Metro Council voted down a plan on Tuesday to temporarily suspend new multi-family developments in the Antioch area, but the councilmember pitching the idea says the issue is broader than her under-served part of town, calling into question if Nashville is doing a good job managing its growth.

Metro Councilmember Tanaka Vercher proposed legislation to impose a 120 day moratorium on multi-family developments in Antioch. Vercher wanted the Planning Department to use the pause to study the adequacy of roads, sidewalks, stormwater, parks, public safety and schools capacity in Antioch.

Councilmember Tanaka Vercher (Photo: Nashville.gov)
Councilmember Tanaka Vercher (Photo: Nashville.gov)

To illustrate her point, Vercher pointed to the approximately 3,300 multi-family units already in the pipeline for the area, as well as the consistently at or over-capacity schools in the Antioch and Cane Ridge clusters.

Gentrification in other parts of town has led to a boom of growth in Antioch and the nearby working class neighborhoods in southeast Davidson County. But, Vercher said city services haven’t followed and constituents feel left behind by the government and over-run by development.

The moratorium sought by Vercher was unusual, but not totally unprecedented. Planning paused new zoning proposals on Music Row in 2015 after the community raised concerns about recording studios and other historic buildings being torn down to make way for more density.

The pushback to Vercher’s proposal was significant. The Homebuilders Association opposed the legislation. So did various developers with projects on the way, and property owners worried about their development rights. Council members representing neighboring districts that would be included in the moratorium, including Joy Styles and Russ Bradford, voted against the plan, calling out Vercher for not collaborating with them.

Vercher said it was urgent to take action because “right now we have runaway growth in the area.” The proposal was not “anti-apartments” or “anti-affordable housing,” Vercher said when the legislation was debated in the Council Planning, Zoning and Historical Committee. Council voted 28-11 to disapprove the legislation.

“It’s simply saying, ‘Hey, let’s pause so that our planning department can give us the resources and the information so we can plan for sustainable growth,’’ Vercher said. “We’re either going to be an investment for the city or a liability to the city, because this is only going to become more and more costly.”

Vercher said her questions about whether the city is managing its growth well are broader than Antioch. During the Planning Commission meeting last week to consider the moratorium, a top planning official said the department lacked the bandwidth to conduct the study Vercher sought, because an array of other heavy-lift initiatives are already underway.

“My concern, and I think it should be everyone’s concern, is we aren’t equipped to manage our growth,” Vercher said. “If the tornado, and the pandemic, and the bombing aren’t cause to step back and consider if we are doing a good job at managing growth, then I don’t know what is.”

Greg Claxton, advance research and planning manager with the Metro Planning Department, outlined the department’s opposition to Vercher’s legislation in a presentation to the Planning Commission members last week. Claxton presented data showing that although Antioch has grown significantly, it isn’t the fastest growing part of Davidson County.

Traffic is a concern in Antioch, but that’s the case throughout the county, he said. Claxton conceded in his presentation that the area has complaints about public safety, schools capacity issues and needs larger parks.

But, he pointed out that the capital spending plan unveiled this month by Nashville Mayor John Cooper includes funding for expanding Cane Ridge High School, adding a Cane Ridge Middle School and building the long-sought Antioch police precinct on already-purchased land. Although Antioch has outpaced the rest of the county in growth, its total number of multi-family permits is about the same as the rest of the county from 2012 to 2019.

“Overall we find that while the study area is growing a little bit faster than the county, it doesn’t seem to be driven by an inordinate number of growth oriented policies or multi-family zoning or a large share of multi-family permits,” Claxton told the commission last week.

  My concern, and I think it should be everyone's concern, is we aren't equipped to manage our growth. If the tornado, and the pandemic, and the bombing aren't cause to step back and consider if we are doing a good job at managing growth , then I don't know what is.   – Tanaka Vercher, Metro Councilmember

Therese Broomfield, who has lived in Antioch for 26 years and is an active neighborhood advocate for the area, supported the legislation. Broomfield said it has grown exhausting for Antioch residents to fight off unwanted apartment complex developments one day, and beg for more city services the next.

Broomfield pointed to an apartment complex under construction near Murfreesboro Pike and Mt. View Parkway where flooding became a problem after that project got underway.

“It has always seemed as though we’ve been fighting,” Broomfield said. “I’m thinking what’s been happening is because of the explosive, unmonitored growth. We have over-crowded schools. Everyone knows about our horrible traffic problem. We don’t have enough public safety. It’s always seemed as though everything was a tug-of-war to get the appropriate infrastructure. Even some of the battles for the transportation piece took a fight and we still don’t have enough bus routes.”

Metro Planning Director Lucy Kempf said infrastructure investment is the “cornerstone” of growth, and she echoed the investment that Cooper is making in the Antioch area in his capital spending plan.

Pushing back against the criticism that the planning department isn’t keeping up with growth, Kempf pointed to infrastructure, mobility, open space and other recommendations the department has prepared in recent years on Dickerson Road, the Haynes Trinity neighborhood and other parts of town.

“When the Department is undertaking such work, we begin with community engagement, so that all neighbors and stakeholders can equally share concerns about issues and express ideas for the future,” Kempf said. “We also include departments that provide the infrastructure for roads, water, and others, to determine appropriate investments and a coordinated approach to growth. We look forward to undertaking such planning work in neighborhoods throughout the County, including Antioch.”

Kempf reiterated the department’s opposition to Vercher’s bill.

“However, we disagree that this type of work should begin by targeting a specific housing type that provides an important option for Nashvillians of many different preferences and needs,” Kempf said. “The council’s vote tonight of 11-28, failing to support this ordinance, suggests similar concerns. A holistic approach that allows for an open and balanced discussion of issues and potential outcomes at the outset, and includes feedback from all stakeholders, is how we make recommendations that benefit the entire community.”

During the council committee meeting on Tuesday, Claxton read off a list of transit studies, strategic reviews and other planning updates in the pipeline for the Antioch area. Importantly, he said the capital spending plan includes funds for a neighborhood planning and infrastructure study for southeast Davidson County (as well as North Nashville and Edgehill).

But, Vercher said Antioch residents are skeptical of the city’s willingness to address growth in the area. 

While, adding affordable housing stock has reached crisis levels in Nashville, triggering the need for more multi-family developments, Vercher questioned why so many large-scale apartment mega complexes are built in her district and not equitably distributed through other parts of town.

“We’ve heard this before, over and over and over again,” Vercher said. “It shouldn’t be that neighbors have to beg and borrow to be listened to.”