Friday, February 28, 2014

Was I sold a bill of goods on Salemtown's overlay a year ago?

About this time last year I expressed opposition to Salemtown's conservation overlay (now approved) based on my sense that it was being rammed through without regard for democratic process (full disclosure: I am generally an overlay/preservation supporter).

One of the claims that I heard overlay supporters make was an acknowledgement that ignoring democratic process in the name of other ends is generally not desirable, but that Salemtown's overlay was an extenuating and urgent circumstance, because it might be "the last conservation overlay that Metro's planning and zoning departments would approve." People I listened to told me straight-faced that Metro was going to move away from conservation overlays.

Almost exactly a year later I feel a bit betrayed by those in whom I placed trust. I am reading the following in the latest newsletter from the Metropolitan Historic Zoning Commission newsletter:

Neighborhood Conservation Zoning Overlays More Popular Than Ever 

Due to the booming local economy and the increase in infill development, more and more neighborhoods are seeing the value of historic zoning. 

The purpose of historic zoning is to guide change in a neighborhood in a way that preserves its historic character and fabric. It does not change use. Most property owners want the additional zoning because it has been proven to protect property values ....

Most neighborhoods prefer the Neighborhood Conservation Zoning Overlay (NCZO) where the goal is to preserve historic “character.” Only demolition, new construction and moving a builidng [sic] are reviewed.

Holy moly. That is no where close to the dire pitch presented to me a year ago when Salemtown's overlay hung by a slim thread with community meetings threatening to kill our chances at an overlay. Were overlay supporters just blowing smoke up my skirt to get me to drop my principled and public objections to Salemtown conservation overlay? Your guess is as good as mine.

I just know that I'll take their red flags with a grain of salt next time.

Whites Creek lost a battle but not yet the war

You can bet that these 43 lots are only Phase I.

Community opponents of Ole South development's plan to sprawl 43 suburban-style homes across previously tree-canopied rural properties held a brave stand at yesterday's Planning Commission public hearing, but they had the weight of law and zoning against them. As an outsider-looking-in with a little experience with planning process, it struck me as a long shot to stop Ole South from building a cluster subdivision approved by the Planning Department without any requirement to rezone.

And Ole South did not even bother to have one of their owners speak at the public hearing. Tom White, real estate lawyer and lobbyist, took care of the developers presentation and rebuttal (and Mr. White reserved his right vocally to end the public hearing with a rebuttal several times during his presentation). For their part, dozens and dozens of community opponents rose to speak against the subdivision to a commission that has been described to me as "the most developer-friendly commission in Nashville history".

Commission Chairman James McLean dished a not-so-veiled warning to opponents that he would stop the public hearing if speakers started repeating themselves because the commissioners wanted to get home at a reasonable hour. As if regular folks out in the gallery had not taken time out of their busy schedules, away from their families to sit for hours through other planning business that did not involve them in order to have their 2 minutes to speak their minds at what was ultimately the end of the meeting. As if commissioners have more important things to do than to hear the expressed interests of a Whites Creek community that is watching their character change without much control--beyond the hearing--over it. Given that most commission business involves relatively uncontroversial, unemotional work on planning, I thought Mr. McLean (who is himself a developer) showed little patience, humility or humor with that warning. Who isn't busy in their own personal lives nowadays, Mr. Chairman?

But the opponents stood out by emphasizing plural concerns, admitting and shortening their comments when they sensed that they were repeating what had already been said. The difference in the public presentations for and against could not be more stark. The emphasis from supporters of Ole South was strictly on the legal side of the argument: the company had complied with what zoning requires and they had toed the line Metro planners and CM Walter Hunt set for them, so at bare minimum they deserved to build their cluster lots. Their basic message was that they achieved the lowest common denominators developers have to, and they saw no need to strive for anything higher than their bottom line.

For their part, the opponents of Ole South appealed to a wide range of arguments to make the basic case that they expect development (no one whom I heard expressed NIMBYism), but they wanted something higher than what developers were offering. They appealed to their history, to consistency with the village-like character of Whites Creek, to the idea of quality in building materials, to the common sense notion of fairness that they ought to have the same planning opportunities as other communities, to environmental protection, to a unique and attractive culture comparable with few other places (Bells Bend, Leipers Fork were mentioned), to tourism, to the culture of land and green space and to their diverse community. Their appeals were thick and rich compared to the rather cold, calculated and cynical statements by an attorney who seemed to me ready to pull a trigger on a lawsuit if Ole South did not get commission approval.

Keep in mind that Tom White is the same lawyer who told the Tennessean that the suburban sprawl plan had plenty of community support for passage. The turnout of opponents at the public hearing proved that false. Tom White is also same lawyer who argued at last week's Whites Creek community meeting that he believed commission support for the plan was "highly likely".

This particular statement from the Old South side proved to be true, but not before questions were raised, mostly by commissioner Stewart Clifton, who acknowledged CM Hunt's interest in approving the plan while also asserting his interest in making sure that Ole South was consistent with the properties on the same side of the streets it would sit on. CM Hunt seemed to want to refer the commission to a completely different development rather than consider the streetside consistency. Mr. Clifton wanted to defer until he could get some answers from planning on whether creating 43 plots was consistent with the adjacent properties. Chairman McLean denied Mr. Clifton a vote on a deferral, called for a vote on CM Hunt's motion to approve the Ole South plan (amended to prohibit duplexes) and the commission voted 4-2 to approve.

