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"Single Stair" Reform

  • “Single Stair” Reform - BL2024-181 allows certain residential buildings up to six (6) stories to be served by a single exit stairway and imposes a number of heightened safety provisions, aligning Nashville with international best practices.  Currently, residential buildings (“R-2 Occupancies” to be specific) are generally permitted to be served by a single staircase up to three stories, above which they must be served by two stairways.  

  • The problem with the two-stair requirement is the floor plan this essentially mandates on each floor – generally referred to as a “double loaded corridor”.  What this looks like is a long hallway with apartments on each side of it, which connects two staircases at each terminus.  If you’re in one of the units looking forward, the front wall of the unit has windows, the wall to the left is shared with the neighboring unit, the wall the right is shared with the neighboring unit, while behind you is the wall shared with the hallway. The issue here is that only one wall has windows.  However, the way most people prefer to live (and is commonly required) is to have at least one window in every bedroom. Only having one wall with windows means that Nashville’s apartment housing stock caters largely to studio, single, and two bedroom units.  Family sized households are therefore forced into single family homes, whether they want to or not, which is often particularly burdensome for young families starting out together.  

  • What this legislation does is modify the building code in 15 ways – one of which is to permit 6 stories with single stair, while the others impose heightened safety requirements.  These heightened safety requirements include certain sprinkler standards, pressurization requirements on the staircase (so that air blows out of the staircase not in), each floor is limited to approximately 4,000 sq ft, there is a max of 4 units per floor, and many other additional safety features.  

  • The result of these standards is that every unit will generally be a corner unit, thereby allow family sized units with windows on multiple walls (also allowing cross-ventilation), while the heightened safety standards mean that these buildings are safer than what we’re building now.  These reforms have already been implemented in a number of other US cities, as well as Europe and Japan, and have been successful in delivering safe, affordable, family sized units.  It has the additional benefit of providing architects design flexibility that allows multifamily family structured to be more attractive in appearance and more in line with traditional architecture, rather than requiring the ubiquitous boxy-looking design most common in Nashville currently.

    • Current Status: This is scheduled to be on First Reading on May 7th.

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