Thursday, May 30, 2013

The culture of callousness at Metro Water Services: in 2005 they failed to be transparent with neighbors about storage of soil they knew to be contaminated

The pattern of a tense, distant relationship between Metro Water Services and the surrounding community in Salemtown and Germantown has a long track record engendered by callous treatment of neighbors concerned about constant streams of noxious odors, treated waste-toting trucks on area roads and neglect of stormwater issues. Recent attempts by water service officials and the reporters who repeat their talking points to spin community attitudes as more supportive of MWS belie the rocky history between the water treatment decision-makers and the people who have actually lived near the plant for decades.

This could have gone better.
When we first moved to Salemtown almost 10 years ago, we listened to long-time residents recount their frustrations with MWS. Then in 2005, I attended my first community meeting with Metro Water officials on the planned biosolids facility and I experienced firsthand some of the frustrations felt in the community. Revisiting my notes on the 2005 meeting, my mind draws out a few impressions based on what I have experienced with the agency since then (and especially in light of recent revelations that MWS is creating a new North Nashville landfill with petroleum, PCBs, lead and arsenic):

  • Metro Water officials were not effective or diplomatic at handling public criticism and fair questions about their project. At one point in 2005, neighbors expressed skepticism about the changes at MWS. That skepticism proved to well-founded in retrospect, given water treatment odors continued for a long time after managers told residents the smells would abate. Also the prospect of selling "the product" of the biosolids process as promised at that meeting was not realized because "the product" was not marketable (caveat: this week I received an email from an energy company official saying that an Arkansas company had recently started buying "the product"). Instead of acknowledging the validity of public concerns, the team MWS assembled seemed defensive and guarded. One person in their group responded sarcastically that the agency existed to dispose of waste, not to manufacture it. That flippant response is particularly ironic now knowing that Metro Water generated a humongous pile of petroleum-laced soil waste that they now plan to bury in their landfill located right here in our midst.
  • Metro Water leadership was not community-minded. At one point in the biosolids meeting well-known Germantown homebuilder Skip Lawrence recommended to MWS leaders that they they hold cook-outs or other social events periodically for the community around the plant to generate good will. I agreed then and I agree now that being more social would represent a greater PR coup than trotting out scripted marketing pro Sonia Harvat to issue talking points to the press. In 2005 the MWS response to Skip's recommendation that I detected was icy and silent. Since then, I am aware of no friendly attempt by Metro Water Services to reach out to the local community. They do not express respect for us. Our recommendations fall on deaf ears.
  • Metro Water Services failed to be transparent with neighbors most affected by biosolids construction. In 2005, MWS leaders were asked if they included anyone who lived in Germantown, Salemtown or East Germantown on the committee charged with choosing designs for the biosolids facility. The admitted that no one in the community was included in that process, although one unnamed individual who lived here was said to have been shown the designs the committee selected. The only time they claimed to invite community feedback was at that one meeting, and as I already reported, they were anything but inviting of feedback.

A logical consequence of callousness.
It is the last bullet that underscores the basic problem with a petroleum pile from the 2004 biosolids building construction still sitting on and planned for burial in public property in 2013. Metro Water Services should have been transparent with us in 2005 and informed us then about the environmental assessment report that analyzed high levels of fuel contamination without naming a source of that contamination. They should have made us aware of the exposure of the petroleum toxins to the groundwater that flows into the Cumberland River. They should have told us of their plans to leave the soil in a pile indefinitely. But they chose to limit our knowledge of their work to designs and drawings of architecture while deflecting our more critical questions. The agency's behavior now confirms the suspicions expressed at the 2005 meeting by the neighbors bold enough to so speak their minds.

After Channel 4 exposed Metro Water's contaminated pile and their plans to bury the soil in the incinerator basement I sent Sonia Havat a letter saying that I remember that she was in the same position with Metro Water in 2005. I also asked her to help me understand why her agency failed at that time to be transparent and accountable about the risks of the soil content since soil remediation was a part of the construction process. It has been 24 hours and I have not received any response to her. That is consistent with my experience of the careless and cavalier culture that seems to drive Metro Water whenever they have to exercise community relations with their closest neighbors. Shame on them.

How about commemorating the high water mark in Salemtown by remediating the petroleum?

Last month Hizzoner showed us Richland Creek's highest line in May 2010.