It is worth noting that Mr. Clifton pointed out that 3 commissioners who "should be" voting on the Ole South bid were not present. One of those was Andree LeQuire, who had sent a request announced to the commission for a deferral of Old South's plan because she wanted more information about the water and sewer infrastructure Ole South was planning. Chairman McLean waved all of that off before holding the vote to approve.

But there is another significant, but understated fallout from this hearing. During Mr. Clifton's questions, Planning Director Rick Bernhardt noted that the commission had asked for urban character infill regulations but had not requested rural character infill regulations from planners. It was acknowledged that Ole South's approval hinged on old, outdated zoning regs and that there was a lack of infill regs for agricultural communities. After the vote, Mr. Bernhardt asked the commission whether they wanted Planning to pursue those regulations and I did not hear much of a response. Might this be where a concerned Whites Creek community can wage their next battle for growth consistent their community character? They lost this battle, but there still seems to me a war to wage in defense of their way of life. Ole South's holdings in Whites Creek are much larger and perhaps Metro Planning needs more prompting for infill regulations before the developers completely suburbanize backcountry.

In the end, this proposal was CM Walter Hunt's to lose. As ugly as the Whites Creek community meeting was, as impressive as the turnout to the public hearing was, CM Hunt seemed to have Metro planners (in fairness, Planning's hands seemed tied) and commission votes on his side. He did not need to do much compromising with constituents to get approval. Having a land holdings lawyer pounding away on what was legal from the podium is also effective leverage, given that Metro is likely not looking to get caught up in one more lawsuit. While CM Hunt promised to have a historical survey of the properties conducted (no traffic study has been done), I was disappointed myself that he did not at least extend an offer to opponents to start working to revise their outdated community plan, which is a reasonable request regardless of Ole South.

Moreover, take a look at how CM Hunt's campaign for office has been the beneficiary of donors with direct interests in land development, construction, new housing starts and housing market. Follow the money form some of the donors I culled from his campaign finance records since 2011:

  • Robert Colson, real estate broker and property auctioneer ($100)
  • Tom Cone, Sr., owner of Cone Oil convenience stores ($1,000)
  • Roy Dale, engineer to developers ($250)
  • Howard Eley, Jr., highways and ramps contractor ($250)
  • Joe Hall, lobbyist for cable telecommunications assc. ($200)
  • Ronald Ligon, Realtor ($500) and Susan Ligon ($500)
  • Alexander Marks, developer ($250)
  • William Massey, Jr., electrical contractor ($100)
  • Jim McLean, developer and Planning Commission Chair ($100)
  • Gregory Richardson, developer ($500)
  • John Ring, developer ($500)
  • Glen Wallis, Realtor ($100)
  • L.H. Hardaway, Jr. construction company owner ($100)
  • William Freeman, real estate investment company owner ($100)
  • James Smith, developer ($250)
  • Bernard Werthan, developer ($100)
  • Feller Brown, realty and auction company owner ($100)
  • Odell Binkley, waste management ($100)
  • H.G. Hill Realty, PAC ($100)
  • Tennessee Realtors, PAC ($250)
  • Precision Plumbing, Whites Creek ($1,000)

That kind of money is more incentive to shepherd subdivision plans through rather than incorporate community concerns if one is not required to. This list is something for the rest of us to keep in mind should CM Hunt run for at-Large council in the future. He may be our council member someday.

But there is also something else to keep in mind as far as I am concerned. One of the supporters of Ole South said during last night's public hearing, "Whatever Walter Hunt wants, Walter Hunt should get." That prospect itself is troubling given campaign finance, because it won't be just what Walter Hunt wants. It will also be what his most influential campaign donors want.

And those of us without the money (or the community organization) to keep up with his donors will likely be left behind.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why I support the Whites Creek community against Ole South developers

What: Public Hearing at Metro Planning Commission - MPC will vote to allow or disallow subdivision. There will be an opportunity for public comment.
Where:  Sonny West Conference Building (1st Floor)
700 2nd Ave S.
When:  Wed Thu Feb 27th  4:00PM

After attending the Whites Creek community meeting last week I decided to support rural opponents of a suburban sprawl development of over 40 homes across 11 acres just outside of northern Briley Parkway.

It is unfortunate enough that their council representative, Walter Hunt, has not made efforts to support Whites Creek residents in formulating a community plan consistent with their priorities and the community's character. It is also unfortunate that the planning staff is going to recommend that the Planning Commission (which I am told has a developer-bias unlike any previous commission) approve this sprawl plan.

Oddly enough, the big thing in planning at the moment is "New Urbanism," which emphasizes reducing car trips, creating walkable neighborhoods, maintaining safer streets. Metro Planning Director Rick Bernhardt not only serves in the Congress of New Urbanism, but he was a signatory of the original charter. This proposal does not seem to fit with New Urbanism at all. Expanding relatively unwalkable suburbia will only increase car trips and traffic on the roads what will lead to unsafer streets.

But Metro Planning supports this because it fits with the designated "use" and with the zoning, both of which could have been informed by a community plan, which has been refused to Whites Creek. Instead, Whites Creek was folded in with Bordeaux for a plan that was last updated in 2003. Lumping rural and suburban areas into one outdated plan is an invitation to encourage the growth of suburbia, not the preservation and smart growth of rural communities.

