Wednesday, October 29, 2014

RePublic charter schools called me at work

I typically get no personal calls on my land line office phone, because I do not give that phone number out for personal reasons except in urgent and emergent situations. For instance, I give the number to my daughter's elementary school in case they need to call me and cannot reach me at my personal cell or land lines.

After several years with my current employer, I may have received a couple of phone calls from my wife on occasions were I forgot to power up my cell, but I have never received a solicitation phone call at work until the end of last month.

I received a call at work in September from a recruiter from the Nashville Academy of Computer Science part of a network of privatized charter schools called RePublic Schools co-founded by former Obama campaigner Ravi Gupta. The recruiter invited me to enroll my daughter in his academy. When I asked him how he got my work number he told me that his institution received parent contact information from Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Our daughter has not been a public school student in about a year and a half for reasons I have explained. When I gave MNPS my work contact information it was with the understanding that our primary number was our home land line, but that the work number was an "in case of emergency" number. Obviously, there was no longer any need for MNPS to even have my work number, given our previous understanding and the fact that she is now a private school student.

So, why is Metro Nashville Public Schools giving contact information, on which I have placed restrictions, to private institutions to sell me enrollment? Does this not undermine the goal of having sensitive, restricted phone numbers available when extreme situations demand contacting parents by any means necessary? When public school parents find out that MNPS casually hands out work phone numbers without their consent, are they not less likely to share that information with MNPS (thus making contact more difficult)? Should MNPS be in the position of using public resources to manage a marketing database with sensitive contact info for private corporations?

We left MNPS because of the creeping resource drain of privatization, which now seems to be in full flower. The phone call dripped with irony.

Acquisitive school reformers seem fond of using terms like "disrupt," which they insist challenges entrenched bureaucracy and regulations to do something different in education. They label what they do "innovation." Yet, it is clear to me that Nashville Academy of Computer Science is also willing to disrupt the lives individual parents to hawk their product. How innovative is that?

And their partner is MNPS, which seems fine with luring us back to a system where public education funding is given away to private corporations in exchange for getting a few kids to college and careers instead of educating everyone.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Update on last night's important Salemtown meeting with 3 developers

Monday night's monthly Salemtown Neighbors business meeting was enlightening if for no other reason than to witness the contrast between responsible developers and detached developers.

I should start off by clarifying and correcting information in yesterday's post announcing the developers' appearance in our community: only two of the proposals seek to rezone for Specific Plans. The third, which did not have any information on yesterday is not seeking any rezoning, but building according to what the zoning currently allows. The zoning allows for medium density with either single or two-family dwellings (as in duplexes).

And I want to start with the non-SP first, precisely because the development team did not have to appear before our association to get feedback on what they have planned for the 1700 block of 4th Av, N., but they appeared anyway in order to keep us informed. Got it? They can build what they want within the parameters set by land development and planning guidelines, but they still chose to seek Salemtown support for their plan.

Their plan for duplexes looks attractive and the elevations they showed appear to fit within the character of the community in my opinion, but what stood out singularly to me was their acknowledgment more than once that the neighborhood has collectively been unhappy with what recently passes for new infill in Salemtown. One of their members, Grant Hammond, mentioned that he wanted to take his group's project in a different direction along the lines of how more responsible developers have treated the association before the recent building wave got started. He expressed openness to continuing to meet with SNNA officers, passing along details and meeting with the association when necessary.

It really was a breath of fresh air, especially because he was not required to commit to any of that.

And we have already seen how developers who do not strive to go beyond what they are merely required to do take advantage of Salemtown.

Speaking of which, Aerial Development also appeared at an SNNA business meeting years after their plan for 1706 4th Av. N. was first introduced (recently delayed due to height details that were inconsistent with Salemtown's conservation overlay). To her credit, Aerial owner Britnie Turner (who thanks to the fawning Tennessean seems to enjoy more of a connection with the Salemtown name than most of us long-time residents do) at least showed up and tried to defend her company. However, her presentation consisted of the same series of defenses that CM Erica Gilmore employed at the September SNNA meeting. She insisted that Aerial relies on Metro Planning to do the communicating with the neighborhood and that her team did everything that they were legally required to do.

Incidentally, Aerial is one of those developers that have been the object of criticism in Salemtown. I have heard from several neighbors who were unhappy about quick tear downs and the disjunction between Aerial's towering roof-top-hot-tub builds and community character. I have also heard from at least one Aerial buyer who is not at all satisfied with the way he has been treated by the developers. Like Mr. Hammond pointed out, there has been criticism of recent developments in Salemtown. My eyes were on Ms. Turner when he said that.

