Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Nashville Zoning Reform Proposal could make Housing more Affordable and Reduce Urban Sprawl

by Rod Williams, Feb. 3, 2024- There is a proposal coming before the Metro Council which could stem the tide of rising housing prices and curtail urban sprawl. I have not read the bill and the details matter but this sound like an exciting step in the right direction. You may read more about it at this link.

There are several reasons for rising home prices in Nashville.  One is that more people who make a lot of money move to Nashville and the price point of more expensive homes is where the market it at. Another is that the permitting process is slow and expensive and that drives up housing.  

A major cause of escalating housing prices is that our zoning code discourages density and diversity of housing types and land uses. Our basic zoning, while updated from time to time, was created after World War II and was oriented to car ownership and suburban living. Uses were strictly separated into commercial, residential and industrial and those uses were further separated. This led to strict class separation also. 

One house on uniform lot size was the norm when our codes was updated sometimes in the late 50's or 60's.  A neighborhood could have two houses per lot unless it was zoned for single family only so there was a sprinkling of duplexes but not many.  After Nashville started rapidly growing, starting in about the 90's or so and escalating as time passed, Nashville compounded the problem of our zoning by rezoning neighborhood after neighborhood "single-family-only." 

We did some things right along the way such as passing the DADU ordinance which allows a secondary housing unit to be built on an alley behind the main house.  We also allowed 12th do develop the way it has. Unfortunately, these are only small steps. The places where one can build apartment or multifamily units is still quite limited.  Restricting density makes property than can be developed more valuable and drives up prices.  With increased value of developable land, developers are going to build the most expensive housing the market will bear. 

We have also compounded the problem of our zoning by trying to beautify every part of town. Every pike or road cannot look like Brentwood and still have affordable neighborhoods.  We also increased the cost of housing by requiring property owners to build public sidewalks at their own expense when substantially remodeling or doing infill development. 

Two books I would recommend to members of the Planning Commission, the Metro Council member and anyone who care about affordable housing and urban development are these: Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It, and The Poor Side of Town: and Why We Needs It

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