In a small meeting on September 9, Frank Gladu, special assistant to the Vice-Chancellor, answered questions about the developing Sewanee Village Implementation project. According to Gladu, the plan will continue to take place in phases, the first being the movement and reopening of the University bookstore by fall 2019.
Gladu, who took the position of project manager for the Sewanee Village Development a year and a half ago, says they expect serious progress by 2022. Yet, he stressed the importance of the next year in the planning process, stating, “The next 12 months are going to be telltale. Either things are going to start happening or they’re not.”
The Sewanee Village Implementation plan will occur in five parts: the movement of the University Bookstore, a long-term generation of housing, the creation of a specialty food market, the narrowing of highway 41-A near downtown, and the development of the Village Green.
According to the University website, the master plan for the renovations started in 2011, yet the first big changes will occur this year, with the movement of the University bookstore from central campus to downtown and the utilization of the old building as a new Wellness Commons.
Although the Sewanee Bookstore is already a community bookstore, Gladu says he hopes the move will further this connection between town and gown. Despite the building and location change, he also explained that everything currently in the bookstore will be there next year, the textbooks still located downstairs, and the current selection of pleasure reading and apparel still abundant. “We really haven’t changed anything,” Gladu said with a smile.
The Wellness Commons will be started “sooner rather than later,” with the expected date of completion to be in January 2020. The Commons will host student health, counseling, the Sewanee Outing Program, and exercise equipment for those not on an athletic team.
The next phase of the project is generating affordable housing for Sewanee faculty and staff. The developer built homes were likened to that of Parson’s Green, another development in the Village, in that they will be built on smaller lots and readily available for sale. In addition to the developer built homes, 1.3 acres of apartments, townhomes, and duplexes will attempt to fill the need for housing in Sewanee.
Yet there are concerns that much like Parson’s Green, which has issues with drainage from its quick turnover time, that the new developer built homes will have an impact on the environment. Dr. Sid Brown, professor of religious studies, came to the meeting and expressed the fears of many environmentalists on campus, explaining that Parson’s Green was built too close to a stream, and since many of the trees that initially utilized the water were removed, the excess water has no place to go.
Brown wanted the careful preservation of historic trees and springs around the building sites, thoughtful instead of rushed building, and protection of the lowland surrounding the site. “I remain very concerned about who will build the houses and who will make sure the building is done well and carefully, respecting the challenges of building on that site,” said Brown.
“If an outside developer is hired to do the building, as it looks like will happen, there is always the very complicating factor that the developer is primarily motivated by profit. A developer comes in and does what s/he thinks will make the money and then leaves; residents suffer the consequences of the developer’s actions,” Brown finished.
Gladu referenced the Stormwater study conducted earlier this year and stated the importance of environmental monitoring during the building period. According to the Village report on Sewanee’s website, the study addressed the best ways in which to “handle runoff from the future building projects in the Village.”
Gladu’s statement falls in line with the 2013 Sustainability Master Plan vows to “identify specific existing locations where appropriate stormwater management systems such as rain gardens, pervious pavement, and bioswales could be installed and retrofitted.”
Yet, Brown states that “the University has a history of not properly overseeing this kind of development, and I did not hear a good answer about this in the meeting. We need housing for faculty and staff. We should help them build houses with good foundations on high and dry land that respect our community’s need for housing and the land on which that housing is built.”
Despite environmental concerns about the developer built housing, building will continue with the specialty food market poised to expand the selection of the current Sewanee Market. The new market will not only have the selection of snacks and beverages available now, but also a variety of fresh produce, meats, and dairy.
As to skepticism about the sustainability of such a store in long term, Gladu states that, “some of this is a leap, I’ll be the first to admit that. But partnerships are possible with lots of different venues. The Pig is one of them and the University is the other.”
Furthermore, the development of the Village Green will hopefully foster more music festivals and events downtown. The larger sister of Angel Park will be located where the current Sewanee Market resides. Gladu hopes for a small stage but articulates that it will be mostly green space.
Still, according to Gladu the plans for the Village Green lag behind the rest, as money must be donated from a capital campaign. Additionally, the Green seems impractical until the current highway, 41-A, that separates the area from the rest of downtown is narrowed. The Tennessee Department of Transportation plans to help make the crossing easier by reducing the four lanes to two and adding a pedestrian activated stoplight.
In spite of all the continued planning, students continue to have mixed reactions to the renovations. However, student-body president Mac Bouldin (C’19) expressed sincere excitement about the further incorporation of University into the town of Sewanee, saying, “it represents the physical link between town and gown, which is something we’ve needed for a long time.”
Bouldin added, “They’re waiting to do a lot of exciting things until I leave, which is a bummer, but I guess that means I’ll just have to come back and visit!”