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VOL. 7 | NO. 48 | Saturday, November 22, 2014

Green Hills in Full Boom Despite Traffic Woes

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Stephen Graw first moved to Green Hills in 2004 right after college, renting a house with a bunch of buddies from school. Like his neighborhood, he’s done a lot of growing in the last decade and is now a senior advisor at Sperry Van Ness Nashville and on the Chamber West Leadership Council.

A new 85,000-square-foot featuring restaurant and retail space along with a 301-unit residential tower has those who work, live and shop in Green Hills concerned that traffic problems will only get worse.

(The Ledger/Michelle Morrow)

“I don’t want to say Nashville is unrecognizable, but it is a vastly different city now,” he says.

And Green Hills is a big part of that.

“You have a new, mixed-use development going in [4000 Hillsboro] with apartments, retail and office smack dab in the middle of Green Hills on Hillsboro, you have another 150,000-square-foot office building slated to go in across from the Hampton Inn in Green Hills behind the mall.

“You have the new AmSurg building being built. That is just even more people in and out of Green Hills every day,” Graw says.

Construction is underway on 4000 Hillsboro, a partnership between Southern Land Company and Redwood Capital, now being built on the corner of Hillsboro Pike and Richard Jones Road. It will include 85,000-square feet in commercial, restaurant and retail space, and a 17-story, 301-unit residential tower.

The developers will invest more than $1 million in infrastructure improvements to Hillsboro Pike and Richard Jones Road, just one indication of what it takes to build on those highly congested roadways.

“Obviously, traffic and mobility, they are huge issues in Green Hills, and it is something that is on everyone’s radar as we move forward,” says Craig Owensby of the Metro Nashville Planning Department. He is also involved with NashvilleNext, a process to create a sustainable growth plan based on the area’s needs.

“If you look at the future, with almost 200,000 moving into Davidson County in the next 25 years projected, and a million in Middle Tennessee, you reach a point where you just can’t keep going further out,” Owensby explains.

“And the projections we are using suggest that in the year 2040 Rutherford and Williamson Counties are both going to have as much [population] as Davidson does now. You can’t just pull up the drawbridge and say no more people – people are going to move to this county because it is very attractive area.”

Desirable for business

When Susanne Shepherd Post opened Shine Salon on Bandywood Drive in Green Hills just over a decade ago, she knew she had found a gem. She loved that many of the other businesses in her courtyard were owned by women, and over the years they have built a true camaraderie, sharing parking spots and referring people back and forth.

“I had a client at the time, Becky Daniels, who owned The Food Co. and The Greenhouse, and her catering kitchen was in the back of the courtyard,” Post says. “She said it was an awesome hidden treasure in the middle of Green Hills, it was so close to the mall, but it was not in the mall. It had some cool boutiques, and a good friend of mine had a Pilates studio two doors down. The area was appealing to me.”

And Post says Green Hills has only gotten better in a lot of ways. She is all for much of the expansion in the area, but admits it does have some challenges.

“In some ways it has been amazing to have the Hill Center built behind us – it has brought some cool new businesses to the area, it has been exciting to see the growth at the mall with Nordstrom and Trader Joe’s,” she adds.

“There are so many amazing new things that have opened over the last 10 years. But yesterday I walked out of Shine and heard ‘beep, beep, beep’ and then this huge blast right across the street where they are about to build the new fuel center at Kroger.”

It’s not uncommon for her clients to arrive late for their appointments because of traffic, but she makes it a point to play up the plusses of Green Hills to both them and her stylists.

“The downside of Green Hills is what everybody knows – navigating it traffic wise,” she says. “A few months ago we ended up sending out an email with some of the sneaky back ways that all of us know to navigate in that area, and we will probably send that out again once we approach the holidays, which gets even crazier with Green Hills traffic.

“Basically, anyway you can avoid Hillsboro [Pike] is the key.”

She also makes sure nervous new stylists know how to sell the congested location.

“I have told every stylist who comes in from different parts of town that everybody goes into Green Hills at least once a month for something, so for a stylist, people will plan their trip to the salon with their trip to Whole Foods or Trader Joes or Nordstrom,” she adds.

Across Hillsboro Road, David Levy of Levy’s Clothiers employs a similar technique.

“We hear about traffic in Green Hills, but we send a lot of people the back ways,” he says. “During this construction [at 4000 Hillsboro], it can be a little more difficult, but it is a ‘no pain, no gain’ kind of thing. This corner, I have seen some traffic issues. But from what I understand, we are going to get two left turn lanes going south on Richard Jones, and that is going to do nothing but help.”

Those in the know have their own favorite routes for navigating Green Hills traffic. For those who don’t, this is a common sight.

(The Ledger/Michelle Morrow)

Traffic headaches

If there is one thing most people can agree on, it is to avoid Hillsboro Pike.

“I have lived in Green Hills for about 20 years, and traffic has always been a bit of a problem, but nothing like it is now with people coming up from Franklin or even Thompson’s Station and Columbia, so we have 50 miles of traffic,” Realtor Richard Courtney says.

“And it is like that on Saturday, and Sunday, we have those big churches. And then the way 440 is, they are backed up on the ramp on Saturday to get to Green Hills Mall.”

