​Village Update: Housing Hot Topic

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Frank Gladu, who oversees implementation of the Sewanee Village Plan, opened the Jan. 8 update meeting inviting questions from those attending. The plan encompasses 45-acres in the downtown Sewanee vicinity. Housing, one of five priority projects, dominated much of the discussion.
“What will be available to nonemployees?” asked John Greeter, a former resident who hoped to move back to Sewanee.
Gladu said a request for proposals issued to developers specified “single and multi-family homes that can be sold, but there’s no decision yet on who can buy them.”
The decision fell to the University, Gladu said, but he speculated the developer-built residences would be offered first to employees and, if not purchased, offered to full-time residents. Although University policy stipulates only employees can build, Gladu cited the exception of Parson’s Green where a full-time resident can build, and a similar standard for lots recently released by the University. If unclaimed by employees by April 1, the recently released lots will be open for lease and building by full-time residents. Several of the lots are within the Village boundary.
“Aside from the just released lots, is there any provision in the Village for owner-developed lots where a resident could hire their own contractor?” asked Sewanee architect and resident Patton Watkins.
“We don’t have that situation currently,” Gladu said. “We’re trying to identify sites that could create more than one house. We’re looking for developers to build two, three, four, eight, 10 units on a site.”
“Is that what the market wants?” Watkins asked. “Usually market forces dictate inventory. There’s a man here who wants to build a house and can’t. It seems like the Village Plan isn’t addressing the current need.”
Gladu pointed to the Provost’s housing study group that recommended smaller, more affordable housing to meet employees’ needs and a market demand study that projected a need for 20-30 single-family units.
“Most people want a small bungalow, single-family detached home, but I think we should also pursue creating an inventory of townhouses and duplexes because it fits the affordability and makes other living spaces available,” said Gladu.
“A house that would cost $100,000 anywhere else costs $350,000 here,” observed Melissa Watkins, a Montealge resident with longtime Sewanee connections.
In his update on the other priority projects, Gladu said progress on the new bookstore was “lagging.”
“The hold up is selecting a contractor that can produce a building within the budget framework of the University,” Gladu said.
“This kind of thing happens all the time,” said architect and Sewanee resident Clayton Rogers. “You either change the design to fit the budget or increase the budget.”
Gladu agreed. “University Director of Design and Construction Sarah Boykin is in the process of revaluating the project.”
Addressing the proposal to narrow Highway 41A to calm traffic, Gladu said the recently completed Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) right-of-way plan called for narrowing the highway to two lanes between Kentucky Avenue and Kennerly Road with turn lanes in the middle. Gladu anticipates TDOT will host public meetings to provide more information.
In discussing the mixed-use specialty food market and apartment building proposed for the corner of Lake O’Donnell Road and Highway 41A, Gladu said the site had some water and fill issues and the cost of addressing these would fall to the developer.
Rogers speculated that would result in “high rent” for the apartment units.
“Could be,” Gladu said, “but right now Sewanee has no new apartment inventory.”
For the Tuesday, Feb. 5 village update, Gladu will host both 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. sessions.