Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tonight's Council Meeting and the Continuing Conflict between Automobile-Friendly Expansion and Maintaining Walkable Neighborhoods

One of the more riveting portions of tonight's Public Hearing Council Meeting was the debate over keeping a Donelson-Hermitage neighborhood pedestrian-friendly vs. allowing a medical building to expand and make the neighborhood subject to more automobile traffic. At stake was the Planning Department's 2004 sub-area design plan, to which neighbors in the area had contributed the goal of keeping their neighborhood walkable and protecting it from automobile traffic.

Council Members J.B. Loring and Harold White (who was absent) had introduced a bill to re-zone a property to allow a medical building to add a third floor and expand their parking lot. The Planning Commission--which includes J.B. Loring in what has to be the most glaring conflicts of interest in all of Metro--approved the bill 6-4, even though the Planning Department opposed its passage based on the 2004 sub-area plan. Most of the public proponents of the bill seemed to be principals in the construction project. The public opponents were residents, property owners, and a Baptist pastor.

One of the public opponents summed up the bill's problems best: why does Planning and Metro Council waste Metro citizens' time by asking them to help formulate sub-area plans, approving those plans, and then kick-turning later to make exceptions for powerful business interests? Council Member Jason Alexander summed up the primary sponsor's problems best after the Public Hearing: why does Mr. White always have to bring bills controversial with his constituents to Metro Council? The television shot of the public gallery behind Mr. Loring summed up his problem best: if bill co-sponsors had allowed what Mr. Loring called "ample time for community meetings" to discuss the bill, then why were all of the public opponents in the first two rows--even the Baptist pastor--shaking their heads "no" and looking at each other incredulously while he was saying it?

During debate over whether to pass the bill, Mr. Loring first made himself seem like he was only standing in for Mr. White. Then after further questioning, he said that he did not know of community meetings himself, but Mr. White had told him that community meetings were held. Then when it became clear that there was significant opposition from other Council Members--Sam Coleman and Carolyn Baldwin Tucker leading the charge quite admirably--he said that he had attended one community meeting himself. I was impressed with the shifts he was making to try and get the bill passed: playing both the errand-boy and the lead-man.

Eventually, Mr. Coleman moved to have the bill deferred one meeting so that bill co-sponsors could address public concerns with their bill. Mr. Loring immediately moved to table Mr. Coleman's motion. The tabling motion was defeated. The Council then voted in favor of deferring second reading of the bill until the March 20 Council Meeting. In spite of the Council-supported delay, I do not like the odds of Mr. Loring and Mr. White coming out of their cocoons with tycoons and giving those shaking-head constituents a fair hearing.


  1. Without intending to necessarily imply support for the plan -- FWIW, as one who grew up in Hermitage I can say that nothing out that way qualifies as what I what call a "walkable neighborhood" as urbanites might conceive of the term. Hermitage is suburbans prawl at its finest -- so, it's "pedestrian friendly" in the sense of a lack of commercial/industrial dangers, but it's too spread out and disconnected for many people to do much walking anywhere.

  2. Jon- You should come to my house. I live in the condos right across from this proposed building. I can walk to the grocery store, the library, the community center and the police station (hope I don't need to). We are lacking sidewalks, but it is very close-knit, walkable and friendly NOW. I think we probably need a THREE story medical building to plop right down in the middle.