A Message About the Recently Enacted Metro Sidewalk Ordinance

A message from Greater Nashville REALTORS® President Scott Troxel about the recently enacted Metro Nashville Sidewalk ordinance.

News Story and Incorrect Application of the Ordinance

Last weekend a story ran on WSMV Channel 4 in Nashville. The story was about a home-owner in the Edgehill neighborhood that wants to build an Accessory Detached Dwelling Unit (DADU) or perhaps better known as a “Carriage House”. The story talks about how the owner found out when she and her contractor pulled the permit that she would have to rebuild the existing city sidewalks and give up some of her property as a “Right of Way Dedication”. All-in-all, it was going to cost her an estimated $70,000 (estimate provided by her contractor). The report states that all of this is because of the Sidewalk Ordinance that just went into effect on July 1st.

This story and this version of the Sidewalk Ordinance has received a lot of exposure. Many in the Realtor and Development community are alarmed by this interpretation and application of the new ordinance. When the ordinance passed, we had been assured that the only thing that would trigger new sidewalk construction or “in-lieu” fees would be a newly constructed single-family house or duplex.

I called District 34 Councilperson Angie Henderson, the author/lead sponsor of the Sidewalk Ordinance, soon after the story ran to get answers on whether the bill had been improperly or properly applied. She was familiar with the WSMV story and said that the application of the Sidewalk Ordinance was INCORRECT - that Metro Codes requirement that new sidewalks be built for this Edgehill homeowner was NOT CORRECT. She had already spent time with Codes trying to get to the bottom of how this happened and called it a glitch. She felt confident that the Metro Codes staff knows very well that this scenario would not result in new sidewalks or in-lieu fees. They are trying to understand what happened here - but it seems to be the only incidence where the ordinance was incorrectly applied since it went into effect July 1st.

What the ordinance actually does

To be clear, if one is renovating, expanding their home, or adding an Accessory Detached Dwelling Unit, there is no requirement for new sidewalks to be built, for existing sidewalks to be improved or for in-lieu fees to be paid. Only the construction of a new single-family home or new duplex triggers requirements for new/improved sidewalks or in-lieu fees.

If you renovate/expand your home or even build a carriage house (technically: Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit - DADU) and the cost of those improvements is less than or equal to 25% of the assessed value of all the structures on the lot - you WILL NOT be required to build sidewalks pay an in-lieu fee or dedicate public right-of-way. 

If the project is greater than 25% of the assessed value of all the structures on the lot and the property is in the applicable geographic areas, there may be a requirement to dedicate a portion of the frontage to Metro providing them with right-of-way for the future construction of a sidewalk by the city. This requirement will only happen if there is an abutting sidewalk or the street has a planned sidewalk identified in the Priority Sidewalk Network. 

The dedicated area will NOT impact the total lot square-footage of the lot for zoning, floor-area-ratio, set-backs, etc.

If you are building a new driveway, walkway (like sidewalk from the front door to the mailbox), that crosses this right of way, that particular improvement must be designed so that it will work with a future sidewalk. The entire lot will not need to be “prepared” for a future sidewalk. Just the area where the improvement crosses the right of way. This is not necessarily a benign requirement. There are many instances where building a driveway to accommodate future sidewalks might result in an “awkward” design with the driveway sitting well above the rest of the grade or well below the existing grade. The owner does have the BZA (Board of Zoning Appeals) as a court with which to appeal for relief. There is no compensation provided for the dedication of the right-of-way. 

Helpful Links and Tools

Here is a link to the sidewalk requirements page:

http://www.nashville.gov/Planning-Department/Transportation/Sidewalks.aspx

On this page, you can find a very helpful mapping tool to determine what will be required for specific properties.

Letter from bill sponsor Angie Henderson

I’m including Angie Henderson’s letter to the Metro Council. It provides a lot of clarity about the WSMV story, what went wrong and the correct interpretation of the ordinance. If any of you know Angie - she is not going to allow for the sloppy application of this ordinance. She is detailed and very passionate about this ordinance. She will not tolerate incorrect interpretation by the codes department. Read her letter here.