Nashville axes parking minimums

The City of Nashville adopted new zoning for its 600-acre downtown core — the area inside the inner loop of highways that encircle the city — in 2010. Since then, the city has seen the development of 9 new projects and 10 rehabilitations of existing buildings. The code is essentially a form-based code — although the city does not use that language, according to Joni Priest, with the city’s urban design studio.

Key changes include the elimination of minimum off-street parking requirements, a relaxing of use requirements (wide latitude on mixes of uses are allowed throughout downtown), replacing setback requirements with build-to lines, and the establishment of height limits in the form of stories — not feet. (Thanks to the Old Urbanist blog for bringing these changes to our attention.) 

Priest notes that the old code was cumbersome and included considerable industrial zoning — even though industry was leaving the downtown core. “Almost every project had to rezone and/or get a variance.” The city decided to implement a single mandatory code — no overlay zones — to eliminate extra steps in the entitlement process. The new code is designed to make it as easy to develop in the downtown core as it is to build a shopping center in a suburban area, Priest notes.

Prior to drafting the code, Nashville spent a good deal of time working with citizens on a new downtown vision — which was approved in 2007. The code changes were drafted in house — and when the changes were proposed in late 2009 there was no public opposition, Priest says.

The code strongly emphasizes building placement, and only lightly regulates architecture. “If you get the cake in the right place, I don’t care about the frosting,” says Priest.

The new urban firm Opticos Design reviewed the graphics and public presentation aspects of the code, Priest says.