3 years ago petroleum showed Salemtown the Cumberland's highest 2010 line

Not looking for any greenway or park signs; instead, commitments from Mayor Dean and Scott Potter to remediate and remove all toxic and carcinogenic debris and soil from the watershed near Metro Water would be a fabulous way to commemorate the devastation in our neck of the woods so that future flood victims can commemorate their experience with anything but memories of black residue.

Despite my requests for information, Metro never got back to me

Right after the May 2010 flood, I emailed my council member Erica Gilmore asking whether Metro Nashville tested the soil around the Downtown Connector Greenway and Morgan Park to determine if the black and red liquids I saw floating in the flood and left behind on vegetation after the flood was toxic/carcinogenic to those exposed. Below is the email thread in the context of a flood relief meeting announced to her constituents:

Emergency Flood Relief Meeting in District 19 at Mt. Zion at 7 PM 
Fri, May 7, 2010 at 9:02 AM
To: Michael Byrd
Thanks so much. I will get answer to these questions.


ES Gilmore
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

From: Michael Byrd <>
Date: Fri, 7 May 2010 07:59:52 -0500
To: Erica Gilmore<>
Subject: Re: Emergency Flood Relief Meeting in District 19 at Mt. Zion at 7 PM

CM Gilmore:

Downtown Collector Greenway,
near the Metro Water biosolids facility,
May 27, 2010
Thanks for playing your part in helping Metro respond to the needs of storm-affected residents.

I plan to attend tonight's meeting. I know you are busy right now, so I wanted to go ahead and send you a couple of concerns I will ask about tonight if they are not addressed beforehand.

1. The flooding of East Germantown and the Central Wastewater Plant hit fuel and machine parts containers, industrial machinery, and large trucks. Fuel and other chemicals were spilled onto the Downtown Connector greenway and intersections and lawns in East Germantown and back into the river. Have or will tests be run to determine what kinds of toxins are in the neighborhood soil? How safe are we from exposure? Are people being warned to stay out of these public areas until clean-up? When does Metro expect to have spills completely clean? Are there stronger rules Metro can establish for storing toxic materials in East Germantown to prevent such accidents in the future?

2. During the crest of the Cumberland River some of us were at the site of flooding in Salemtown: Morgan Park. The park has been flooded since last Saturday and it is now slowly receding. In the hours before the crest on Monday, flood water continued to push up from sewers on 3rd and 4th Avenues and into the already flooded park. During that time a reddish-brown substance gathered underneath the water flooding the closed intersection of 4th and Hume. Do we have any idea what chemicals could have come out of these sewers? Given its close proximity to East Germantown, will any tests be performed on Morgan Park soil for toxic substances? The police have worked hard to keep people out of the water standing in the park, but does Metro have plans to clean up the water and any chemicals that may have flooded in when the river was rising?

Again, thank you for your service to our community.

Mike Byrd

I never heard back from anyone in Metro about my concerns after that. At the end of May 2010 I blogged on the persistent dark rings around trees and the fact that no one got back to me about these concerns. After 3 years of waiting, I am thankful that WSMV-Channel 4 raised them again and broadcasted them to a broader audience. I am also glad that I documented the spills and took photos.

Sadly, if Metro Nashville conducted no tests of the flooded areas around Salemtown and Germantown, then we may never know whether the toxic chemicals kept at Metro Water were really contained during the first week of May 2010. We also do not know whether we can have faith that we are safe from exposure using Morgan Park and the Downtown Greenway Connector along the Cumberland River itself, which receives the watershed that so many Middle Tennessee communities rely on.

Anyone want to share court costs for filing an injunction against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County?

On my way out of Salemtown this morning I drove by the Metro Water facility and confirmed what Demetria Kalodimos reported last night in a Channel 4 investigation: that MWS construction workers had started removing petroleum contaminated dirt (tainted in places at rates higher than the safe or legal levels) to bury in the 60-year-old basement of their demolished incinerator with PCB, lead and arsenic laced debris.

Taken May 30, 2013, 8:45a

Taken May 30, 2013, 8:45a

As I left, a construction worker was puttering around the heavy duty vehicle like he was going to fire it up again.