Those of you who have returned to this blog over the years know that I was an energetic supporter of preserving rural Bells Bend against developers' plans to build "a second downtown" with a corporate campus across its remote, rolling pasturelands. I am told by community leaders there that Metro Planning does not always grasp the priorities of "preservation and limited development" in rural areas.

That may be the case in Whites Creek, too. Maybe Metro Planning just cannot see anything but the inevitable march of suburbia northward. Or maybe they do see it and prefer to bow to the clout of developers and lawyers instead. Either way, the community does not seem to be sitting back and taking it. They are organizing and writing council members and the Planning Commission with these goals in mind:

  1. Do not allow Ole South to develop this land into a subdivision on the grounds that is out of Whites Creek’s rural character. Seeing a subdivision as soon as you get off Briley Parkway onto White Creek pike will irreversibly change the value and character of our neighborhood. We want to remain a rural residential and agricultural area north of Briley Parkway, not suburbia.
  1. No more subdivision developments or re-zonings until we have a revision of our Community Design Plan.  Our community plan is 10 years old and our community deserves the opportunity to plan for growth the way other neighborhoods have.
  2. Nashville has made a commitment to open space preservation and environmental sustainability. The Whites Creek watershed is the cleanest watershed in Davidson County and subdivisions such as the one proposed increase soil erosion and contributes to flooding due to clear cutting of trees....
  3. Local food and farming is of increasing importance and Whites Creek can be a critical food hub for the city. We have an emerging agrarian economy here in Whites Creek with 15 farmer and friends of farmers that make up the Whites Creek Farmers Alliance.
  4. The proposed subdivision is of low quality. The selling price will be 40% lower than the average new home price in Nashville and 32% lower than the average new home price in the Whites Creek area. Parmley Cove, the most recent development, has only 3 homes built so far due to lack of market demand and the clear cutting of trees has caused run off and flooding of neighboring homes. The sidewalk is already broken. It is a blight and an eye sore. These subpar developments will only lower our property values.

The last three points are also relevant to me as one of their urban neighbors. When it comes to the environment, all of us live within a web of interdependence. Whites Creek eventually flows to the Cumberland River. If Whites Creek is polluted, it adds to the pollution of the Cumberland. Also, we need more, not less, green space to enjoy the benefits thereof. How much more expensive is it to remediate brown fields for new green space rather than leaving that which is already open untouched?

Bells Bend has become a hub for produce, particularly for hops grown for use by the local brewers at Yazoo. Why would Nashvillians want to cut themselves off from more sources of fresh produce in Whites Creek? We should be promoting local farmers and CSAs over suburban sprawl.

The new broken Parmley Cove sidewalk
Any time developers are allowed to build low quality anywhere, it brings down quality everywhere, and it only encourages them to continue elsewhere. Next time they might be in your neighborhood, and in mine, too.

There are two other reasons why an urban resident like me supports Whites Creek opponents of Ole South developers (who own 100 more Whites Creek acres beyond the proposed development). One is that a new suburban development will be a greater source of competition for Metro services and infrastructure in an era of shrinking Metro budget returns to communities. Do you notice how Nashville is said to be growing and expanding with the justification that the tax base also increases? Yet, we are unable to fund more after all of this growth. The Mayor seems to demand budget cuts to services every year. So, why should we believe that yet one more suburban development is going make a difference? How will it be anything else but more competition with other neighborhoods for transit lines, schools, parks and libraries?

Finally, supporters of suburban sprawl should not enjoy the opportunity to disqualify Whites Creeks residents as "just being NIMBY." That is a tired old slander that usually does not represent what people really think. The preservation of Bells Bend was made more legitimate by support from neighbors from all over Nashville. I listened to the people of Whites Creek make their case against Ole South firsthand. I was persuaded that their cause is anything but NIMBY. They can use other voices, even voices from the urban core neighborhoods, supporting their cause to keep the developers from at the very least impugning their motives. At most, neighbors should have more influence over the future growth of their community.

On Wednesday Thursday we will see whether the Planning Commission acknowledges their influence.

Association starts discussion of parking problems in Salemtown

Last fall, I underscored the coming storm over street-side parking in Salemtown (where the lion's share of parking is on public streets), based on the bottlenecks that were already appearing in Germantown.

At last month's Salemtown Neighbors business meeting the subject was brought up and discussions began about possibly leveraging reserved parking on public streets for residents.

I'm all for this and I would sign a petition to reserve parking on my street (I am told Metro requires 75% of residents to sign a petition to get reserved parking). The only caveat I would add is that Salemtown should not wait for anyone or for anything to do this. We certainly cannot wait for CM Erica Gilmore, who pushed the Sulphur Dell ballpark plan through without any consideration for or concern about impact on neighborhood parking.

There was some discussion about working in tandem with Historic Germantown. But, why? If all we need block-by-block is 75%, then why wait for Germantown? HGI often goes its own way without consulting Salemtown. Can anyone show me how working with Germantown on parking in Salemtown would help our case?

