Sep 8, 2022 - Real Estate

Riverchase apartment rezoning dispute rages on

Metro City Hall
The Historic Metro Courthouse. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

A massive apartment complex rezoning in East Nashville has been repeatedly delayed as its developer spars with Metro Councilmember Sean Parker as well as a nonprofit group.

Details: The Planning Commission unanimously approved the Riverchase apartment rezoning in February.

  • The developer has promised 225 affordable housing rentals out of 1,150 total units.
  • Development firm Cyprus Real Estate Advisors has reached a community benefits agreement with the nonprofit Urban League of Middle Tennessee in addition to promising street improvements and a financial partnership with the McFerrin Park Neighborhood Association.
  • But another, powerful nonprofit, Stand Up Nashville, doesn't think that's enough.

Why it matters: The battle over the Riverchase rezoning is a test of Stand Up Nashville's political clout amid the debate over a new Titans stadium and Mayor John Cooper's East Bank redevelopment plan. The group has expressed reservations about the East Bank plan.

What he's saying: Parker tells Axios his issue is with CREA's poor community engagement.

  • Parker tweeted that CREA agreed to meet with "neighbors, community organizations, and critical stakeholders." He says his only request of CREA was to meet with those groups.
  • "Generally I work to get community support for all my legislation," Parker tells Axios. "CREA has done a great job selling this project to the [nonprofit] world, the media, and my colleagues but their approach in my community has left a lot to be desired."

The other side: CREA development manager Stephen Buchanan told council in a letter on Tuesday that CREA has done plenty to engage the public, including holding seven formal community meetings, most recently on July 26.

State of play: At the heart of the zoning dispute is Stand Up Nashville, which asked council to defer the plan on Tuesday.

  • Stand Up Nashville told council in an email last week that it believes the deal between the developer and the Urban League lacks guarantees that affordable housing will actually be included.
  • Buchanan argued a deed restriction for the property does guarantee their inclusion.

Between the lines: Stand Up Nashville is a politically connected group. Its executive director Odessa Kelly is on a leave of absence while she runs for Congress. Councilmember Delishia Porterfield also serves as director of leadership and advocacy. And Stand Up Nashville counts labor unions and other influential progressive organizations among its coalition.

  • The group negotiated the landmark community benefits agreement associated with the fairgrounds soccer stadium project and its surrounding mixed-use development.

Flashback: Stand Up Nashville began negotiating its own community benefits agreement with the developer, but those talks fell apart over the definition of what should constitute an affordable housing unit.

Yes, but: Community benefits agreements, in which developers partner with nonprofit groups and add other public perks to their projects, are legally complicated. State law forbids making a rezoning plan contingent on such contracts.

  • Buchanan told council members that Stand Up Nashville's request for the council violates state law because it says members "should not hold a public hearing or consider rezoning for this [zoning] application unless you meet SUN’s standards for a Community Benefits Agreement."
  • "The agreement with the Urban League is the first of its kind on private land in Nashville that provides quality affordable housing without requiring public funding," Buchan said in his letter. "It offers a roadmap to help the community forward with a very difficult problem."
  • Stand Up Nashville interim director Michael Callahan-Kapoor disagrees with Buchanan's take that Stand Up Nashville's request is illegal. He tells Axios, "if CREA wants a variance from zoning laws that protect the community, then the community should get some say in that and some benefit from it. [Stand Up Nashville] stands to gain nothing, monetary or otherwise, from a community benefits agreement. We are simply advocating for the community, which is our mission."
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