​Village Update: Housing Study and Market Analysis Highlights

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the May Sewanee Village update meeting Special Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor Frank Gladu provided highlight from the recently released Housing Study and Retail and Housing Market Analysis focusing on aspects of the conclusions pertinent to the Sewanee Village Plan. Gladu is tasked with overseeing the plan, a blueprint for long-term development in downtown Sewanee.
Provost Nancy Berner charged the 12-member Housing Study Group, made up of University faculty and staff, to investigate housing needs in Sewanee. The group foremost recommended “that every University employee who wishes to live on the Domain should have the ability to do so.”
To that end the group advocated increasing opportunities for homeownership by capping the number of homes owned by nonresidents; selling select rental units owned by the University; and prioritizing ownership opportunities for employees, followed by permanent residents, with nonresidents least favored.
The group also stressed the need to increase the number of available leaseholds, an initiative already underway. Rather than constructing new developments like Parson’s Green and Wiggins Creek, Gladu saw the emphasis on “infill—creating new leasehold properties within neighborhoods with vacancies.”
To improve the rental housing climate, the Housing Study Group recommended policy changes allowing tenure track employees to remain in rental housing until a year following the tenure decision and replacing the three-year limit on rental housing residence with a more lenient year-to-year rental policy. Anticipating the recommendation, Provost Berner recently announced all third-year renters could remain for a fourth year.
Another rental housing recommendation proposed all full-time employees be eligible to rent, not just select classifications. And finally, the group recommended rental housing be managed by a full-time staff member devoted exclusively to that task.
The group also had suggestions for the Sewanee Village project, proposing in housing the emphasis should not be on design, but on affordable housing for employees. Regarding retail space, the group recommended incentivizing certain types of businesses
Gladu supported the incentivizing proposal, but called it a “gray area. How do you decide who to incentivize?”
The Market Analysis undertaken to gauge housing and retail demand in the Sewanee Village in some respects paralleled the Housing Study group conclusions. Development Economist Randall Gross, who performed the analysis, compiled results from on-demand surveys and comparing markets in similar mountain region college towns.
During a five year period, Gross predicted a significant increase in demand for rental housing by 50-150 units and an increase in demand for owned homes by 120-195 units. Gross recommended the town planners lean toward small cottage type homes.
Asked if the Village project proposed a minimum square foot size for homes, Gladu said, “It will depend on the neighborhood. Everyone wants a picket fence and a yard,” he conceded. “It’s the American Dream.”
On the retail spectrum, Gross projected an increase from the current 33,000 square feet to 65,000 square feet of retail business space.
“Retail space could double,” Gladu said, “but not right now. You need people to have retail.”
Gross proposed focusing on the part-time category of visitors and tourism. In support of the idea, Gladu said, “We need to develop some draw to encourage visitors from surrounding areas.”
Gladu cited the Mountain Goat Trail and South Cumberland State Park and popular nearby attractions like Jack Daniels Distillery and The Caverns music venue.
Gross favored “an arts focus” for Sewanee.
Asked if increased tourism would benefit the University’s exposure and enrollment, Gladu pointed to competition from other “institutions like us.” “You have to sell yourself,” he observed.
Gladu invited the community to stop by the Village Planning office on July 4. Gladu and town planner Brian Wright will be on hand before and after the parade to answer questions.
The next Village update meeting is scheduled for June 5.