​Housing in Sewanee: What Fits?

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the Dec. 5 Sewanee Village update meeting, Special Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor Frank Gladu invited residents’ input about what types of housing and what home sizes would best suit the area designated as the Sewanee Village. Gladu oversees implementation of the Village Plan which encompasses 45 acres in the downtown Sewanee vicinity with a view to ensuring development is intentional rather than haphazard.
Citing housing as one of five priority projects, Gladu said, “The right kind of housing doesn’t exist now or is beyond the reach of what most residents can afford to pay. The $100 per square foot home doesn’t exist anymore.”
A recent call for qualifications resulted in approval of seven developers and builders being invited to submit housing proposals by mid-January. One of the approved developers specializes in tiny, 390-square-foot pre-manufactured homes of a style determined to be in keeping with Village Pattern Book specifications.
Sewanee resident Sarah Stapleton pointed out townhouses with shared walls made more efficient use of the land than clusters of small homes.
“How many people really want a 400-square-foot home?” asked resident Nancy Burnett. She speculated there might be more demand for 600-1,200 square foot homes.
Gladu said the Village market analysis forecast the greatest demand would be for small bungalows, 1,200-1,500 square feet in size, rather than townhouses and duplexes. The analysis didn’t address tiny homes.
Gladu noted the tiny home developer recently sold 20 of 53 lots in a tiny home community outside Monteagle.
Stapleton suggested small, clustered homes would be attractive to young University staff as rentals, but not to buy—“They don’t stick around.” A view of the woods would greatly enhance the appeal, she stressed.
Gladu said a lot in Parson’s Green was earmarked for multi-family housing of the townhouse variety. Another site will allow both multi-family homes and rental apartments. Other sites are reserved for single family homes.
Asked if new Village housing would be available exclusively to University employees, Gladu cited the University’s recent release of 10 home sites. Employees have the first option to lease and build. After six months, unclaimed lots will be offered to full-time residents.
The criteria set for the newly released lots “put a stake in the full-time resident requirement,” Gladu said. But he noted developers were asked to submit bid estimates for both full-time resident and second home owner projections.
Burnett advised at least a portion of the homes in any given site be sold to full-time residents. A second home owners’ neighborhood “could end up as a ghost town” at certain times of year.
Sewanee resident Bill Harper referenced George Rainsford Fairbanks’ “History of the University of the South,” which envisioned a core of residences for faculty and staff and second home owners’ residences in outlying areas. “Many people who start out as second home owners are trying out their retirement location.”
In an update on other priority projects, Gladu said the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) had completed right of way plans for narrowing Highway 41A to calm traffic. Gladu anticipates TDOT will host a public hearing before moving forward.
Burnett asked about plans to relocate the Community Center.
“There are no immediate plans to relocate the Community Center and Senior Center. Both generate a lot of activity in the downtown area,” Gladu said. “Relocation will take effort and resources. The Community Center and Senior Center are fine where they are for now.”
The next Village update meeting is Jan. 2.