​Sewanee Village: Thoughts on Housing

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the April Sewanee Village update meeting Special Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor Frank Gladu focused the discussion on housing. Of the Sewanee Village Plan’s five priority projects—narrowing the U.S. Highway 41A intersection, a grocery-type market, relocating the University bookstore to downtown, a village green, and housing—“Housing is the most challenging,” Gladu said. “It presents the most variables and had the highest demand.”
“Apartments and multi-family homes are something we’re missing,” Gladu stressed. It makes sense to “build what we have none of.” The plan calls for apartments on the top two stories of the grocery-type market and on the upper stories of other retail buildings proposed for the same tract. Another tract is earmarked for multi-family units such as duplexes and row houses.
“The question is what variety of housing we’ll decide to create. I think the slam-dunk is bedroom and studio apartments,” Gladu said.
Gladu also acknowledged a possible need for more single family homes in the downtown area. There are only two undeveloped lots left in Parson’s Green, according to Gladu, and the downtown plan only identifies three lots for single-family homes.
A tract earmarked for single-family cottage court style housing “has gone through many redesigns” to address drainage issues, Gladu said. “We’re now looking at building at the rear of the lot where the house used to be located.”
Gladu also suggested the possibility of working with the planner to release lots outside the downtown area. Plans call for only single-family homes in the area of the Sewanee Village outside downtown. Groupings of lots with conveniently located utilities would offer less expensive options to both individuals wanting to build and to developers who might want to build four or five homes, Gladu pointed out. He speculated that the rule allowing only University employees to build might be relaxed as is the case in Parson’s Green where permanent residents are allowed to build, but not second-home owners.
Provost Nancy Berner was in the process of reviewing the initial report from the Housing Study Group, Gladu said. He expected Berner to share the findings of the report at the end of April.
According to Gladu, Berner has already acted on one recommendation from the Housing Study Group, allowing University employees currently residing in University rental housing to rent for up to four years instead of just three. Gladu explained the three-year rental policy was instituted to accommodate an influx of new faculty, but that need no longer exists.
“The idea of University rental housing has always been as a transition place until people decide where they want to live more permanently,” Gladu said. The University rents only to employees. The rental policy, like the policy allowing only University employees to build, intends to ensure employees have a place to live.
Gladu compared the University’s experience with rental housing to a roller coaster ride, with demand ranging from extremely high to extremely low “for no rhyme or reason.”
In a discussion about how increasing retail growth depended on not just increasing housing but on attracting visitors, a new resident in the community suggested an RV park as a way to accommodate temporary residents.
Providing an update on other projects, Gladu said a funding gift earmarked for design of the village green will likely result in selection of a landscape architect in the near future. Gladu stressed the Sewanee Market located on the lot proposed for the green couldn’t close until the new grocery was built. Gladu plans to meet with a developer interested in the multi-use grocery-apartment project next week.