Understanding urban design overlays in Nashville

Most developers and general contractors in Nashville are aware of the existence and effects of the city’s zoning ordinance. The city promulgates a map dividing the city into zoning district, and the zoning code is a city ordinance that prescribes the types of land use allowed in a specific district. The zoning code also contains numerous special provisions intended to regulate land use more closely in certain districts. One of those provisions is the “urban design overlay,” a provision that gives the city power to regulate the size and type of structures in more detail than the zoning ordinance.

The purpose of an urban design overlay

As stated on the city’s website, an urban design overlay (“UDO”) allows the city to impose specific design standards on a designated area. An UDO does not affect the permitted uses, but it is used to protect the character of a neighborhood by limiting the types of building that may be constructed in the area.

Creation of UDO

An UDO is created by the city council in the same manner as it amends the zoning ordinance. The ordinance that creates the UDO provides the legal description of all tracts in the area to which the UDO applies. It regulates building height, size and placement.

The UDO also regulates the density of construction, i.e., the number of buildings per unit of land area. The UDO also regulates floor area, the amount of impervious surface, architectural features, building materials, and many other elements. Once an UDO is enacted, all structures within its boundaries must conform to the specifications stated in the overlay.

Complying with the UDO

All development plans that lie within the boundaries of an UDO must comply with all of the limits set forth in the UDO. A developer hoping to build within the limits of an UDO must submit a final site plan that “fully demonstrates compliance” with the overlay. Once a plan is submitted, the City planning staff will review the plan to determine whether it complies with the requirements of the UDO.

Sound legal counsel

Obtaining city approval for any development project can be a complex process. Retaining an attorney who has experience dealing with the city planning department and city council can go a long way to ensuring that a proposal receives a favorable consideration and ultimate approval.

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