Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thanksgiving and Christmas are odd times to have community meetings, too

I realize that 2:00 is a bit of an odd time to have a community meeting.
--Doug Sloan, Deputy Director, Metro Planning Commission

How about planning a bona fide
community meeting?
Three weeks ago today, Mr. Sloan spoke those words to a couple of hundred people gathered in what turned out to be more of a press conference on a new Sulphur Dell ballpark than a community meeting. If his comments were not obvious acknowledgement of criticism at the impossible scheduling for a community of ordinary people with working obligations, the response by Planning's information officer, Craig Owensby was:

We hope as many interested citizens as possible can attend the meeting, but we recognize that it is difficult to find a time that works for everyone’s schedule .... We also hope to offer more community meetings as this process continues to give additional opportunities for community questions and comments.

Yes, it was odd to hold a "community meeting" in the middle of a weekday afternoon. More odd to me is the fact that three weeks have passed, and Metro Planning has not delivered on the promise to have more community meetings. You may remember that Mayor Karl Dean wants the Planning Commission and Metro Council to approve this proposal before 2013 gives way to 2014. That is exactly six weeks from today.

At this point, the only way that community meetings can happen are either hastily announced for the next week (which will translate to poor attendance) or scheduled during and between the battle-fatigued, mind-numbing, attention-deficit holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas (which will translate to poor attendance). One of the tricks in the "developers' playbook" is to hold public hearings of controversial projects as close to holidays as possible to minimize and mitigate any hard looks at those projects. Let's hope the lack of community meetings in the preceding three weeks does not constitute such a trick on the part of Metro planners.

At this point, they would do us all better to extend the Mayor's timeline into 2014 and hold community meetings after New Year's Day. However, who knows what kind of arm-twisting is being conducted by the Mayor's Office to minimize community input?

On a related note, I sent CM Erica Gilmore the following letter. I'll update if she responds.

CM Gilmore:

Three weeks have now passed since a media event to promote a new Sulphur Dell ballpark occurred at the Farmers' Market, and I am disappointed that no community meetings on the question have been held for the neighborhoods immediately affected by the proposed development. My disappointment is compounded by the fact that several important questions were asked by community leaders at the end of the October media event, but they have yet to be addressed by ballpark supporters such as yourself.

Some of us in your district who would have to bear immediate negative (as well as the positive) consequences of a new ballpark should have our concerns addressed in forums open to the public. And those meetings--unlike the one at Farmers' Market--should be held at times and on days when working people are free to attend. Given that Mayor Karl Dean intends the council to rush to approve of a new ballpark in the next six weeks, I am concerned that, if scheduled, the next meetings are going to fall among Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays, when many people with family and work obligations do not have time to attend them. Rather than schedule more inopportune meetings and ridiculous times, Metro leaders should extend the timeline for consideration of the ballpark into 2014, after the holidays when turn-out to community meetings can be maximized.

In the meantime, please address these questions that are preying on my mind:

1. This entire development is being built on historic flood plain. Most of it will be built to withstand future floods, which means that the displaced water will be pushed further up into the surrounding neighborhoods in such catastrophes. In 2010 the Cumberland River crested within a block of my home. How can I be sure that future flood water displaced from a Sulphur Dell development won't end up in my home?

2. You once told me that you are opposed to reserved residential parking on streets. A new Sulphur Dell ballpark will attract thousands on game nights and not all of those people will want to park in a parking garage. With huge new apartment dwellings and popular restaurants, Germantown parking is approaching a choke point. Are you willing to reconsider your opposition to reserved street parking in adjacent neighborhoods if a ballpark is built? If not, what legislation can you offer to protect our parking needs? Please explain how your reconcile you opposition to on-street reserved parking in your district when it exists in other parts.

3. Many of us here spent a long time working on the North Nashville Community Plan and we would hate to see it sacrificed due to the aspirations of developers and club owners. What assurances can you give us that a new Sulphur Dell will protect the quality-of-life elements that we put into the community plan? How will the ballpark compliment rather than undermine our plan?

4. What safeguards will you support to keep taxpayers from having to bear the load of the costs of a new ballpark if either the Sounds or developers refuse to pay their share of the $150 million?

5. It is my understanding that Salemtown Neighbors--which has not officially taken a stance one way or the other on a new ballpark--formally requested a community meeting from you. Are you working on scheduling a meeting with the association? If not, why not?

I honestly hope that you will make every effort to insure that all of your constituents are represented in the public dialogue on this huge capital project. Bringing probing questions to the table should not disqualify any of us from participating in this decision.

Mike Byrd

UPDATE:  On Tuesday evening a new wrinkle emerges as Channel 4 News is reporting that properties adjacent to the site on which the new ballpark would sit have tested positive for soil contamination in the past. A reporter was told by the Mayor that Metro has no plans to test the soil on which the ballpark would sit for toxins or heavy metals. Maybe it would break his budget to test in the name of public safety, but nonetheless, this is an interesting position for a county executive who has claimed to be a "green Mayor" in the past.

No comments:

Post a Comment