When the grand mansions in Victorian Village were built, it's likely that little thought went into accessibility for people with disabilities.
But after a unanimous vote by the Memphis and Shelby County Landmarks Commission, the first new house to be built in Victorian Village's Planter's Row II will be built according to "universal design" standards, meaning it will be accessible to people with disabilities and seniors. Features of universal design can include wider doorways and hallways and lower countertops and cabinets.
The first home, located at 651 Jefferson, will be built in a Greek Revival architectural style to match the historic quality of the neighborhood. It will include an indoor pool and elevator within the two-bedroom, two-bathroom property.
Eventually, seven homes will make up the Planters Row II subdivision, all featuring a design that promotes accessibility. Prices will range from $290,000 to $400,000.
Currently, there aren't many residential homes in the Village, which is characterized by historic museum homes, such as the Woodruff Fontaine House, the Mallory Neely House, and a newly opened bed-and-breakfast in the James Lee House.
Scott Blake, the master planner on the $2.8 million project, lives in one of the few existing homes in the neighborhood. One of Blake's neighbors bought the property that once housed the now-demolished ICB Grocery, where the first house will be constructed. He asked Blake for help in development, and the project grew from there with the help of Blake's company, Design 500.
"We jumped in, and we're having a really good time of it," Blake said. "We're on the verge of filing the final plans and starting to sell the property."
The style was chosen from Blake's love of Greek Revival architecture, but the design also borrows historical references from the neighborhood — a deliberate move by Blake.
"Anyone can live in that house and be happy," he said.
Blake, who has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years, calls the design "multi-generational housing." It caters to an over-40 demographic with accessibility and mobility in mind, while also appealing to younger families that may want a yard or garden without being too far away from the action of downtown.
The homes will be designed in a way where they can be turned into apartments, which will help attract college students from the nearby medical and law schools.
"We already know what a great neighborhood it is," Blake said. "We already know it's a great place to be. It's easy to get to everything downtown, easy to deal with everything in the Medical Center. You're not dealing with parking issues and high land costs in the heart of downtown."
J.W. Gibson, CEO of Gibson Companies, led the remodel of the historic James Lee House. Gibson came on as a partner in the Planters Row II project — coming in at the perfect moment, according to Blake.
"As we progressed with those relationships, we became excited about what was being proposed," Gibson said. "We saw some opportunities to do more than what was immediately on the table. We started to build those relationships and tried to make some things happen in that neighborhood, like turning Morris Park into a green space for public use. It makes sense to support those efforts with housing."
Gibson also founded the Southeast Regional Development Corporation, which is now involved with the project as well.
"The architectural structures [and] the history of the community really captured my attention," Gibson said. "Being able to renovate that and expand that is something we really need to do."