Beacon Center Report: Restrictive Zoning Arbitrarily Limits Housing Supply in Nashville
Only 10.9 percent of the land in Davidson County is zoned for 3+ units.
A new report from the Beacon Center of Tennessee sheds light on the restrictive zoning laws in Middle Tennessee, which severely restrict the availability of affordable housing for low and middle-income residents. The report reveals that only 10.9 percent of the land in Davidson County is zoned for 3+ units, while the surrounding counties have less than 5 percent of their land zoned for apartments or anything larger than a duplex.
The report also notes how housing types like affordable dwelling units (ADUs) or in-law suites are either outright banned or only reserved for family members, meaning they are unavailable to other renters. In Middle Tennessee, only 34 percent of ADUs can be rented to someone other than a family member.
The report also includes an interactive Tennessee Zoning Atlas map that visualizes how restrictive zoning is around the Middle Tennessee area.
Although not the focus of this report, it’s also worth pointing out the role Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) coalitions play in rallying behind the status quo to maintain prohibitive zoning schemes in our area. Many multi-family housing developments, especially in Nashville suburbs, are often met by loud and angry opposition from current residents, fearful of what higher density might bring to their neighborhood.
They generally spread fear and misinformation over higher density developments, claiming they will harm “community character,” threaten public safety, increase traffic, or crowd schools. These concerns are generally unfounded and overlook the massive societal and economic benefits of higher density, not least of which include an increase in the housing supply in a given area.
NIMBY groups have organized to try to stop rezoning that would allow for large developments in both Belle Meade and Bellevue. The city has approved the Belle Meade Plaza development, while the apartments in Bellevue await further action from the City Planning Commission and Metro Council. An HOA has also filed a lawsuit regarding access to an easement extending the greenway path.
Unless major zoning reform occurs, NIMBY opposition groups will continue to delay or prevent significant developments from increasing the housing supply in Nashville. As the Beacon Center report concludes, Nashville and Middle Tennessee need to reform arbitrary zoning rules and more easily allow the construction of more types of multi-family housing units on more land.
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