If I understand the Chancery Court requirements correctly, the court costs of a temporary injunction against Metro to protect the quality of our watershed and our health in the event of future floods and leaching of petroleum toxins from the basement into our communities are around $300. Anyone interested in splitting the cost of an injunction to try to restrain Metro Water from dumping this soil in their new neighborhood landfill?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Metro Water adding petroleum toxins to its new North Nashville landfill

The other shoe dropped in the Metro Water landfill controversy. Not only are toxins besides PCBs, lead and arsenic going into the MWS hole, but in some places the toxicity exceeds legal levels:

Again, just like I wrote yesterday, Metro Water officials do not even seem to care about their own double speak (assuming they even see it). PR specialist Sonia Harvat insists that the 2010 flood did not reach the petroleum pile, but she also insists that the dirt in the pile is safe enough to put in Metro Water's new landfill to leach out into the ground water and eventually into the Cumberland. Why should it matter to her or anyone else at Metro Water if the 2010 flood did reach the pile? They are already so convinced that it is safe.

Photo I took on May 3, 2010. Metro Water's highly toxic petroleum pile
is in the background at the center. The Cumberland River is rising from
behind the pile and from the right edge of the photo.

May 3, 2010 photo of road (now flooded) where I snapped photo earlier
of the petroleum pile (Metro closed off access any closer).
Had I known then what I know today, I would have panned to the left more.

Metro's aerial shot from May 3, 2010. Petroleum pile circled in white.
Normal Cumberland River shoreline drawn in black.

However, if the flood missed the pile as Ms. Harvat told Ms. Kalodimos in tonight's report it did not miss by much. Metro's aerial photo indicates that flood waters came up to the bottom of the pile hours before crest. Unless Metro Water has honest reports on water damage, we may never know whether the petroleum toxins were actually contained during the flood. And I have to wonder now whether the black stuff I watched streaming into Morgan Park with flood waters 1 block from our home was from the unremediated petroleum pile languishing on a MWS parking lot since 2004.

Moreover, how can we even trust Metro Water officials when they insist that the toxic dirt would be tested before burial after workers on site told Channel 4 that almost 100 loads of dirt have already gone into the ground untested? Metro Water refuses to even be accountable for whether the soil is being tested yet: Ms. Harvat told Ms. Kalodimos that she cannot answer the question on whether the soil has been thoroughly tested yet (even though she seems convinced it will be safe enough). Seems like the standard bureaucratic two-step: public agency hires private contractor, which allows public officials deniability when it comes to accountability. And private contractors never have to be accountable to voters. It's the perfect vicious circle. In the meantime, Metro Water pushes ahead with their burial, deniability in their back pocket, and the agency bunkers itself from the blowback from concerned citizens like me instead of exercising transparency and accountability.

MWS workers were out cleaning up oil-like liquids on the greenway by MWS on May 3.
The liquids left dark lines and streaks across trees and grass for weeks afterwards.
Did the dark stuff came from the pile? We will likely never know.

The 2004 assessment report lays down an unequivocal directive that defies the bureaucratic two-step:

Because petroleum contamination is known to exist at the northeast corner of the property, special procedures and consideration may be necessary if excavation of the contaminated soil is necessary for construction of the biosolids treatment facility

It was handled by stacking the soil (that one pro landfill telling Channel 4 they would not accept it) in a pile in the open (with the blessing of the renowned green state of Tennessee) without telling anyone in the open what was in the pile. Now it is dealt with absent consideration and with the unceremonious procedure of dropping it in a hole and covering it up. Out of sight; out of mind. Kind of like a cancer, which is exactly what exposure to these materials causes.

Metro Water intends to "flag the deed" to let future generations know what they are dealing with. Good for future generations, but bad for the present ones. These people don't care about us, their neighbors. They have already admitted in emails to Demetria Kalodimos that this is a primarily a matter of their agency saving money for Karl Dean's administration.

And the Mayor is the one ultimately answerable for this environmental abuse. The buck stops right about where the fish rots. Hizzoner puts some vegetation on top of a new convention center and markets it wanting you to believe he's a tailor-made green candidate for the US Senate or the Governor's mansion. But in low-visibility places that most Nashvillians do not hear about and under cover of hushed initiatives of a Metro agency he oversees, he is content to bury and cover up Metro's toxic water treatment cocktail of PCBs, lead, arsenic and now petroleum regardless of its proximity to our watershed.

Afterword: I'll be writing on this controversy again tomorrow. In 2005 I attended a community meeting sponsored by Metro Water at the Neuhoff Complex in East Germantown. I told Demetria Kalodimos that had I known what I know now about the soil contamination problem I would have asked different questions at that meeting. Of course, Metro Water failed to disclose that problem to its neighbors in 2005.

