Lenox Village, Nashville’s first full-scale traditional neighborhood development, is nestled among wooded hills south of Nashville, Tennessee. The 208-acre development patterns itself after the traditional small Tennessee town, with a village commons, a variety of housing types in a predominantly Southern vernacular (ranging from apartments and condominiums to custom homes), and a mixed-use commercial area bridging the primarily residential portion of the neighborhood with the commercial corridor along Nolensville Road.
By turning an environmental constraint – a manmade farm pond that became habitat for the endangered Nashville crayfish – into an opportunity, by subsequently restoring the pond into its natural stream and mitigating riparian habitat for the crayfish, Regent Development, Inc. created a unique nexus between the built and natural environments.
Lenox Village, now about one-third complete, has already garnered regional praise. In January 2004, the Home Builders Association of Middle Tennessee awarded city and Lenox Village representatives, including Regent president David McGowan, its Smart Growth Award. In 2002, the New Urbanist development won the AIA Merit Award for overall design from the Middle Tennessee Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Sales have been brisk, both because the detached and attached homes are affordable, and because the neighborhood’s design, amenities, and accessibility offer an alternative to suburban development elsewhere in the area. “The idea that homes should be designed only for a family with two kids, a dog and an SUV only represents 30 percent of the market,” said developer David McGowan. “Lenox Village provides quality, affordable housing choices for people of all income levels and ages, as well as an important village retail center.” In the first year and a half, over 200 homes sold, and construction of the retail center is just beginning.
Nashville mayor Bill Purcell sees an even larger significance. Accepting the Lenox Village Smart Growth Award, he said, “Today, I receive this award for what it means to this neighborhood, Lenox Village, and all that it stands for. You have many thanks for what you have done but more importantly the model that this provides for what we can do in this city and ultimately as a model for the country. As I look out all I really see is blue sky.”
Fundamental, and Fundamentally Sound, Design
With a statewide planning law that ordered its cities and counties to set 20-year coordinated urban growth boundaries, and the Nashville Planning Department’s goal of reshaping regional planning policy by emphasizing design and community participation in new development, the framework for creating Lenox Village was in place.
Still, “It was very expensive because we basically had to develop a code” to enable the neotraditional design, said McGowan. What resulted, with assistance from city planners, is the Lenox Village Urban Design Overlay (UDO), a form-based code that outlines everything from opportunities and constraints to village concepts, the physical design plan to design review. It also codifies the specific regulating plan.
The Nashville firm of Looney Ricks Kiss was hired to create the Lenox Village UDO, which was adopted by ordinance in May 2001 and subsequently amended in July 2003.
According to the UDO, Lenox Village is designed with “time-tested, traditional planning principles to provide a safe, integrated street network, neighborhood amenities and a sense of community.” Village concepts include an interconnected street grid, alleys, pedestrian orientation, formal and informal public spaces, mixed-use village core, diverse residential building types, and integrated housing typologies with compatible architectural design.
The Design Plan is a set of regulations and guidelines, yet “shall be flexible to respond to physical site constraints, end-users’ needs, community desires and a changing market.” Variations in street and open space network design, individual block layout, and dispersion of housing types are allowed, “so long that it meets the intent of the regulations and guidelines.”
The Village’s Design Plan ensures New Urbanist principles persist during design and development, and include:
- At tee intersections, streets should terminate on axis with a primary building form or architectural feature or an open space.
- On corner lots, architectural features should address both the front and side streets (e.g., corner porches, side porches, bay windows, etc.) and blank side walls should be avoided.
- Key corner lots, axis terminations and other prominent residential parcels should be reserved for custom homes where possible.
- No townhouse or single-family detached house should face directly down an alley.
Common pedestrian passages may be provided between parcels to allow exterior access from front to back of townhouses.
Design elements across the neighborhood include five-foot-wide sidewalks separated from narrow streets by landscaped strips, street trees, decorative lampposts, and underground utilities. Streets are public while alleys are privately maintained.
Affordable, Neotraditional Housing
At buildout, Lenox Village will have from 1,200 to 1,400 units of housing, ranging in price from $90,000 to more than $300,000, and ranging in type from condominium to attached townhome, rear-loaded detached single-family home to front-loaded detached single-family home (on periphery only). The UDO permits up to 900 attached and detached single-family residences, up to 500 multifamily residences, and provides no limit for the number of live/work units. Condominiums and attached townhomes have been big sellers early, since they are among the most affordable products of their type in the area. Multifamily housing is “intended to provide an opportunity for a more inclusive community. The desired goal is for renters to purchase property in the UDO over a period of time,” according to the Design Plan. Custom homes are also available.
Detached single-family homes are predominantly two-story, many with six-foot deep porches, high ceilings, tall windows, and classic architecture. Homes may include sunrooms and lofts, and feature both attached and detached garages. Foundations are raised from 18 to 24 inches above sidewalk level to provide a bit more privacy, as front yards are shallow.
Up to 25 percent of the detached homes and attached townhomes can have above-garage carriage units, limited to 600 square feet of conditioned space, which may serve a variety of uses, such as office, private guest quarters, exercise room, and granny flat.
Home designs are regulated by the Village Design Codes, part of the UDO.