Let's get this done before the hulking apartment complex, Werthan Flats, opens and we have our own bottlenecks to deal with. Let's get this done before developers start asking for rezoning for restaurants and mixed-use in Salemtown, at which point we will have them, their lawyers, their lobbyists and their cash flows to fight for reserved parking. Let's get this done before it's too late.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The bridges they burn can light their way

So, Erica Gilmore is sponsoring this bill that would authorize a sumptuous new walking bridge (what walking bridge does not offer walkers terraced seating to take a luxurious break from walking?) for the "southern corridor" of her district, and other council members--who said they could not spring simple sidewalks in their neighborhood--slowed her roll this week. Her option to avoid a fight over money: defer the Mayor's gift to south Downtown. Jerry Maynard promised to bring the council foot-draggers along to CM Gilmore's way of seeing things.

During her comments on deferral, CM Gilmore said she did not want to get into "a north-south" lest it be "divisive" and "unproductive". Looking at the million-dollar baby she intends for south Downtown (a.k.a. "The Gulch") versus the existing pedestrian bridge (the only pedestrian bridge?) in North Nashville, I can understand why a comparison wouldn't be productive for her legislation:

The Gulch's proposed $16,000,000 pedestrian bridge

North Nashville's existing pedestrian bridge (near Hadley Park)

That is quite a divide in stylishness. I can understand why some in North Nashville might resent the special favors lavished downtown. So, let's not focus strictly on comparisons, since it would be "divisive".

However, there is also a divide between rational and irrational choices of costs versus benefits.

According to the council's own documents, the requested $16,000,000 would be taken from the capital improvements fund that includes "a general $20 million designation for the maintenance, repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of bridges for fiscal year 2014." So, the conditions of existing bridges in CM Gilmore's district and in other districts are so good that we can spend most of this year's bridge funds on building an opulent new pedestrian bridge for 2,000 Gulch residents (most of whom CM Gilmore described as "carless Millennials")?

Terraced seating for the Millennial Generation!

You can sit on the stairs if you really want to.

In fairness, North Nashville's only pedestrian bridge is not in CM Gilmore's district and my guess is that it was not paid for by Metro (was it?). But the blight is symbolic of the privileges accorded to downtown development that are strictly rationed at points outside of downtown. The imbalance can be worse in districts whose council members have failed to copy the knack for ingratiating themselves to Mayor Karl Dean.

CM Emily Evans responded to CM Gilmore's bill by pointing out that she cannot even get sidewalks funded for school kids who have grown up waiting for them in her district, so she cannot vote for a $16,000,000 sidewalk for a bunch of Millennials who could and do use the Demonbreun viaduct when they want to go downtown. You go, Emily Evans:

Until I see the priorities of sidewalks in this city shifted to things like [installing them where kids need them to walk to schools], I'm never going to vote for something like this. So, you can defer it indefinitely. I appreciate the effort, but I think this is one of the most outrageous proposals I've seen.

For myself, I don't oppose the idea of building a pedestrian bridge in the Gulch. Goodness knows we would not want the Millennials walking an extra block to cross over at Demonbreun. But guzzling millions in bridge funds to air brush the Mayor's capital projects resume when a cheaper Gulch project would allow us to repair and renovate less sexy bridges across Davidson County? Or when it would allow us to move the money to needed sidewalk projects? Well, that's just foolish and wasteful.

By the way, CM Gilmore responded to my complaints about the double standards of capital spending with the reply "northern corridor got Sulphur Dell Ballpark." Never mind that the ballpark favor she handed out primarily serves team owner and real estate developer, Frank Ward. That's not really the point. The point is that Erica Gilmore may resist "a north-south" argument with fellow council members, but she seems to be willing to wade right into one with her constituents.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Contentious community meeting held in Whites Creek

"I've lived here a long time. I get it. Anything Nashville does not want gets dumped on us in northern Davidson County."
-- Whites Creek resident to Ole South developers

Tonight at the KIPP school building in the Whites Creek area, Metro Council member Walter Hunt held a community meeting between concerned residents and developers of a proposed vinyl-clad suburban development on Green Lane and Whites Creek Pike. I counted over 50 people in attendance for the hour I was there. And the meeting was still chugging along when I had to leave.

Walter Hunt
CM Hunt opened the meeting by saying that Ole South developers and land owners approached him about 2 weeks ago about building on 11.8 acres of rural, tree-covered property. He told the group that he stipulated that homes should not be marketed for more than $200,000 because $300,000 homes would not sell when built next to cheaper properties. Walter Hunt is chair of the council's Planning and Zoning Committee, which gives him an influential seat on the Planning Commission, which is set to consider this proposal on February 27. Suffice to say he wields some influence in that position, and developers likely show him deference.

Tom White, well-known local land use lawyer and registered lobbyist for the Home Builders Association of Middle TN, followed CM Hunt. He mainly emphasized that since this is not a rezoning request no councilmanic action was needed. He said that Planning Commission approval of the "cluster-lot development" is "a high likelihood". In fact, he insisted at least 3 times by my count, and it eventually drew the ire of at least one resident, who said that it seemed to him that the deal was done and that the neighbors attended for nothing. He also wondered aloud (rhetorically?) whether the public should bother attending the February 27 public meeting where it was on the agenda.

Someone--I can't remember whether is was the land-use lawyer or CM Hunt--responded that residents can still attend the planning meeting and "say whether they like or don't like" the plan. But again, Mr. White reiterated that in his opinion, approval was "highly likely", because Metro planners see that the proposal fits the land use.