Historic Germantown president says Germantown does not care about Metro Water's new landfill on its border; council member Erica Gilmore says she does care

Tennessean reporter Bobby Allyn interviewed Historic Germantown, Inc.'s president, who is also a Realtor:

Despite concerns by some, Nathan Weinberg, president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association, said the community was not troubled by the waste burial.

“It’s not something of tremendous concern,” Weinberg said. “It has not created the impression that has made the community mobilize, and this community is quick to mobilize.”

To her credit, Erica Gilmore told a reporter at another publication what she told me last week when I wrote her about Metro Water's irresponsible, unneighborly actions: she finds the landfill unacceptable.

I find it curious that the Tennessean chose to quote Nathan Weinberg but apparently opted out of contacting CM Gilmore.

UPDATE: I received an email from the Salemtown president, who was trying to contact the Germantown president and tell them of SNNA's vote to oppose the landfill. He told me he could not find Mr. Weinberg listed on the site as the HGI president. He contacted someone else who told him that Robbie Vaughn is president. I located a profile for Mr. Weinberg on that lists him as Vice President for HGI:,d.dmg

BREAKING: more news on Metro Water's new landfill coming tonight

Hearing that the previously reported debris to be dumped in the old basement of the demolished Metro Water incinerator near the Cumberland River is just the tip of the toxic iceberg. Got an email saying watch Channel 4 News at 6:00 tonight. Is this going to get worse for the Salemtown/Germantown community?

If you watch this evening's report, I look forward to reading your comments below.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Metro Water does not view their planned neighborhood dump as a landfill except when they do view it as a landfill

Metro Water Services is not creating a landfill [in North Nashville].

-- Metro Water PR pro Sonia Harvat in an email reply to me today

[W]e’re going to be putting it in a concrete vault, covered in clay...which is pretty much like a landfill.
-- Metro Water manager Ron Taylor to Pith blog, (05/24/2013)

Today I wrote Ms. Harvat asking her to help me contact Ron Taylor so I could ask straight up how they could at once pitch debris they are burying to the public as "safe" and call the sealing clay covering the debris "a protective cap". To be specific: why do we need to be protected from debris that MWS claimed in a recent Tennessean story was safe?

Despite Mr. Taylor's acknowledgement to Pith that the debris is "pretty much" going to go into something akin to a new landfill, Ms. Harvat rejected my use of "landfill" in describing the project, insisting that it be characterized as "backfilling a concrete basement left from a demolished building". What a stretch. She never really addressed the seeming contradiction: employing terms like "tomb" (or "vault") and "protective cap" and then broadcasting that the PCB, lead and arsenic levels in the material are "safe" via the Tennessean's pandering piece written by Bobby Allyn (who contacted me last week by email for an opinion on the dump, but simply recited Metro Water's line in a way that struck me as beholden to Metro spin and journalistically disingenuous. I referred him to this blog in case he ran with my opinion). Ms. Harvat also failed to admit that Mr. Taylor (whom she copied in her email reply to me) characterized it as "like a landfill" 4 days ago (which I just found out about 2 hours ago).

Metro Water appears to be relying on whatever argument is convenient for them at any given time. Or maybe they are just tap dancing around the terms. Or, if Ms. Harvat knew of Mr. Taylor's comments to Pith, she is simply being argumentative with me. If so, it is such bad form because I don't think she lives in North Nashville.

On a side note, I followed up with reporter Allyn today via email and suggested that he could have been more factual by acknowledging that Metro Water is going to be creating a new landfill in North Nashville without a proper public hearing process for feedback from the affected community. I did not expect to hear back from him and I have not. My views definitely deviate from the script at this awkward budget time when agencies are scratching and clawing for every cent Mayor Karl Dean might spare them. Or, depending on what interview you read, maybe my views don't deviate as much as I might be led to believe.

Footnote: the photos of Metro Water's demolition debris field and part of the basement that appear on this post were taken by me from a public road yesterday. No affected neighbors that I know of have been invited by Metro Water to observe their work. None of us knew about this dump or the previous removal of debris prohibited by the EPA until Channel 4 broke the story. Click on each photo to enlarge.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Aerial photo of water treatment plant during the 2010 flood troubles me

With Channel 4's investigation of Metro Water Services and the dump of chemicals they are planning near my neighborhood, I went back to look over the aerial maps of the 2010 flood on the Metro government website. I spent hours outside in May 2010 documenting the Cumberland River flood as it happened, especially around the water treatment plant. I remember seeing not just black liquids in the river water that looked like fuel oil, but also some kind of heavy reddish-brown substance rolling just under the surface of the flood waters inundating Morgan Park (which is less than a block from the site where Metro Water wants to bury chemical-laced debris in a new landfill).