Mixed-Use Village Core
According to Lenox Village marketing materials, “The Village Center is designed for a mix of activities that you would expect to find in a small town, so that its residents can perform many of their retail, commercial, civic and social activities in a convenient, accessible, central place.” Architecture likewise respects that of a small Tennessee town, using authentic materials such as brick and stone on the facades and steps, and metal roofing on the stoops and porches. The Design Plan also provides for a vernacular for shopfront signage.
The Village Core’s design, as outlined in the UDO, is that it is “situated in such a way that creates convenient automobile access for the entire community while allowing residents from the village and other adjacent neighborhoods to walk to neighborhood retail and services.” Most of Lenox Village’s residential areas are within a quarter-mile of the commercial area.
In addition to neighborhood commercial services such as a cafe, deli, restaurant, barber shop, local grocery, drugstore, and small offices, the Village Core is designed to accommodate multifamily housing, as well as live/work units. Respecting the transect of the neighborhood’s small scale, taller and more compact multifamily apartments and condominiums are located adjacent to commercial uses. Attached townhomes lead from the Village Core into the less dense residential areas of the neighborhood. Construction on the commercial area will begin in fall 2004, and is expected to be complete witin four years.
All street facades within the commercial portion of the Village Core are designed to be comprised of storefronts. Parking is internalized both to the main Nolensville Road and the streets and residences within the neighborhood. Landscaped passages will be provided between buildings to provide access from rear parking areas to the building fronts.
Additional live/work units are located along a small, horseshoe-shaped neighborhood green, overlooking the stream and within the Village’s second addition.
Open Space and Habitat Restoration
When creating a vision for the site, the design team realized that “the two major form-givers to the site are the wooded hillsides and the stream that feeds the pond.“ The Lenox Village UDO explains that “the wooded hillsides create a backdrop for the village to the east, form a buffer between the village and future development to the east, and provide habitat for wildlife. Existing rock outcroppings and large boulders provide opportunities for discovery within this natural sanctuary.”
It continues: “The stream bed acts as a natural focal point from all sides of the site. A tributary to Mill Creek, the stream provides a continuous public amenity with the potential to connect to the planned Mill Creek Greenway. Access and views down to this green spine become a major determinate of the street, lot, and block orientation.”
In order to take advantage of and actually enhance this “amenity” – by removing the manmade, five-acre farm pond and rebuilding the stream – Regent Development was required to develop a habitat conservation plan describing the mitigation and minimization measures it would undertake to address the effects of the development on the Nashville crayfish. These endangered crayfish are limited to the Mill Creek watershed, taking cover under flattened limestone slabs and other rocks of the gravel and limestone bedrock substrate of Mill Creek and its tributaries.
Once the habitat conservation plan was complete (see sidebar), and a public involvement period ended, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a federal incidental take permit, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. The 15-acre, stream-oriented greenway now serves as the predominant natural focal point of the community.
In addition to natural open space such as preserved hillsides and mitigated streamway, Lenox Village incorporates a hierarchy of more formal public spaces. The Village Green is a formal park near the Village Core that hosts a pavilion, used as the neighborhood’s primary outdoor gathering place. The Green includes public art such as a bronze statue of a child climbing a water spigot, flower gardens, and grass lawns. The Village Commons is set between Nolensville Road and the commercial area. Like the Village Core it is a formal park, but does not feature a pavilion or other large structure.
Neighborhood greens and other pocket parks are distributed throughout the neighborhood, often sited at the termini of streets, or along the streamway. These feature lawns and at least one tot lot so far.
Additionally, Lenox Village features a network of sidewalks and pedestrian paths throughout the neighborhood. The pathways also connect with adjacent neighborhoods.
Lenox Village in the Regional Context
The metropolitan Nashville region, like many burgeoning regions across the country, is at a critical point in its continued growth. While Tennessee has landmark smart growth legislation, and some mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented projects like Lenox Village are finding success, the challenge remains.
In June 2004, however, the metropolitan governance organization, Nashville Metro, received some good news: It was awarded a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to receive technical assistance from the Smart Growth Leadership Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works with municipalities and regional organizations to comprehensively update existing subdivision and zoning standards. Their goal, overall and for the Nashville metropolitan region in this case, is to make the new standards “compatible and conducive to smart growth.”
A team of three professional planners will help the region “weed through a thicket” of outdated codes to create policy and regulation frameworks, review processes, and design standards.
Lenox Village plays a part because, as much as it is a successful community for the developer and its residents, it is also a showcase for the entire metropolitan region. More specifically, developer David McGowan’s experience is helping to define a new zoning district that will make it easier for developers to create traditional neighborhoods in Nashville and, when others follow suit, across the region.
“Our goal is to provide housing, transportation and development choices for different needs and life stages,” said Metro Planning Department director Rick Bernhardt. “To do so fairly and equitably, we must level the regulatory playing field and make it just as easy to develop a community with a mixture of retail, restaurants, townhomes and single-family homes as it is to build the conventional, single-use subdivision.”
A traditional zoning category would help alleviate the costs and time involved in developing New Urbanist communities. Lennox Village cost about 20-25 percent more than a standard subdivision would have just for planning, and the process took much longer, according to McGowan.
“I highly recommend the city look into creating a zoning category called a TN (Traditional Neighborhood) or TND (Traditional Neighborhood Design) zone that someone can adopt and that would allow them to work on a property,” McGowan concludes.
Until then, Lenox Village continues to build out using its urban design overlay a code for the neighborhood, a model for the region, and a vision for community “unsprawl.”
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