A transportation plan was prepared by a resource team of planners, residents, consultants, business owners, and community leaders and adopted by the Metro Planning Commission in March 2014 to address the Green Hills area’s mobility needs.

The plan outlines opportunities to improve walking and biking conditions for all people, opportunities to connect streets, align intersections, improve mass transit to the area, and the plan identifies high priority projects.

“I do agree that some of these plans show that the problem with Green Hills is that none of these streets run straight through,” Courtney says. “But what do you do, blow up the whole thing and start over?”

Mary Jon Hicks with The Green Hills Action Partners says they often hear suggestions from the community about how to fix things, everything from improving signal timing, establishing no left turns, creating internal connections between businesses, making a few one way streets, adding turn lanes and intersection alignment.

“It may not be obvious at first, but some of the community’s suggestions are being used, and they do make a difference,” Hicks says. “The bigger ideas, however, though not impossible, would take lots more time, money and very thoughtful planning.”

As long as Green Hills continues to offer stores and services other parts of town do not, like Trader Joes and Whole Foods, people will be flocking to shop. And, if a place goes out of business, someone else comes in quickly, as Lizard Thicket and Orvis stores did, revamping the Nero’s property on Hillsboro Drive, a connector between Hillsboro Pike and Hillsboro Circle.

“People aren’t going to stop coming to Green Hills - there is only going to be more and more people coming into the area,” Graw says. “On a Saturday or Sunday, the traffic coming off of the interstate into Green Hills, they are all [from] out of Davidson County license plates, whether they are coming in from Hendersonville, coming up from Williamson, and from even further. It is a great problem to have but something does need to be done about the traffic.

“It is such a great revenue driver, but as a resident you want it to be a little easier to get around.”

And widening Hillsboro Pike is probably never going to happen.

“One, you can’t do it because of the large number of ownerships along the route, so it is harder to get the land,” Owensby says. “And even if you were able to widen it - that is not how you fix it, by building a bigger street. All that does is attract more people and you have the same problem, but bigger. You can’t pave your way out of congestion.”

Is it safe to walk?

One way to ease traffic is to make it unnecessary for people who live in Green Hills to have to use their cars to go eat and shop, but even if that were to happen, some have doubts about whether people would actually give up their cars even for the shortest distances.

Hicks says that many sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes have been added throughout the Green Hills area, but there is much more work to do.

“There are still more pedestrian connections needed in the district. We’ll keep working on that,” Hicks says.

Levy agrees that sidewalks have improved to the point where he can now walk to the mall, but he doesn’t like doing it very often.

“I try to walk in Green Hills, and it is really interesting because you don’t see many people walking – you are afraid you are going to get run over or something,” he explains. “But you see people just driving from one end of the mall to the other instead of walking. We are kind of spoiled here in Nashville.”

Graw says he loves walking around Green Hills when he is not in his car for his real estate business, as long as he’s off the main road.

“Walking down Hillsboro Road is scary because you have a million cars whizzing by you, but once you get off Hillsboro Road it is extremely walkable. But you don’t see a lot of people doing it,” he says.

“I love that I can go to great restaurants – I can shoot down to Firefly and have a good meal and a nice cocktail. I can walk down to The Corner Pub and have a beer and watch a game. I love that aspect of it. I love that it is kind of in the middle of town. I can be in Brentwood in 10 minutes, I can be downtown in 10 minutes. Knowing the back roads is key to getting around Green Hills.”

Jimmy Granbery, CEO of H.G. Hill Realty Company which owns Hill Center Green Hills, would also like to see a more connected and walkable Green Hills.

“The Hill Center, as well as the rest of Green Hills, needs a cohesive network of sidewalks so that walking becomes a viable option,” he said in an email. “If we want to reduce traffic congestion and minimize the number of trips on the roads, people need to be able to safely walk between locations as they are shopping, going out to eat or going to the gym.”

Hill Center Green Hills is a mixed-use, 220,000-square-foot outdoor lifestyle center anchored by Anthropologie and Whole Foods with more than 20 specialty shops and four restaurants. The center is 100 percent occupied with a total of 30 retail stores, boutiques and restaurants.

Pottery Barn will be coming in early 2016, and Granbery says they will also be announcing the addition of two new specialty stores in the coming weeks.

Hicks says that people in Green Hills understand that growth is inevitable, but they are also passionate about preserving the environs around them, for both health and aesthetic reasons, and want developers and Metro to include green spaces and trees in their plans.

“Natural beauty is what attracted people to Green Hills in the first place,” Hicks notes. “No one wants to lose it.”

Graw is in Green Hills for the long haul and hopes to see public transportation in Green Hills’ future. To him, it is the only solution.

“Nashville has done a fantastic job of growing in every other aspect – they are really putting an effort into improving public education, they are putting an effort into attracting new business to Nashville, but where we stumble is with the public transportation system.

“Everywhere you look you see cranes in the sky in Nashville, and that just means more people coming in. There are approximately 80 people a day moving to Nashville and that is not stopping. We don’t have the infrastructure now to handle that and we need to do something about that.”

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