Yesterday I went back to the Metro maps and took a screenshot of the planned landfill site at the treatment plant as it looked in May 2010.

May 2010 photo: planned landfill site outlined in black.
Flood waters seeping to the surface or overtopping circled in white.

Most of the old incinerator site seems to sit at a higher elevation than the new addition, the biosolids facility (right side of the screen shot), which was inundated and damaged by the river in 2010. There is a spot at the south end of the plot where the flood overtopped the road. But if you also look closely at other spots throughout the old incinerator site, you can see water pushed up to the surface, either through storm drains or the through the ground itself.

What troubles me most about this photo is the prospect that, with a new chemcial landfill buried in the basement of the incinerator, future floods will pass through the PCBs, lead and arsenic to get back up to the surface. What are the odds that the "protective cap" said to be placed on top will keep those chemicals at bay rather than brought to the surface or pushed out only to expose neighborhoods?

Look at another screenshot a little farther south of the incinerator site (the photo was taken several hours before the flood waters crested, because when it did crest in the evening the streets near Morgan Park were flooded well above the pooling seen in the photos).

The black liquid (in contrast to the yellowish-green floodwater) I mentioned earlier is clearly coming up to the surface of a parking lot. It is also pooling on 3rd Av North at Morgan Park. Note also that it is also flowing across approximately half of the park basin itself. The floodwaters are clearly pushing something besides water into the neighborhood. It might help if we knew where that stuff was coming from.

If Metro dumps its leftover carcinogens at the old incinerator site 300 yards from the Cumberland River, it seems obvious to me that those chemicals will also be subject to the pressure of any future floods of the river. If the 2010 event could push whatever that black chemical was into Morgan Park, it is fair to assume that it will wash and push chemicals left on incinerator debris into the community as well. And those chemicals present demonstrated risk factors for cancer.

This landfill issue is a question of protecting public health in North Nashville. Why even take a chance on doubling any future catastrophe of unsuspecting neighbors by storing contaminated debris in a basement on floodplain?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Council Member Gilmore says she opposes Metro Water's placement of toxic landfill in the North End

In the wake of the bad news that Metro Water, Codes and TDEC approved of a new landfill for banned chemicals near Salemtown, I wrote my council member early this morning:

CM Gilmore:

I am deeply troubled by news of Metro Nashville's unannounced, nontransparent plan to bury old water treatment building debris, laced with PCBs, lead and arsenic, down the street from my house ( and 300 yards from the Cumberland River, which in 2010 backed up through and underneath the water treatment plant and into my neighborhood before receding. Metro Water and Codes officials try to put the most publicly appealing face on this penny-pinching chemical dump. However, they admit that they intend to put a "protective cap" over the carcinogens, which seems to me to be an acknowledgment that we need protection from what they are filling the old basement with. And make no mistake: they are siting a new landfill next to Salemtown, even as they tell television reporters that they are trying to avoid siting new landfills.

I am also upset that I had to discover this information secondhand from a TV journalist instead of from Metro government, which should have been more honest and forthcoming about the extent of the contamination at the water treatment plant. As a taxpayer, as a parent, as an active, responsible neighbor, I believe that I have a right to know what kind of risk a municipal agency is posing to my community before reporters force it to be accountable.

Likewise, I am of the opinion that our council members are supposed to protect constituents from Metro departments that make decisions based more on their narrow interests in saving money and cutting corners at the expense of broader public health and welfare. In [this] spirit I would ask you, please, do whatever you can to leverage change of Metro Water's plans to create a new North Nashville landfill to bury banned toxins and carcinogens so close to my family's house and so near the Cumberland River. Please resist Metro government's historical habit of treating North Nashville as a dumping ground for the rest of the city's wastes.

At the very least, next year's budget should include a provision to pay for moving all contaminated debris from the old water plant site to an approved, regulated landfill. Metro should abide by the same rules it applies to anyone else who demolishes old buildings. The current water treatment site needs to be reclaimed and renovated for the sake of our local community and of those who rely on the Cumberland watershed. Please do what you can to make sure that revisions to the Mayor's budget include such a provision and the necessary revenues to pay for it.

