Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Can Metro Planning regain public confidence with their lingering failures to wait for studies?

The Metro Nashville Planning Department has already established an irrational pattern to rush to judgment without benefit of independent, objective studies to back their recommendations. In yesterday's excellent analysis on May Town Center, Christine Kreyling reiterates Planning's switchbacks with respect to neighborhoods proximate to Bells Bend:
Despite all these conditions on which the planners insist to curb the May Town beast, [last week's Planning] report states: “Staff acknowledges that because of the project’s regional scale and long term build-out, not all effects of the May Town Center project can be known at this time.”

The report therefore calls for a profusion of “additional studies” to project “the offsite impact of the project on development patterns.” These “offsite impacts” are creating widening ripples of concern — not to say hostility — in the neighborhoods across the Cumberland from the May Town site. And the planning department’s support for the project in the absence of “additional studies” threatens to undermine citizen trust in the planning staff and the whole community planning process ....

Council member Emily Evans, who represents Hillwood, West Meade and Belle Meade, noted that the planning climate has cooled considerably since May Town loomed on the horizon.

“In the summer of 2007, we did a plan amendment for West Meade, and the planning staff were great and we got a real consensus,” Evans said. “The participants gave the staff a standing ovation” at the final meeting. “Now the attitude is suspicion and distrust, because the community perceives May Town as a bait-and-switch deal.”

Three weeks ago I e-mailed a neighborhood planner under new urbanist Rick Bernhardt's oversight who is connected to these recommendations, Anita McCaig, asking her specifically about Planning's switch from a West Nashville community plan to priority for May Town Center. I have corresponded with Anita about various neighborhood issues going back to early 2005, and I don't ever remember her being hesitant about either answering my questions or referring me to another official who could do so. I have yet to hear back from Anita on the question of May Town Center.

When planners are not forthcoming with citizens about their motivations and intentions behind their abrupt about-face, it lends to the perception that they have battened down against broad public blowback and are working in cahoots with influential developers against the public interest. I concur with the belief that the way the planning department has handled this episode undermines public trust in the community planning process. How can we have faith that the time and energy we sacrifice to give Metro Planning our feedback will be wisely invested in fair plans that benefit all?

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