Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Update on Salemtown SP proposal

CM Erica Gilmore sponsored a second community meeting last week to get feedback from Salemtown residents and property owners on developer Mike Kenner's request to rezone several parcels on the northwest side of the neighborhood to a "specific plan" from "R6". If approved, the specific plan would allow him to build 24 detached cottages instead of 20 units, most of which would be attached duplexes.

The particular focus of the second meeting was Kenner's proposal to build a soundproofing wall along the section of I-65 ramp against which the properties abut. Kenner told the group that at this point the 6 ft wall could be made of either rusticated block or brick veneer, depending on what the group decided. He also showed the large metal letters that he would use to spell out "Salemtown" and discussed plans to acquire a small amount of TDOT land to allow the wall to curve with the contour of the freeway. He also announced plans to require the "Salemtown Cottages" homeowners association to take responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the wall and the landscaping around it.

There continued to be vigorous discussion of the plan, including opposition expressed from 2 or 3 long-time residents who do not like the density or Kenner's plan to market the development to younger "Millennials". At points the meeting teetered toward a gripe spiral of diversion and sidetracked issues that had nothing to do with the details of the proposal. Pastors from Salemtown's AME and Missionary Baptist congregations assisted the development team and CM Gilmore with keeping the meeting on track and keeping the proposal in perspective.

Once again, Salemtown Neighbors members were noticeably absent from the meeting. I counted 3, maybe 4, of us in attendance (among about 18-20 in the audience), which was still higher than the number of members attending CM Gilmore's first SP meeting 2 weeks ago. Do SNNA members only attend developers' meetings that are announced on Nextdoor? Isn't this a slight of CM Gilmore to attend a meeting that she did not call and then fail to attend two meetings that she did call? Do they understand that Kenner's proposal is facing some opposition from long-time neighbors who do not seem to share their vision? Do they know how the proposal has changed since their first Nextdoor meet-up? How does SNNA challenge the perception that the association favors white gentrifiers when its members stay away from predominately African American community meetings?

There seemed to be a consensus that brick veneer was not a practical idea for the wall. There also seemed to be agreement that Kenner should include affordable housing in his proposal. The developer agreed to explore the possibility of affordable housing at Salemtown cottages. For her part, CM Gilmore commented that the SP seemed a possibility if it included accommodations of a wall--which she pointed out that many residents had asked for for years--and a unit of affordable housing. Folks attending the meeting seemed to accept that without debate.

I told Mike Kenner that the most attractive part of the development to me was that it would be detached because the last thing we needed was to become a neighborhood of duplexes. But I also told him that I believed that the community was being entirely fair in asking for a wall and for a provision for affordability in the SP to at least strive for diversity. If the developer makes the reasonable changes that the community is asking for, then I can see myself supporting the SP.


  1. I can only comment for myself, but I did attend the first meeting; regrettably missed the second; and had a conflict for the third.

    From conversations I had from the first meeting, no one present had concerns they felt justified the need for an appearance at a follow-up meeting (or two). I would've been happy to attend either and regret having missed both, as I'm acutely sensitive to concerns of _all_ neighbors.

    The flip side of your concern is, to me, an echo of Gerry's lament from the Salem AME-hosted community meeting on the overlay: how to get more neighbors involved in meetings _not_ hosted by Councilwoman Gilmore.

  2. What you refer to as the "first meeting" was a meet-up of subscribers of Nextdoor, which appears to be more of a private meeting and less of a community meeting (which would involve communicating with everyone in Salemtown). I have yet to read any reports on that meeting, and CM Gilmore was not there. Given that this rezoning request relies on her legislative work on it, I cannot see how the Nextdoor meeting matters at all to the writing of this SP. I'll venture that more neighbors attend CM Gilmore's meetings because they perceive that they have a chance to actually influence something