Sewanee Village Implementation meeting tackles downtown aesthetics

Proposed sketch from Sewanee Village Implementation Plan. Photo courtesy of

By Anna Mann

The Sewanee Village Implementation meeting on February 5 addressed what Frank Gladu, Special Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor and Sewanee Village Project Manager, called the downtown’s “quality of life.” The discussion about Village aesthetics took place between 12 community members, University students and faculty, as well as a few St. Andrew’s Sewanee students.

Professor of Religious Studies, Dr. Sid Brown, was especially concerned with what she calls “dark sky lighting,” or the ability for astronomers and stargazers alike to continue to enjoy Sewanee’s night time display of stars. Brown stated that the University’s campus currently has lighting that allows night-goers to see where they’re headed without projecting light into the sky itself. The discussion ricocheted between concerns for campus safety, as some have complained that the University’s campus is too dark, and those with environmental concerns.

“When people move here, they’re coming because it’s a beautiful rural area with a vibrant village,” Brown explained. “What we have on campus, because we have an observatory, is dark sky land and it means that we protect the light from going up into the sky…. When people experience the sky, they feel something often beyond words. I want us to put the same attention into this new development that we have put up on the hill.”

From there, the conversation progressed to downtown’s “walkability,” which included concerns such as: shade, lower speed limits, bike lanes, and more places to sit. Some expressed concerns about remote parking without any sort of resting station along the way, while others championed for tighter canine leash laws and better sidewalks.

“The companion issue with walkability is destination. We’re lacking in destination right now, the basics are here but more would be better,” stated Stephen Burnett, a Sewanee community member.

In addition to the open discussion, Gladu updated those in attendance on the downtown projects. Tennessee state road engineers are beginning to look at the narrowing of 41-A, which currently separates Shenanigans from the Sewanee Market. However, plans for the Village Green, to be located in the place of the current Sewanee Market, have been put on hold until the building of the specialty food market.

The specialty food market with alleged apartment buildings overhead could now be arranged in a two story building instead of three, as its plans are still up fluctuating. In addition to the apartments above the market, further housing is to be added for Sewanee employees that cannot find places to live in the current stock. However, Gladu assured meeting-goers that they would by no means flood the market with too much housing, as his team plans to be both “deliberate and incremental [about the building].”

“We just don’t have the housing stock that used to fit the employee’s ability to buy housing in Sewanee,” Gladu explained, “So this request for a proposal was an attempt to reach out to developers who were willing to build on sites that admittedly are not pristine… we want developers that are willing to build some housing that is at a price that people can afford here at Sewanee and be satisfied with that.”

Gladu reports that the committee is evaluating site specific proposals from developers this month with more concrete plans to be developed by the end of the academic year.

However, some attendees seemed equal parts nervous and hopeful about the housing changes. Though Lynn Stubblefield, Sewanee native and longtime real estate agent, would love an increase in affordable housing, she explained that, “gentrification is a frightening thing that I don’t want to see happen to my town. I want to live in a place that has diversity.”

In regards to the bookstore’s plans, Gladu states the proposed building has been redesigned both internally and externally, with plans to break ground “with any luck” this spring. If plans have developed enough to begin this semester, Gladu says the bookstore should hopefully be opened spring 2020. The University is not only considering how long construction will take but the timing of the bookstore’s grand opening as well.

“The bookstore is a project that has regained some momentum,” Gladu said. “The University architect and Director of Planning, Design, and Construction is trying to put the finishing touches on the revisions.”

As the meeting wound to its close, many shook hands with Gladu and expressed their thanks that the project had remained open to the public during each planning phase. “Hopefully we’ll move some dirt in the right places soon,” Gladu responded optimistically.