Friday, April 25, 2008

Will the Task Force Be Taxing?

Alright. Here is my quick and dirty first read on the make-up of the task force to look at Charlie Tygard's LED proposal for various noncommercial organizations.

First, there are two significant omissions on this committee, one good, one bad. On the one hand, it is a very good thing that at-Large Council Member Jerry Maynard is not on this task force. Maynard is a pastor who would personally benefit from the permission of church LED signs, yet he said that he would need to check with his lawyer brother to determine whether there was a conflict of interest. Doh! If that possible conflict were not bad enough, Mr. Maynard accepted a large campaign donation from pro-LED lobbyists. In his expression of support for LEDs, he exaggerated the actual advertised cost of LEDs for purposes of effect.

On the other hand, it is a bad thing that no higher density urban neighborhoods are represented on the task force. An LED sign in the East End or in Hope Gardens or in the Gulch is a more dramatic imposition than one placed in suburbia. Most of the debates I've listen to focus on the sign impact on a suburban scale. Bill sponsor Charlie Tygard seems loath to consider affects on neighborhoods outside of Bellevue, and yet, his responsibility as an at-large member is to all neighborhoods.

That said, here's my read on the make-up of the committee. The pro-LED side has the larger number. I count Mr. Tygard, Codes rep., Joslin Signs owner, and the suburban pastor as firmly pro-LED. My reason for jumping to the conclusion about the suburban pastor is that some council members tried to make this a neighborhood against church battle in the past to try to win and my hunch is that the pastor selected for this committee believes (as the Baptist pastor who motivated the LED bill does) that all churches should have the right to erect LEDs. We will see if my hunch holds when the task force starts meeting. I would count the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) rep. as in Tygard's camp because it has been argued at previous meetings that while BZA "had" to decline church LED requests, they really wanted to approve. If there is a wild card, it might be BZA.

I see the more neutral elements on the committee as the Planning Commissioner and the Planning staffer. The Commission will eventually have to reconsider an amended bill, so they are going to be the most open to hearing both sides. Given the Planning staff's recommendation of disapproval and their contention that all LEDs in Nashville are currently illegal, the staffer probably leans against LEDs. I was left with that impression during the Planning Meeting discussion.

The clear LED critics are at-Large Council Member Megan Barry and the two neighborhood association reps. Critics are at an obvious numbers disadvantage on this committee, but CM Barry's suggestion in one meeting that the Council reject the bill in favor of working on a separate bill to give the BZA revised guidelines to help them make better decisions in the future should logically appeal to the BZA. The question is, is BZA already so locked in with the Tygard/Joslin Signs faction that they will not be convinced?

I would be surprised if this task force produces anything but a revised LED bill less friendly to neighborhoods than one that could have come out were the committee more balanced. LED opponents need to keep a close eye on the proceedings and correct any misinformation that issues forth, and we should redirect any perceptions that its recommendations could be none other than sufficiently representative of the whole community. If a pro-neighborhood minority report comes out of it, it could still represent the majority of communities that the Metro Council otherwise claims to represent.

Any other impressions out there?

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