Nashville council approves controversial West End tower project after last-minute concessions
A long-disputed development plan for a pair of West End towers won tentative approval by Metro Council just hours after neighborhood groups hashed out an agreement with the developer on Tuesday night.
Brentwood-based GBT Realty sought a special zoning allowance to build two towers for condominiums, a hotel and retail shops at the Murphy Road exit of Interstate 440 near Midtown.
The proposal is about twice as dense as is allowed under existing rules, even though it's in a corridor slated for intense development growth. It would replace a two-story Fifth Third Bank at 3419 Murphy Road.
West End, Hillsboro, Sylvan Park and Richland community groups have fought GBT for about a year, arguing it would make traffic unbearable at West End Avenue and Murphy Road, and send streams of cars onto their small neighboring residential streets.
"I understand that Nashville is the 'It City,' but there is no doubt this request is motivated by dollars and cents. It’s not for the smart development of this corridor," said Julie Cavallo, a resident. "I respectfully ask each and every one of you to slow down, be responsible, be smart."
However, Cavallo and other local residents said they would concede if GBT returns to council for the third and final reading with an amended plan. That compromise includes reduced building heights to a maximum of 154 feet, muted glass reflectivity, added trees and curbs to the nearby greenway, and free parking for the first year of operation, among other things.
West End congestion remains concern
GBT has already repeatedly changed its plans based on resident complaints. It split its original proposal for one large 207-foot-tall building into two shorter towers, and removed planned offices in favor of condos to reduce traffic trips to the building.
Traffic calming measures, including new synchronized signals, altered turning lanes and speed cushions are in the plans.
Traffic congestion has been a problem in the area for years.
In 2014, a proposal for a 7.1-mile, $175 million Metro bus rapid transit plan along the West End-Broadway corridor failed.
Last year, the city's transit referendum for new light rail and bus lines was rejected despite majority support in the West End area.
"We've gone through an extensive design process on this," said Joe Bucher, principal with the project's architectural firm Gresham Smith. "We reduced the height of the building by 52.5 feet. It treats the streetscape and public realm with more subtlety and softness."
Bucher said a pedestrian plaza between the buildings and other pedestrian connections will provide a more "human experience of the project."
James Weaver, an attorney for GBT, said the project has represented "the most robust public participation process that I have been involved in in 31 years."
Neighborhood associations met with the developer six times, and Metro officials have repeatedly deferred the item because of widespread contention.
But residents said they felt GBT, which hired a public relations firm for the project, was slow to respond to their concerns.
"We've had very spirited discussions about this, and all the changes you've heard were a result of those discussions," said James Kelley, a member of the Richland-West End Neighborhood Association board of directors. "On March 11, they said 'no' to (concessions) and that's why there are a lot of people here in opposition."
Two hours before the meeting, GBT agreed to residents' calls for parking and nearby greenway modifications, and an additional traffic study.
"I am not against development. This project is too large for that lot," said resident Pat Snyder. "I believe that the area should be developed, but we don’t want another downtown as an entranceway to all of these historic neighborhoods.”
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