At one point Mr. White told the group that 90% of each home's exterior would be "masonry products" (like brick or cement fiberboard) and less than 10% vinyl. Later when a builder was discussing the exterior materials he said that the lawyer had misunderstood him. In fact, only the front of the homes would have masonry materials (and only 80%). The other three sides would be constructed of vinyl siding, a disclosure that drew visible expressions of shock and groans in the crowd. One resident responded that the 3 vinyl sides took away any excitement he might have had initially for the plan. "We don't need that," he told the builders.

Other questions launched from the floor at the development team included how the design was going to handle stormwater and what would happen if the homeowners association planned by the team did not take care of the open spaces (Metro would take them over). People were talking over one another to the point where CM Hunt stepped in and told the group to wait until Q&A to ask the team questions that could also be written down and presented at the Planning Commission meeting. Someone in the audience replied to CM Hunt, "We're not stupid, you know."

Community leader Alicia Batson told the development team that the group is concerned about protecting their "absolutely beautiful" pastureland and their watershed, which is the cleanest in Davidson County. She told the group that she had done her own research and found out that the average selling price of new construction homes in the county is $336,000 (2013) and that the average for the Whites Creek area is $296,000 (2013). To CM Hunt's earlier point she said, "The homes you say aren't worth much are going to increase in value if more expensive real estate is built around them." She said she would like to see Whites Creek develop more like Leipers Fork has.

When Alicia ended by saying of the proposal, "We don't need this here," applause broke out. I looked around the room. Nearly every person I saw was either applauding or nodding their heads. They all looked to me like they were on the same page in opposition to this plan for sprawl.

Another neighbor picked up where Alicia left off and told the developers and council member that the design needed to be an attractor to families and needed to be a positive force in improving Whites Creek schools. And she did not miss a beat. "We have got to get a community plan done," a point no doubt meant for Walter Hunt, who has failed to help them produce a community plan. Again, applause ensued.

A young couple who had lived in East Nashville said that they relocated to Whites Creek especially for the more rural setting with less dense space for their family and pets. One of them pointed at the developers' plans and said, "I don't want that anywhere near our house."

The builders seemed uncompromising in spite of all of the pleas the neighbors were making. Whites Creek residents seemed to be acknowledging, in some cases welcoming, development as long as it is suited to the character and priorities of their community. I did not detect NIMBY by any measure. They seemed to find this product unsuitable, and they wanted something consistent with Whites Creek. I am not very hopeful about compromise in the Planning Commission process because of developers' inflexibility.

In one case they came off as arrogant. Many in the group seemed particularly resistant to the Ole South builder's claim that he plans $200,000 houses because he believes in gradual price gradations between neighborhoods.

"You've got to have a transition. $150,000, then $175,000, $200,000 and so on. You've got to have a transition," he claimed in response to a room of shaking heads and audible disagreement.

"No. That's not how it works," a woman in the crowd insisted.

Before she could get her next words out he exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, woman, I've built 9,000 houses in Tennessee. I should know."

That the builder seemed to be putting the "Ole" in "Ole South" by his dismissive, sexist pillory did not seem to sit well with the gathering. All around me I heard expressions of "Woman?!" and "How rude" and "He didn't need to insult her."

While he offered up a raggedy apology, I thought, "This guy is not concerned at all about his chances of winning this fight." He went after her even after CM Hunt had already lectured the group about being diplomatic. I did notice that Mr. Hunt failed to encourage the builder himself toward a show of respect and tact. If I were Mr. Hunt's constituent I might be insulted by that failure as well.

UPDATE: In his comment below Mike Peden says that previously Ole South dumped similar $200,000 vinyl-sided [see "editorial note" below] homes in an Antioch subdivision "full of $300,000" homes. That would contradict Ole South's claim last night that it builds incrementally up from the lowest priced homes in the area. Why didn't the builder start with building $350,000 homes in Antioch if they honestly "have transition" when they build new homes?
  • Editorial note--Mike P. sent me the following clarification on the Antioch homes after I posted this update.
  • The homes Ole South built in the Apple Valley subdivision are all brick (we bought one of them), but they are much lower quality than the homes that were already there. One of our neighbors asked Old South if they would modify the house they built next door to them so it would better match the other homes in their cul-de-sac, and Ole South refused. They have 4 homes under construction now on our street – the homes are built from kits – everything is delivered to the site and then assembled.
  • Additionally, an anonymous commenter challenges Mike's claims that the homes in Antioch were listed at $300,000.

UPDATE: Tennessean business/real estate reporter Getahn Ward wrote a promotional piece on Ole South's planned development last month and he quoted Tom White as saying that he was not expecting any community opposition. It does not seem to me that the lawyer had a factual read on the pulse of the community. And did the reporter merely take Tom White's word for it without actually checking and verifying the question of opposition for himself?

UPDATE: Embarrassing. Last summer Ole South only cleaned up their blighted properties in Whites Creek after neighbors called a local news station for more leverage. They were apparently running down the Whites Creek community months before they ever hatched their plan to sprawl on it. You know who is conspicuously absent from this video tape on deteriorating conditions in his district? CM Walter Hunt.

I have said it over and over on this blog. If developers want to build credibility with a neighborhood (granted, maybe they don't care to), then they should not run afoul of those neighbors during times they are not developing. Like when they are just maintaining properties they own. If Ole South is an irresponsible neighbor in maintaining empty lots, can you expect them to suddenly become responsible in clearing lots and building houses?