Mr. Hammond's act was a hard one to follow, given that he was not required to contact Salemtown Neighbors and discuss his plan. However, the contrast between his group and Aerial Development could not have been more stark. Ms. Turner could not muster effective damage control to save her life. She did her own company a disservice in continuing to fall back on the line that she did everything the regulations require. She promised in the future she would contact the association president, but the impression I got in chats with other folk after the meeting is that she has a lot to prove to Salemtown going forward if she wants to have a constructive relationship.

There is some confusion over the name of Aerial's project. Metro Planning calls it "4th Avenue Cottages." Aerial presented it last night as "Salemtown Square." That seems to answer the question I asked last July after Salemtown Square websites appeared: where and how would they be? After I blogged in July, the websites (including Facebook and Instagram pages) were taken down. Then the main website came back up in a different form. Then it disappeared again. All links to a free-standing online presence appear to be broken at this point. Aerial's main page says nothing, as I write this, about Salemtown Square. Communication does not seem to be the company's oyster.

There was an offbeat, nearly cringe-worthy moment last night where Ms. Turner spoke pejoratively of another neighborhood Aerial had worked with. An SNNA member asked why, given the loads of money developers take away from sales, they cannot give back to services (like schools) that support the neighborhoods in which they build? Ms. Turner responded that Aerial had made a big donation to a fund at the request of another neighborhood, but then the neighborhood "whined" that it was not the fund they preferred. What an undiplomatic, unnecessary characterization of what another neighborhood did. What is to stop us now from assuming that she goes to other neighborhood meetings and talks about how much we "whine" about expecting developers to communicate with us above and beyond what Metro Planning requires?

Between last night's contrast of responsible developer and uncommunicative developer was the third development team who are proposing a Specific Plan of 7 detached single family homes across properties at 1614 and 1616 4th Av N. While they did not make the same dramatic move that Mr. Hammond's development team did, they still showed better than Aerial since they took the initiative before acquiring these properties to meet with the neighborhood association.

Their SP requires incorporation of community feedback, and I hope that we can make productive recommendations. The properties are currently zoned for commercial use and I stand with those at this point who argue that residential rezoning makes more sense than commercial or mixed-use given that we do not control what kind of businesses would go in if it stayed commercial (the current resident has lived in a trailer on one of the properties for 30 years). The properties sit right behind the Fehr School building, and frankly I would not want to see some types of businesses go in right behind an educational facility, near a residential intersection. Salemtown already has a zoned commercial intersection at Buchanan and 5th Av, N, and that seems quite enough to me, especially as we already rely on Germantown's walkable businesses. I do not see any commercial enterprises clamoring to compete with this proposal for these properties, so what is the point in waiting for commerce that may never materialize? As long as residential plans meet with our expectations, we should move forward.

The 1614/16 team agreed to continue to communicate with our association, especially as plans continue to develop.

Overall, I took last night's meeting with developers as a positive sign that builders are going to be more responsible and communicative going forward. I hope that this trend continues.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Opportunity for Salemtown residents to influence three building plans tonight

According to Salemtown Neighbors president, Freddie O'Connell, tonight's association business meeting will entertain proposals from three developers on Specific Plan rezoning requests under consideration at the municipal level. Since all three seek Specific Plans, they are all required to incorporate community feedback consistent with neighborhood character into plans before getting final approval from Metro Council.

The first proposal is one that generated controversy and argument between SNNA and council member Erica Gilmore at the last association meeting. Members questioned whether CM Gilmore was interested in including Salemtown in on rezoning requests that affected them. CM Gilmore brashly questioned whether SNNA legitimately represented Salemtown. Of course, I felt compelled afterwards to rejoin Erica Gilmore, who seems blissfully unaware of her own contradictions.

That disputed proposal comes from Aerial Development who has their own track record of destabilizing neighborhoods. Aerial is lately being sued by a former partner for allegedly failing to share the profits for their projects on 5th Av., North. Aerial's proposal before SNNA is called "4th Avenue Cottages."

Aerial's plan.

Metro Planning's development tracker gives the full details:

A request for final site plan approval for property located within the Salemtown Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District at 1706 4th Avenue North, approximately 175 feet north of Garfield Street, zoned SP (0.40 acres), to permit six single-family detached units, requested by Civil Site Design Group, applicant; Aerial Investment Properties, LLC, owner.

Residents were particularly upset that CM Gilmore has spoken for Aerial on the cottages development without consulting them. They were also angry that Aerial pushed ahead without consideration for the conservation overlay passed recently. Metro Planning staff recommended approval of the development because it fits with their own higher density goals.

