construction wouldn’t tower over homes (pictured in yellow).           

“Our initial reaction is, it’s a great idea … but we’re just trying to figure out how it’s going to play out,” said Robbie Jones, a preservationist with the non-profit Historic Nashville Inc.

He said he’s glad to finally see Nashville considering this type of incentive after years of hypothetical conversations.

But when the idea first surfaced, as part of the third community meeting about Music Row, Metro planners did end up on the defensive.

The audience demanded more specifics.

Until he hears the details, recent resident Sok Pantelides said he’s skeptical.

“I’m struggling with whether it’s a good scheme or not,” he said. “We just moved here six months ago. We’re trying to understand what’s going on here and help with ideas or stop bad ideas.”

So far, he’s not sure if he should trust a trade-off between growth and preservation.

After answering more than a dozen fervent questions, planner Tifinie Capehart assured the crowd that examples of TDR programs would come next, along with more study of how exactly it might work in Nashville.

“This is an idea … we’re kind of toiling with,” she said. “There are trade-offs to be had.”

Of participants in Music Row meetings, the one thing that those surveyed wanted most was to "maintain neighborhood character."
Credit Metro Planning Department

Reflecting after the meeting, Councilman Freddie O’Connell said the planning meetings have gone better than he at first anticipated.

“We might get to some kind of broad consensus,” he said. “It’s creating a sense of vision and I think it could give us something to see into the future.”

Meanwhile, a recent survey of attendees to the Music Row meetings showed strong desires for affordable creative spaces, a grocery store and preserved green space. About a quarter of participants want a Metro incentive for preservation.