Mike Byrd

Within hours Erica Gilmore replied to my email saying that she is also "very concerned" and that she "will never" support the opening of a landfill in North Nashville. She writes that she will "have monies placed in next year's budget". Good to hear that my council member is on the right side of this issue.

I hope that each of you will consider writing a letter to Metro Council, the Mayor's Office, and/or Metro Water protesting the location of a landfill next to the Cumberland River in North Nashville. Even if you do not live near my neighborhood you still would be affected by the storage of chemicals by Nashville's major water source.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Metro and the state moving to create a landfill of toxins next door to Salemtown and Germantown

Channel 4's I-Team investigators discovered that Metro is about to start a new landfill of debris contaminated with heavy metals, carcinogens and toxins right on our doorstep:

In an email to Demetria Kalodimos, a Metro Water Services spokesperson defended the new North Nashville landfill with some flawed logic. Here are examples (inserted also are my replies, which are bolded):

  1. "The construction debris could have been sent to a demolition landfill but that would involve significant truck traffic and fuel consumption and would unnecessarily add material to landfills leading to the unpleasant need to site future landfills."

    And how is Metro not siting a future landfill between Salemtown and the Cumberland River by planning to bury toxic water treatment debris on the site of the old water treatment plant? I do not have to read too strongly between the lines to see exactly what this decision is about: Mayor Karl Dean is holding his budget cutting blades over most departments heads, and public health in historically less affluent parts of Nashville is collateral damage. But make no mistake: Metro is siting a new landfill in North Nashville, practically in Salemtown's lap.

  2. "the analyzed PCB concentration results were all below 10 PPM. This concentration, at an industrial site with one foot of cover, does not require off-site disposal nor approval for on-site disposal. The basement would essentially be a concrete tomb for the debris capped by a layer of soil containing clay to provide a protective cap on the site."

    The analysis of the test results done for Metro Nashville that MWS provided for WSMV is long, detailed and certain in its opinions that the concentration of banned carcinogenic chemicals still in the debris is safe for all of us to live around. (And I have not even started on what could happen in a future catastrophic flood of the Cumberland). Metro Nashville and our red state's department of environment and conservation insist that generating a new landfill several blocks from my house is safe for me and my family. But if these chemicals are perfectly safe in an old basement, why do government officials need to provide "a protective cap"? Who exactly would they need to protect if the chemicals are so safe that we are at a greater health risk buying bricks from Home Depot than in cavorting around contaminated debris? It sounds to me like they are protecting themselves.

Note that at the end of Channel 4's story we find out that no Metro Water or Metro Codes officials are willing to go on camera to talk about this matter. They obviously prefer to stay as quiet about it as they have been all along. In the interview Ms. Kalodimos asked me if I knew about this plan before she told me about it. I told her that no one had been transparent about it with me, an affected neighbor. Not Metro Water, not Codes, not my council member, not the Mayor. So, I am not surprised at all that the bureaucrats prefer to draw as little attention to potentially damaging news as possible.

The question is: are the area neighborhoods and the latest influx of developers going to get up in arms about this and keep it on the public radar to leverage positive change?

One last thing. Be sure you don't pass too quickly over Channel 4's last observation:

Yet the contractor being asked to do this burial work wanted a piece of paper on city letterhead saying this course of action was OK. That company has yet to get the directive in writing.

Why are Metro Water and Codes afraid to put their plan in writing even to the contractor burying the debris? (By the way, the package of emails and reports that MWS uses to justify their hushed-up plan comes replete with warnings that transmitting any of the correspondence between MWS and their private contractors is prohibited. Public interest be damned. Nothing to see here. Move on. What you don't know can't hurt you).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Update on the conditions of the Salemtown Cottages SP

Some of the Salemtown Cottages design options
I got a call Wednesday from council member Erica Gilmore's office saying that the CM has been able to include the affordable housing option and the sound wall component that the community had requested for approval of the specific plan rezoning request made by developers of Salemtown Cottages. CM Gilmore's staffer also asked me if I would support the SP given the progress of the legislation. I responded that I would, indeed, based on the process of feedback in the two bona fide community meetings on the SP. Anyone who knows me knows that I have been critical of developer Mike Kenner in the past. However, based on Mr. Kenner's willingness to accept the stipulations requested in the process of public discussions, I can say without reservation that I support this SP.

The SP was approved with conditions (or recommended for disapproval without conditions) by the Planning Commission last Thursday, although it was pulled off the consent agenda at the request of opponents, which exposed it to some critical public feedback (bills on first reading are usually approved as a group without debate). I understand that there are some unqualified supporters of the SP as proposed (with or without a wall or affordable housing). They either were not present or chose not to express public favor for the bill after it was pulled off the consent agenda.