Shorter Steine: "Honoring the council process is what other council members should do"

Papa Saint Ron
I would argue whether you're for or against it that you honor this council and how we operate.
-- Ronnie Steine, last November

I move to table [and thus, kill] the motion....This is an unusual thing to do, and I don't do it lightly.
-- Ronnie Steine, last night

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Whites Creek leaders mobilize to slow suburban sprawl across their rural community

I received emails from concerned leaders in the farming community around White's Creek Pike above Briley Parkway in far North Nashville. They are alarmed about a high density suburban-style development slated for consideration at Metro Planning. They tell me that CM Walter Hunt is sponsoring a community meeting Wednesday (Feb. 19) at 6:00p at KIPP Academy Nashville (3420 Knight Drive) to discuss the plans with the developer.

I took a closer look at the area above Briley Pkwy, bounded by Whites Creek and I-24 on the sides. I was immediately struck by the contrast in a satellite view between the backcountry appearance north of Briley relative to the suburban sprawl that lies below Briley and to the east and to the west.

Nashville's shrinking metropolitan farmlands

Remarkably, this relatively unspoiled green space is not very far from our home in urban core Salemtown, but the contrast could not be more stark.

Nonetheless, the leaders deserve our support because if the community planning process is compromised for any neighbors it is compromised for all neighbors.

An excerpt from an alert sent today from leaders to the community:

A new subdivision is coming to Whites Creek - 43 houses on 11.8 acres (1 house per ¼ acre) on the northeast corner of Green Lane and Whites Creek Pike (the entrance to Whites Creek from Briley Pkwy).

Cornerstone Land Company, the owner of the property, has been buying land throughout Whites Creek, now owning 128.5 acres. They are seeking a subdivision permit from the Planning Commission for 11.8 of these acres and have contracted with Murfreesboro developer, Ole South Development. Since this pristine, tree covered land is zoned R10 (1 house per ¼ acre), they could develop the remaining 116 acres into 464 more homes. We must act now!

Whites Creek, north of Briley Parkway, is a beautiful, rural area. If this development is approved, high density, suburban housing will be your first impression upon exiting Briley Parkway onto WCP....

Our council representative, Walter Hunt, has the power to stop this development and put a moratorium on future developments until our community has the opportunity to update our community design plan the way other neighborhoods in Nashville have. Councilman Hunt has allowed ours to go unrevised for over 10 years. We have the oldest plan in Davidson County!

Please keep this on your radars. If Metro muscle tramples over the interests of Nashville's rural residents (who simply want the same community planning opportunities most of us enjoy), they may need our support.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Racism and the "stage-managed narrative" in transit and ballpark plans

Last year I gave Metro Councilmember Scott Davis a pass on his view that a new east-west bus rapid transit line would help "low-income residents" in his district even as it won't help the same classes in North Nashville. Based on the opinions of poli sci professor, Sekou Franklin, maybe I should not have been so quick to concede CM Davis's boosterific points for "the Amp".

Dr. Franklin's recent column is a scathing reflection on the transit injustice wrought by MTA and Karl Dean's administration and the minions supporting "the Amp":

...Amp advocates, backed by the mayor’s office and Metro Transit Authority officials, selectively picked winners and losers for the project. They relied on flawed data, steered federal civil rights officers away from studying North Nashville bus routes and backed zoning changes to boost the appearance of higher ridership in the West End corridor, which stands to benefit the most from the Amp.

The pro-Amp group’s East Nashville angle also has been an insincere attempt to inoculate itself from racial and civil rights scrutiny. Pro-Amp advocates claim that Amp terminals east of the river will help working-class blacks, when in reality, they are located in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. The project could actually accelerate the displacement of blacks who still remain in the Main Street-Five Points area.

The Amp debate also has exposed how Nashville’s leading officials exploit the politics of race while lacking any real commitment to systemic racial inequities. Similar to the debate about the Sulphur Dell ballpark, Amp supporters have brought attention to distressed communities and African-Americans, but only to bolster a stage-managed narrative of Chamber of Commerce boosterism — a narrative that is not intended to help African-Americans or distressed communities, but meant to convince urban pioneers that Nashville is the premier Southeast destination.

The irony is that the so-called distressed neighborhoods for both projects (Germantown for Sulphur Dell and Main Street-Five Points for the Amp) are places where working-class African-Americans are being pushed out in record numbers.

In both cases (a new ballpark and the east-west connector) development for the business sector has taken priority over residential interests and social justice. Metro Nashville does not seem committed to balanced, smart and sustainable growth, but seems more bound to a malignant growth that devours quality of life and historic communities. The scales are tipped toward money and power. If you don't have much like the predominantly white Courthouse class does, then you are only in the way.

The truly sad part for me personally, is that there does not seem to be a critical mass of people organized at the grassroots who care enough to speak up for equity in development and in mass transit. The opponents who do speak out are ignored, pigeonholed and marginalized, even by North Nashville council members who are supposed to represent them.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An I-40 "park-over" would do more to spur Jefferson Street renaissance than a ballpark

Studies show that public parks have positive impacts not just on neighborhood quality of life, but on rises in property values and on the growth of broader benefits like jobs and youth programs and attractions for visitors from outside local neighborhoods. This is likely why a city like Dallas (TX), not known for its abundance of greenspace, took the innovative step of creating urban park land in an unlikely place: as a land bridge over a below-grade freeway.

