Edgehill Neighbors Divided Over A Plan To Curb Development | Nashville Public Radio

Edgehill Neighbors Divided Over A Plan To Curb Development

Jul 31, 2018

Nashville's historic Edgehill neighborhood is debating whether to apply a conservation overlay to a small portion of the community. And the plan has divided longtime residents over its effects on the neighborhood.

The proposal covers 43 acres, or roughly 200 homes. If passed, it would set restrictions on demolitions and renovations for property owners.

Ronnie Miller is for the plan. His family has lived in this neighborhood since the 1920's and his home falls within the overlay. He wants to stem the tide of development that in recent years has transformed this historically African-American neighborhood.

"At the rate we're going now, these homes will be demolished if we don’t do some type of protection," Miller says, sitting in the dining room of his historic home. "The overlay seems to be the best way to preserve our community."

Miller, who is African-American, cherishes Edgehill's rich history as one of Nashville's oldest communities of color. One that emerged out of a slave contraband camp following the Civil War.

"Edgehill is arguably the oldest in-tact residential community in Nashville," says Councilman Freddie O'Connell. "It has more than a century of history."

Part of the overlay falls into O'Connell's district, so he's been paying close attention, even mediating conversations between neighbors. Another portion falls into the district of Councilman Colby Sledge.

Miller says while the overlay could hurt property values in the short term, it will preserve the neighborhood charm, making it more attractive in the long term. A number of other Nashville neighborhoods have conservation overlays already, including 12 South, Sylvan Park and Lockland Springs.

Edgehill resident and overlay proponent, Walter Searcy, says the issue is a "microcosm" of what's going on in the rest of the city, as development spreads rapidly across neighborhoods, some of which have resisted more than others.

"How much development can we sustain before we lose what's charming?" he says.

Searcy, who is African American, has lived in Edgehill for nearly two decades. He says there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding the campaign to implement the overlay, people assuming it's more restrictive than it actually is.

But Charles Howe, who is also African American and whose home is in the proposed overlay, equates the plan to another form of redlining. Saying it creates a disparity that will only hurt black property owners in the long run.

"The very few black families that are left are largely in very small houses and what is being proposed is going to lock their houses into staying small," Howe says.

Walking down the street, Howe runs into his neighbor, Anita Carr, out trimming her hedges. Carr has lived in the neighborhood for 47 years. She's still making up her mind about the proposal, but she's not happy about what she's heard.  

"I am so confused," Carr says. "How come I can't add on and make my house as expensive as his?" she says, pointing to a tall modern home next door.

The proposal is going up for a vote at the Planning Commission on Wednesday. And while it has a good chance of being approved, the vote is likely to be close. That's because developers and investors who buy property in the neighborhood are also vehemently opposed to the overlay.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the commission vote was on Tuesday. The story has been updated to reflect that the vote is on Wednesday.