Arguments by the opponents of the SP who expressed themselves at the Planning Commission meeting are fairly easy to dispatch. Opponents claim that Mr. Kenner's cottage development is "too dense" and would create parking and run-off problems for Salemtown around Buchanan and 7th Av. With the current zoning, any developer can build either 18 or 20 units on the space where Mr. Kenner and company are proposing 24. A developer would not need the community's support to build attached duplexes as is. They would not be bound to build the detached cottages proposed in the SP. The opposition fails to grasp that reality. Rather than wasting their time digging in their heels, asserting that 4-6 more units on the lots would be "too dense", opponents should be trying to leverage space, parking and design accommodations from Mr. Kenner in exchange for slightly higher density.

The developer's request for 4-6 more units is not unrealistic, given urbanization. Demanding one detached single family home on each lot zoned for duplexes--as one opponent did during Planning's public hearing--is foolish and self-defeating. The community was at wiser moments able to get the developer to provide affordable housing and a sound wall. In my opinion, if they would have applied themselves pragmatically, they could have leveraged more compromises (the same argument applies to supporters, who woefully acquiesced to the proposal with no negotiation whatsoever). I was left with the impression that Mr. Kenner would have compromised to get what he wanted more than he did. The community's lost opportunities are perplexing to me.

I support the Salemtown Cottages SP with the conditions approved by Metro Planning and affirmed in CM Gilmore's legislation (as reported on Wednesday). Given its awkward layout due to the interstate, the northwest corner of Salemtown needs a thoughtful SP. I only wish that Salemtown would have made more of an effort to avail itself of the opportunity to inform the SP that currently we have before us.

Friday, May 10, 2013

After years of different concepts, ground finally broken at 6th and Garfield for row homes

Metropolitan Brokers and rootARCH started construction this week on the only vacant lots (4) left at the intersection of 6th Av N and Garfield Street in Salemtown. Exteriors look like they have taken their cues from some of the period infill around Salemtown and Germantown.

What's being built in 2013 at 6th and Garfield

I admit I am partial to the period look, but in several community meetings I have attended in the past few weeks I have heard grumbling about the sterile, geometric boxiness of more recent builds in Salemtown. I would think that a plan for a more traditional row house style would be welcomed by some of the folk unhappy with some of what's been offered recently. That said, HR@G strikes a good balance to the rectilinear "G spot" homes across Garfield. Moreover, it is unequivocally more attractive that the slapdash, Lego-like disappointment across 6th Av N (I still am not sure what it is called. "Sixth & Garfield"?).

Everything I've read about HR@G says it will have 8 units, which is denser than what was previously proposed as the "Salem Gardens" concept 6 years ago when duplexes were to be built on this pivotal neighborhood site:

Scaled back 2007 plan for duplexes at 6th and Garfield

I am not bothered by the greater density of the Historic Row plan as others might be for a couple of reasons. First, Salem Gardens was unmistakably duplexified in its appearance. The row houses give a little more diversity to a neighborhood where duplexes could dominate (on some streets they already do) without some creative building and zoning. Second, the Salem Gardens proposal emerged several years ago after Salemtown Neighbors fought and won rezoning for three of the SG properties further south of the Historic Row site redeveloped for detached single family homes. The Salem Gardens group originally proposed mixed use (which SNNA supported):

2006 mixed use concept for 6th and Garfield

Then the SG group pulled a u-turn and lobbied unsuccessfully to return to all duplexes. One of the detached SF homes for which SNNA won rezoning is already built and owned. Two more can be built if current property owners ever tear down some old triplexes.

So, I am not concerned about the greater density that current developers of the Historic Row at Garfield plan for 6th and Garfield. It is balanced, thanks to thoughtful and diligent planning, by zoning for 3 lower-density, detached homes to its south. We just need to stay vigilant that the lower density nearby is not rezoned to mirror the lots where HR@G is going up. "Diversity" remains the name of the Salemtown development game.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Hate mail, part II

While perusing some public email records on the proposed Salemtown conservation overlay, I found a specifically unfavorable reference to me by former neighborhood association president, Molly McCluer, in a February 2013 message to Metro Council:

Since Mike Byrd has publicly complained about the lack of process, I feel it is fair to point out that he has had even more access than most, yet consistently failed to take advantage of any of these opportunities: he started the year on the SNNA Board but quit at the Feb. 2012 meeting, did not attend any further monthly meetings, attended 2 Metro public meetings but did not raise objections; did not join the NextDoor neighborhood website; and affirmatively refused to respond to the overlay opinion survey.