Kyle Warren Park in Dallas

Observers note that the "park-over" has mitigated the divisive, unsafe and intrusive effects of a major freeway, but it has also spurred major mixed-use infill and revitalized the urban core. According to one Dallas planner

I was interested to visit the park to see if it lived up to the hype. The landscaping and paving materials are high quality, and movable outdoor furniture creates flexibility for groups to socialize or have lunch at nearby food trucks. I also noticed a well used and expansive outdoor library where people can borrow books and magazines during their visit. From my conversations with visitors, it seems Kyle Warren is evolving into a destination itself, with many visitors driving from the suburbs just to spend time in this high quality public space. While the location of the park is on the fringe of Dallas’ downtown, surrounding office towers give the space a “center of it all” quality, with colorful, brightly lit skyscrapers creating a unique backdrop after sunset.

Everyone with any historical sense knows the sadness of the slashing, blighting impact of Interstate 40 on the Jefferson Street neighborhoods of North Nashville. Local and state government have taken minimal steps: landscaping and creating a plaza underneath an overpass of the highway near TSU. But those improvements are not prominent and seem trivial given the history of the area. They're still buried underneath an interstate, which draws the main attention.

I have yet to see real estate advertisements that catalyze the plaza as a local attractor. That should be a source of embarrassment to politicians and community leaders who touted the plaza before and during its installation a couple of years ago.

Besides, North Nashville deserves more than a plaza underneath a freeway, which seems backwards.

In addition, Metro officials and state government should work together to park-over I-40 at places where the roadway is recessed. The interstate itself should be buried by social spaces that draw the community together. One recessed place is the stretch between D.B. Todd Blvd on the west, Scovel Street on the north, 17th Ave N on the east, and Jefferson St on the south:

Prime North Nashville spot for a park-over

A park over that stretch of I-40 could be an asset to Fisk University and neighborhoods previously severed from each other by the interstate. While a park-over would work with the existing properties, a further option could be to buy up the private properties between Jeff St. and the highway and flip them into green space as well.

With the tremendously positive impact that parks play in community quality of life, parking over the interstate would do much more to benefit North Nashville than a ballpark at Sulphur Dell, which is limited by a specialized, privatized and seasonal uses.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

From the Inbox

CM Harrison
Bordeaux property owner Mike Peden has noticed the attention the area is getting with Mayor Karl Dean's plan to sell off the nursing home and he calls my attention to the neglect he feels public safety in Bordeaux is getting from Council Member Frank Harrison (who to my knowledge has not spoken publicly on the plan to privatize the Bordeaux long-term care facility).

Mike owns three properties across the street from Cumberland Pointe Apartments, which are owned by Lawlerwood Housing LLC. He says that company purchased the complex last December, "utilizing the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program as a source of investment capital." According to Mike, crime is a real problem at Cumberland Pointe: there were 995 "calls for service" to police last year. He emailed an attachment that list calls including reports of "person with weapon," "domestic disturbance," "911 hang-up," "disorderly person," "suspicious person," "criminal vice activity," "shots fired," "shooting," "theft," "burglary," "fight/assault." Each of these were listed multiple times throughout the part of the list I read. I stopped reading the long list when I got to the June entries. 20 residents were evicted from Cumberland Pointe for "criminal activity".

Mike said that CM Harrison seemed "unfriendly" toward him and told him he should contact Rep. Jim Cooper since all of the rents at the complex are subsidized by HUD. He declined Mike's request to hold a meeting with Lawlerwood to problem-solve. When Mike got in touch with the owners himself, they told him (in Mike's words) that these calls for service are not good indicators of criminal activity.

Look who is giving Karl Dean some stiff competition in the contest to transfer huge sums of public wealth to private corporations

At a time when a state Senate finance committee has found that Tennessee revenues are down because of the sweetheart corporate giveaways, Republican Governor Bill Haslam not only wants to entitle the Sears Corporation to around $100,000 per job it creates here, but he intended to give away the Tennessee Tower, too:

In a script for Gov. Bill Haslam to read on camera -- prepared in 2011 by his Department of Economic and Community Development -- a most unusual offer was drafted to try to entice retail giant Sears to relocate its corporate headquarters to Tennessee.

The Sears effort was dubbed "Project Neptune."

"We're so committed to making your new home in Tennessee that we are prepared to offer you one of the premiere buildings in Nashville's thriving downtown," the script read.

"Our state office building, the Tennessee Tower, can be an instantaneous and immediate home for Project Neptune's corporate headquarters. This highly visible and historic building offers over 600,000 square feet of prime office space -- located conveniently across from Legislative Plaza and a stone's throw away from my office in the state Capitol."

Obscene corporate welfare is in no short supply here in Nashville, regardless of how strapped government budgets are.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Metro council member advocates selling off public healthcare for the elderly 120 years after Metro started it

Save the strong, lose the weak.
Never turning the other cheek.
Trust nobody, don't be no fool.
Whatever happened to that Golden Rule?
-- Stevie Ray Vaughan, Crossfire 

Despite my chagrin that we have a Mayor who would turn Nashville's elderly patients over to the foibles of private healthcare providers, I was struck that one council member defended the Mayor with his own peculiar brand of social Darwinism:

Councilman Jerry Maynard, who chairs the council’s Health, Hospital and Social Services Committee, said privatizing the centers would allow Metro to strengthen Nashville General by putting the city’s entire health care subsidy behind the hospital. “I believe that’s our moral, legal and ethical obligation — to provide a public, safety-net hospital,” he said.

