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VOL. 43 | NO. 33 | Friday, August 16, 2019

Belle Meade residents mull conservation overlay

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Several weeks ago, Lyle Patterson, director of building and zoning for the City of Belle Meade, mentioned there was going to be an historic announcement in the coming weeks that would have significant ramifications for the city.

Patterson was quick to emphasize that this is a process in which the resident will have a major voice. The conservation overlay and the establishment of the historic zoning commission passed on the first reading, but there will be two additional public hearings on these matters in which all residents are encouraged to attend and provide input.

Last week, he announced that Belle Meade has begun a process to establish a conservation overlay “to protect the historic character of this beautiful area.’’ In an interview at Belle Meade City Hall, Patterson explained the need and intent of the overlay as well as why there was a need for change.

In order to better understand the current situation, a quick history lesson is in order. Through the years, Belle Meade has been known for its stringent, quirky building and zoning codes. The uncertainty about exactly what type of structure and especially its size baffled builders and stifled new construction for years.

For example, rather than have square footage restrictions, the size of the homes was based on cubic feet. This formula proved difficult to build as the ceiling heights, roof pitch and overall height was at least one third as important as the length and width of the home.

Six years ago, when Lyle Patterson took office, he revamped the codes and the zoning into a more reasonable and greatly more understandable manner more in line with Metro. Consequently, builders became less wary of working within the city limits of Belle Meade and renovations, additions and even some new construction began to increase.

The influx of construction began to improve Belle Meade as homes that had been untouched for years received facelifts and all was right with Belle Meade. Until a couple of years ago, there was little, if any, speculative building within the friendly confines of the most affluent neighborhood in Nashville as the lot costs were so expensive that the numbers did not work for demolishing homes and constructing new homes to be sold at a profit.

As prices continued to increase, suddenly some of the smaller homes in Belle Meade became affordable for spec building. Until recently, most demolition permits had been for custom homes, homes being built specifically for one homeowner who had found a lot, had architectural plans approved by the city, and hired a contractor to build that structure.

Suddenly and in great numbers, spec home builders began to invade the area. Patterson noted that there had been 26 teardowns in the past 18 months in a city that only includes 1,240 homes. “And I have four more on my desk right now,” Patterson adds.

“Of those 30, one third are spec homes and that concerns me, “ he admits. Patterson told the story of a friend of his who lives outside Belle Meade. On that person’s street, there are 12 homes and nine are painted white.

Many in the construction business have opined that by painting the brick, the builders are able to use inferior bricks as no one will see them. They often go on to warn that these bricks will require painting maintenance just as wood siding does.

Patterson says the white house craze is a fad and will go the way of the “avocado refrigerator” in a few years, adding that the cookie cutter houses were on the upswing with an “Alys Beach” look featuring “a white West Indies look with four gables, wing walls and a parapet wall.”

In order to curb the onslaught of this type of construction, the City of Belle Meade voted to enact 150-day moratorium on demolitions. Additionally, it announced the passage of Ordinance 2019-17 that amends the Belle Meade Municipal Code to create the Historic Zoning Commission (HZC).

This commission will consist of five appointed members including an architect, a representative of a local patriotic or historical commission, a member of the local planning commission and the remainder from the community in general.

Before the city commissioners can enact the overlay, which Patterson stresses is a conservation overlay as opposed to a historic overlay, they must confirm the proposed area meets the criteria specified in the state enabling legislation.

To that end, two staff members from the Tennessee Historical Commission have been engaged by the City to make recommendations as to which homes are considered “contributing” to the historic character of the district and which homes are “non-contributing”.

Once this assessment is completed, the boundaries will be set and the HZC will begin its work in adopting a set of guidelines in reviewing applications for what forever more will be referred to as “certificates of appropriateness” or COA. Correspondence to Belle Meade residents explains that a COA is “like a permit for demolitions, additions, and new construction that must be obtained before a property owner can apply for a permit.”

When these changes go into effect, a homeowner must pay a visit to the HZC before even applying for a permit. The guidelines that will be established by the HZC will be drafted with the assistance of Jane-Coleman Cottone, a staff member from the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Even though there is an extra step in the process, Patterson insists there will be no delay in approving the plans as other Metro departments could take two or three months and the owner can be working with he HZC and Patterson during that time in order to gain approval.

Another point of emphasis is this overlay applies strictly to new homes, not existing structures. The hope is that the more things change in Belle Meade, the more the community stays the same, architecturally speaking.

Richard Courtney is a licensed real estate broker with Fridrich and Clark Realty and can be reached at richard@richardcourtney.com.

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