The latest news on Spring Hill makes its conservative Nirvana look desperate: the Mayor has an understanding with a developer from Las Vegas, who has a checkered past, to build a huge amusement park, NBA facility, charter school and meth rehab center in the community, collectively called "Festival Tennessee". The deal comes with no strings attached for Spring Hill and promises thousands of jobs in a facility rivaling Disney World. Something for nothing probably sounds sweet to those who have taken their lumps. For a community that has been reeling like the rest of us with housing market collapse and unemployment, chasing promises of a new Nirvana looks like clutching at straws.
The television media has already gone through the cycle of frenzied thrall and walk-back skepticism after learning more about the developer (unlike some of the journos, many of us in the social media were jaded toward the proposal out-of-the-gate). But one thing that is getting lost in the sensational to-and-fro of news coverage is Spring Hill Mayor Mike Dinwiddie's unwise practice the night before last of asking the town's planning commission to rezone the land in question to allow the commercial development without first introducing the development. From reporter Nancy Amons on the eve of the announcement:
Spring Hill Planning Commission voted 3 to 2 to change the land use plan for the 700-acre tract, although commissioners weren’t given any details at that time about what the land will be used for.
The land on Jim Warren Road is currently used for farms and single-family homes. Some neighbors who live on the road said they're angry about the lack of transparency.
"They just passed that and they have no idea what they're going to put there. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen," said Clint Billings, who lives on Jim Warren Road.
"The people don't have a voice," said Glen Winnett, who lives on the same street.
The land is owned by a company based in Charlotte, N.C., NWC Investments. The company's lawyer told the planning commission a buyer has a contract on the land, but he didn't know what the buyer wanted to build.
Some planning commissioners said Tuesday they thought that whatever the plan was, it's probably good for Spring HiIl. Others were exasperated about being given no information before making a major decision.
"Yes, it's extremely awkward, asking us to vote on anything when we have absolutely no idea what we're talking about," said Michael Glass, the chairman of the planning commission.
The planning commission’s vote to change the master land use plan paves the way for a zoning change; however, there are still a number of steps that will have to be followed.
The land owners are asking for the least restrictive zoning
The fact that the amusement park developer has a dubious background is really just insult to the injury done by Mayor Dinwiddie the night before. He set a bad precedent by sneaking a rezoning request by without any introduction of the developer or the concept so that commissioners could deliberate and vote on the merits. The head of local government should not have that kind of power. Planning commissions represent a check and balance on executive power in zoning matters and the Spring Hill Mayor's actions were dangerously unilateral. No Mayor should be able to leverage rezoning in such an underhanded, nontransparent fashion.
I can only assume that Dinwiddie thought he would not have had the votes had he allowed the developer to introduce Festival Tennessee to the commission. Given the skepticism flying around for the last 24 hours, the slim win he got looks dicey now. Why else would he have kept important details a secret until the press conference the next day? Amusement parks are not matters of homeland security. But rezoning large tracks of rural and residential property are matters of public interest.