Are the 4th Avenue Cottages already on the market? (click-on to enlarge)

One would think that Aerial should be in full PR drive damage-control tonight if last month's meeting is any indication of popular dissatisfaction. Hopefully, they will be open to listening. The issue here is not that urban residents will not accept higher density, but that we do not appreciate being blind-sided on rezoning requests that should have had our input.

Another proposal under consideration tonight concerns properties about half-a-block south of the Aerial real estate. I have perceived no unpleasant, unnecessary drama about this proposal as yet, but little is known about it beyond what Metro Planning divulged to the community:

According to Metro Planning's development tracker, here are the complete details of the request to rezone on this property:

A request to rezone from CS to SP-R zoning for properties located at 1614 and 1616 4th Avenue North, approximately 115 feet south of Garfield Street,  (0.4 acres), to permit up to seven detached residential dwelling units, requested by Dale & Associates, applicant; T & J Holdings IV, LLC, owner.

I am curious to know why the developers are proposing seven instead of six homes across two properties. Are they trying to squeeze as many people as possible on real estate to maximize their profits or is this a reasonable request? Given what we learned about flooding along 4th Av in 2010, I'll be interested to see what their plans are for dealing with stormwater run-off.

There is no plan for 1614/16 4th Av. up yet on the Planning's website, which puts the neighborhood at a distinct disadvantage to developers as usual. But if you want a sample of real estate Dale & Associates (owner is former CM Roy Dale) develops, especially in Salemtown, I've blogged on several. Maybe we will learn a host of details tonight and the developers will express an openness to future meetings if needed.

I don't have any details on the third SP proposal to be considered tonight. Surprise, surprise.

UPDATE: Jump to my follow-up with clarification and correction of the information above.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Metro Council hands Gulch businesses a new 700-foot luxury sidewalk at the price of over $25,000 per foot

Do you feel connected now, Nashville? You should, because the Metro Council authorized Mayor Karl Dean to spend $18,000,000 on a sidewalk ("The Gulch Pedestrian Bridge") under the pretense of "connecting Nashville." If you live in Madison or Antioch or West Nashville and you don't feel connected, well maybe ye place little faith in the words of 2015 mayoral candidate and at-Large CM Megan Barry, who defended her vote by saying that "connecting Nashville" is a "necessity." Dropping $18,000,000 on a sidewalk in a neighborhood that has sidewalks is now "a necessity."

Here is how CM Barry and everyone else voted last night with absolutely no debate for that much money to spend:

Last June during debate on an unrelated charter question, CM Ronnie Steine said:

We are as a body amongst the most responsive elected officials in the country, and that's one of the things that's special about Nashville .... this council is the great weather vane of this city. Every possible opinion in this county/city is reflected in this body at one time or another .... All positions and opinions are heard .... If you look at the quality of work in this council, it's high quality. We get hammered because we agree with the mayor sometimes .... When we agree with him on an issue .., we're not rubber stamps. We're all just reflective of what this community is working on.

Is a luxury sidewalk that connects the Gulch to downtown entertainment venues reflective of what Nashville-Davidson County is working on? Or do our communities advocate spreading the wealth equitably so that sidewalks in all communities benefit from the Metro tax base?

Keep in mind that the council approved the Gulch bridge plan only after Karl Dean committed to spending $17,000,000 in other neighborhoods on sidewalks. Not $17,000,000 per neighborhood, but spread out between competing neighborhoods. That is interesting math: for one 700 foot sidewalk, the Gulch gets $18,000,000. Everyone else gets to fight over and divvy up $17,000,000.

It seems to me that the Metro Council deserves all of the "hammering" it gets for rubber stamping the mayor because it does it dramatically more than "sometimes." Otherwise, please show me a vote against one of Karl Dean's major capital projects that either CM Steine or CM Barry has taken. With the controversy and contentiousness over the Gulch pedestrian bridge, with the blatant inequality of spending more on downtown infrastructure than in places that do not even have sidewalks, these council members had cover to vote independently, but still they chose to rubber stamp Hizzoner.

Make no mistake: they're Deanpendent.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Being a council progressive means shielding the corporate polluters

False reporting? New anti-litter ordinance won't prohibit that yellow roll of spam litter.

Less than 24 hours ago WSMV reporter Patrick McMurtry contacted me to get my views on a council ordinance to regulate the delivery of non-subscription materials to homes (like when the Tennessean throws their "free Wednesday edition", which is full of advertising circulars). He asked me to call him. I reminded Mr. McMurtry via Twitter that the ordinance to discourage the Tennessean from littering our neighborhoods was defeated in June.