Well, I am honored to be considered deserving of a retort on this question in correspondence with elected officials. But all I had been doing until last February was expressing my opinion on a blog. I would think that Ms. McCluer, who had lobbied for the overlay from a position of power as SNNA head for a solid year, could have ignored me on the legislation, unless there were flaws in the proposal which were being exposed.

Nonetheless, Ms. McCluer spread some specious fabrications about me, which I have had to dispel even with some neighbors who asked about them. In the spirit of the idea that there are at least two sides to every story, and given that this story is about me, I have a different interpretation of what happened last year. Some of it is more about her than me.

I took a position on the executive committee in 2012 assuming things would go as they had the several other times I served in similar leadership positions. From our first meeting with Ms. McCluer as president, I quickly learned that things would be drastically different. She proposed a lot of extreme, unsanctioned changes for SNNA: stripping the by-laws down, extending the presidency and vice presidency to 2-year terms, cutting down the number of membership mtgs and relying exclusively on the executive committee, bringing in a horticulturalist to redesign all of the streetscape landscaping approved in an earlier block grant process, among other things. She got resistance from some of us on the committee, and then the membership (and the Metro Police community officer to an extent) shot down her plan to cut back the number of business meetings.

Ms. McCluer made it harder for members of the EC like me to have input and influence. When I volunteered to help write a survey she declined, saying that she wanted me to focus exclusively on being a Treasurer. But then she practically ordered me to reconvene the SNNA by-laws committee, (which had finished its work years ago) to approve the changes that she announced at the first EC meeting. She set EC meetings on days and times I could not meet without regard to my point that I was unavailable because of family commitments. That was the last straw. I resigned my EC position in February and announced it to the membership in a letter.

After the drama I did decide to take a short break from the association that I had served consistently and loyally since its founding in 2005 in order to spend more time with my family. As spring wound down a neighbor told me that Ms. McCluer attacked me in a membership meeting for blogging my personal opinions about a development. The SNNA secretary sent out minutes from the meeting with the negative spin. My active involvement in SNNA for 2012 ended there. I decided I would not leave myself open to future ambushes via the executive committee.

The only other point in Ms. McCluer's harangue to the council that deserves my attention is her point that I did not respond to the inappropriate survey. I did respond, and my responses appear under my name for anyone to read. That survey ended up having negligible impact on council action on the overlay. And it should have had no influence. It was slanted and ill-advised.

In 2013, things are different. There is a new president. The association voted to strike Ms. McCluer's attack on me from the May 2012 minutes. There are discussions about a neutral survey being written to gauge Salemtown opinions accurately. I have withdrawn my opposition to the overlay after some changes to the bill and a series of open community meetings. I am once again a dues-paying, participating member of SNNA. But I'm sure if they really wanted to, someone could spout some more one-sided fabrications about me in 2013, too. Hopefully, they continue to do so on the public record.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

CRIME ALERT: North Nashville shooting suspect arrested in East Nashville

From WSMV:

Eric L. Goodner, 17, was apprehended Wednesday afternoon at the Village Place Apartments, located in the 100 block of Oak Valley Drive.
Goodner is accused of shooting 17-year-old Johnathan Johnson the morning of April 11 as Johnson left home to catch a school bus on 10th Avenue North.
The U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force assisted Metro police in locating and arresting Goodner, who is now is charged with criminal homicide in Juvenile Court.
Investigators said they suspect additional charges, and a motive is unknown in the shooting.
Police have not released details on the apartment where Goodner was found and whether anyone was assisting him in hiding from law enforcement since the shooting....
Investigators credit a community effort to apprehend Goodner, including an anonymous citizen's $500 reward for information leading to the suspect's arrest.

"That's what this is all about: community. When we have things like that we need people to come forward and help us out. We need that support," said North Precinct Police Cmdr. Terrence Graves.

Police said Goodner was uncooperative with their questions after his arrest.

Surely the community has celebrated other events since October 13, 2012

Given the status of its "Events" page, I would say "The Capitol District" has either gone dormant or irrelevant or out-of-touch with the actual community events in the four neighborhoods it claims to represent:

Screenshot from Rob Williams' website posted for opinion and comment.