Gallatin Road Zoning Quandary Continues

Impro ving the looks of Gallatin Road has been the unsolved riddle for East Nashvillians who take pride in the renovated charm of their neighborhoods and the trendy restaurants and shops surrounding the corridor. A makeover has proven tricky, however, because it means dictating how property owners can use their land.
     A few years ago Metro planners and neighborhood leaders thought they had worked out a zoning plan solution called Specific Planning (SP), which set design rules for new development and halted the future growth of businesses considered undesirable. That plan, which applies to more than 700 businesses along Gallatin Road, fell apart earlier this summer when the State Appeals Court ruled the SP invalid. The resulting confusion leaves businesses and property owners with millions of dollars at stake.
     One of the best examples is the case of Conoly Brown, the Tennessee Quick Cash owner who won his six-year legal battle against Metro Planning when the zoning plan was overturned. He had lost nearly $100,000 overnight when it originally went into effect. He paid $160,000 for property at 934 Gallatin Road where he planned to relocate his business, but the seller did not tell him about the impending zoning change — a change which prevented his car title loan business from operating on the site.
     “We’ve had it for sale ever since, and the only offer we’ve received is for $50,000,” says Brown. Prior to its reversal, SP zoning meant new businesses such as pawn shops and cash advance stores could not open along Gallatin Road from 5th Street to Briley Parkway. Brown complained the zoning change had ulterior motives: “East Nashville groups are trying to get rid of the services that supported the people who live there.”
     The intention, community organizers said at the time, was to help direct future growth so it would no longer resemble routes like Charlotte Avenue or Nolensville and Murfreesboro Roads. But highly traveled roads are prime locations for the clientele Brown and his competitors want to attract: working people who cannot borrow funds from their local banks. He says Tennessee Quick Cash customers know their credit will not be checked. “Everybody who borrows has to have a job. If they have a job and a banking account, we’ll basically loan them money.” Brown says their customers pay interest rates ranging from 10 to 22 percent.
     Because there are more than a dozen competing quick-loan stores along Gallatin Road, Brown says his business needs bright lights, prominent signs and visible parking. “Whoever has the easiest parking lot to get in and out, with the best access and visibility . . . they will do the most business.”
     Since the needs of a quick-loan building didn’t mesh with the sidewalk storefronts planners envisioned of Gallatin as a pedestrian corridor, SP banned such businesses as a permitted use. In June, Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Cottrell ruled the SP plan “be declared null and void because the ordinances that restrict their rights to use their property lack any reasonable or rational basis, thereby violating their constitutional rights to due process and protection of the laws.”
     The Metro Planning Department reverted back to the original zoning plan from seven years ago, which is mostly commercial. That move creates problems for newer businesses like The Dog Spot because the old zoning doesn’t allow the doggie daycare business to operate in its current site.
     Co-owner Andy Baker says the zoning confusion hurts the whole area. “The biggest problem now is people don’t know what to do, so they are not doing anything. No one is going to develop anything while this is in limbo.”
     Over the summer community leaders, neighbors, property owners and government officials have been mulling over a new zoning plan that continues to spark controversy. City planners say the new zoning proposal is about the shape and location of new buildings, without targeting certain businesses. The multi-use zoning categories require new buildings be built with sidewalk storefronts and parking located in the back. It also restricts the size and types of signs lining Gallatin Road.
     Some business owners share the same concerns as Baker, who argues it’s dangerous to require their customers to park in the back of the building off an unsightly alley. “What was the rear of the building will now be the entrance, and it’s disgusting. You’ve got trash and criminal elements, and it’s ugly looking and very unsafe.” He adds, “The restrictions on signage are huge.”
     Metro Councilman and Gallatin Road business owner Anthony Davis says the proposed zoning categories are a great opportunity, “particularly for North Inglewood, as it has been hamstrung on use options by having ‘office/ residential’ as the underlying land use policy.” He believes the signage restrictions will be negotiable as the proposed plan moves forward. “I am open to compromise on signage. I feel it is time to lose the old pole-sign mentality.” He adds the requirement for sidewalk storefronts can be amended to impact larger developers more than small businesses.
     Work on rezoning will continue this fall, but no matter how the plan changes, or how upscale the Gallatin Road marketplace becomes, Conoly Brown says it’s still a prime location for quick-cash businesses like his. “Our store sites are based on traffic count, not based on trying to be in somebody’s neighborhood.” His legal victory means he could open on Gallatin Road, but he says he will concentrate on improving his 21 other sites.

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