I didn't blog about the ordinance in June because I was more concerned about the move to shrink the council. That is where I put all the writing energy that I had. Several years ago blogged at length about a similar ordinance that was designed to regulate the proliferation of news racks in neighborhoods, so readers can imagine my response to the latest news media hijinks.

Mr. McMurtry's request prompts me to return to the question of whether the Tennessean should be allowed to litter neighborhoods like Salemtown with paper that few people read let alone subscribe to. In June, the Metro Council voted 21-10 to kill the proposal that would have enforced our requests not to have the circulars thrown every Wednesday at our homes. Almost farcically, the council's bill would have placed stupid demands on people like you and me to stop the Tennessean litter: we would have to send our request to Gannett by certified letter and we would have to swear out an affidavit with Metro Codes that the Tennessean is violating the agreement. Who should have to do that?

In June, the Tennessean responded to the bill by making some "concessions" to the council. Those concessions included two phone numbers given to each council member providing a direct line to managers in the circulation department who would see that constituent opt-outs were being honored. Why should we need to lobby our council members to get the Tennessean to do the right thing? Again, it's adding extra steps that many people don't have time to take, especially with unresponsive council members.

Another Tennessean concession was that they would audit the distribution and opt-out lists to make sure that delivery people were only delivering to subscribers. The paper also promised to ride around with delivery people and clean up litter that had previously been left. As far as I'm concerned, those concessions never materialized. I can remember at least 6 deliveries of the "free edition" deposited on the sidewalk in front of my home since June, none of which were cleaned up by the Tennessean. All of the editions were kicked out into the street. Over time 2 were pulverized by auto traffic. The remaining editions were picked up out of the street by a volunteer last week before Germantown's Oktoberfest. Gannett/The Tennessean is not keeping their promises; the same promises 21 council members used as an excuse to defeat the ordinance.

And look at the list of progressives who voted against attempts to discourage litter in neighborhoods: Ronnie Steine, Lonell Matthews, Brady Banks, Scott Davis, Peter Westerholm, Anthony Davis, Burkley Allen, Erica Gilmore, Jason Holleman, and (last, but not least) Megan Barry. CM Barry spoke out against the ordinance, but she did not focus on the question of stopping litter in neighborhoods. Instead, she zeroed in on the bill sponsor whom she alleged was trying to force the Tennessean to write an article:

The conversation has led to some really good things that the Tennessean is doing. Having said that, I … think that this is an overreach and I am incredibly uncomfortable that we as a body would ever compel a newspaper to write a story. I heard a colleague of ours earlier tonight talk about the fact that he had actually lived some place at one point where the government could tell newspapers what to write and that was called “a dictatorship,” and I know that that’s not the intention of the sponsor here but tonight I am going to go ahead and say, “Let’s just put this to rest” and I’m going to vote against it.

On the heels of Ms. Barry's comments, CM Fabian Bedne rose to say that he was the one who related his experiences of living under a dictatorship, but he added that CM Barry's use of his own comments against this anti-litter ordinance was "missing the point." While he wholeheartedly disagreed with forcing a newspaper to write a story, he would vote for the ordinance to protect neighborhoods from "trash and litter". Phil Claiborne, the sponsor of the bill, added that he was not trying to force a newspaper story.

To CM Barry's clipped and obfuscating remarks that the Tennessean is doing "really good things," I would respond that the Tennessean has done absolutely nothing "really good" from where I sit in Salemtown. Again, folks, Megan Barry is a 2015 mayoral candidate who claims to be a progressive. How can a progressive stand with a big corporate polluter against the wishes of a community? We are getting a glimpse of what kind of mayor Megan Barry would be.

Before closing, I want to circle back around to WSMV's request for an interview. Patrick McMurtry told me that the ordinance "is back on the agenda." That is not exactly true. The ordinance on the agenda now would regulate any advertising materials except the Tennessean's. The bill's sponsor, Sheri Weiner, believes that controlling some advertising is better than none. And yet, the biggest litter nuisance at my house is the Tennessean. CM Weiner was absent from the June vote, but her bill is toothless on arrival and would actually give the Tennessean a monopoly on un-subscribed advertising litter. The council had its chance to regulate litter and they failed.

By the way, I never called the reporter back, I have better things to do with my time than waste it on a bill that would not make a dent in the Tennessean's misbehavior or on a reporter who does nothing to hold the 21 council members who voted no in June accountable for enabling the Tennessean's misbehavior. After seeing Patrick McMurtry's story, I have no regrets. My time was well spent doing something else.