Got that? If Karl Dean and Jerry Maynard have their way, we are going to cut off our elderly from subsidized long-term care and accountable Metro oversight in order to flip the funds to general healthcare for those in the population who do not need long-term care. Reverend Maynard's ethics are utilitarian (funding as much good as the Mayor's Office will allow for a larger number of short-term patients, or as Karl Dean calls them, "customers"). But the Reverend's defense is also brute social Darwinism: the younger, biologically superior population deserves the best chances to survive and the access to government subsidies in order to do so.

Just like that, after 120 years of the county looking after long-term needs elderly patients, Reverend Jerry Maynard is prepared to sell out nursing home residents' interests to the indifferent marketplace. He is willing to hock instead of promote their welfare. He is intent on casting them out into the world of medical commerce, where are as likely to be picked out of the herd by industry hyenas as they are to get accountable medical treatment.

The trade-off: he saves his own pet projects. Word is he is planning to run for Mayor, so I assume "saving" Metro General while letting the elderly go has value as future campaign fodder.

This is a brave new world. Government leaders who call themselves "Democrats" no longer even bother to lift a finger to advocate for those who cannot any more. To them this is just one more privatization deal to grease the skids of the special interests.

Jerry Maynard's resume includes pastoring a church. I assume that means that he sees himself as an authentic Christian minister. I wonder how he reconciles these ethical compromises with power and money to the teachings that his faith tradition considers as definitive for character. When I survey Christian scriptures to find justifications for subjecting weaker people to brutal societal forces I instead read these:

  • For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in .... whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.
  • Blessed be you poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now: for you shall be filled. Blessed are you that weep now: for you shall laugh .... But woe unto you that are rich! for you have received your consolation .... Woe unto you that are full! for you shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for you shall mourn and weep.
  • How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

I don't see how a Christian minister can adhere to these tenets but exercise a lifeboat ethics, cutting loose those assumed to be less worthy of the guarantee of a public safety net. If anything, Reverend Maynard should be advocating for the elderly at Bordeaux precisely because his Christianity will not allow his politics to turn away conveniently from the most vulnerable like the priest and the Levite on the Jericho road.

If he has heard the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the past, perhaps Reverend Maynard needs to hear them again with fresh ears:

the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is...1,200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2,200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked -- the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

It is hard to reconcile MLK's view with a social Darwinist or utilitarian politics that argues that good government should not be "in the business" of securing the common good. Securing the common good means spending more and risking more for those most spent and at most risk in our society. It means stopping to help those who need our help even when rational calculations tell us that it could cost us.

In all of his words defending Mayor Dean on privatizing healthcare, Reverend Maynard does not bother to stop and ask what might happen to the elderly Bordeaux residents once their facilities are privatized. His faith is built on nothing less than the marketplace and Dean's noblesse.

But Reverend Maynard's problem is that he frames the question completely at odds with the common good. We are not simply in the nursing home business by providing long-term care for the elderly. We are not simply competitors with private industry. Publicly-subsidized healthcare, which Reverend seems to advocate when it comes to Metro General Hospital or Obamacare, is a safety net for those who might not benefit from privately-run care. Any one of us deserves refuge at our lowest moments, and those of us who are at most risk, especially so.

Publicly-managed long-term care should be sanctuary from the predatory inclinations of the private enterprise system, where the goal of making money can overwhelm the mandate to do no harm. It shouldn't be another real estate deal that Metro government brokers under the guise of the "public-private partnership". Why should government be in the business of real estate if it should not be in the business of healthcare?

We rely on our legislators to be advocates for protecting patients from the market rather than being lackeys for private healthcare interests who covet the windfall of flipping public long-term care to the marketplace. We deserve better from Jerry Maynard.

Because the construction of a new ballpark is such a very special moment for North Nashville

From our WTH?! Department:

[Council member Robert] Duvall said Monday that Dean and other city officials rushed to get the Metro Council to approve [a ballpark at Sulphur Dell] without thinking it through.

“’Let’s get it over with’ was their attitude. It’s a done deal. ‘We have to move on to bigger and better things,’ they believed,” Duvall said.

I'm shocked! Shocked, I tell you, to hear that even a huge new capital project real estate grab in North Nashville may have been dealt with carelessly, cavalierly by the financing wizards in the Mayor's Office, who may view other parts of Nashville as more worthy of "bigger and better" attention. Shocked! (As if I could be at this point).

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

1,500+ people attended 5 BRT meetings, but the Metro Transit Authority is only going to meet with individual businesses about the Amp proposal

Those of us in rapid transit deserts can only dream.
This is truly a head-scratcher:

More than 1,500 residents participated and shared valuable input about the project. In the coming weeks and months, MTA will closely review all the public input it received from the meetings, meet with individual businesses along the route and then schedule a second round of meetings in March to share revised design plans.

I asked the anonymous person doing the Amp's promotional social media why MTA was not meeting with neighborhood associations or residents along the route (ignoring completely, of course, those of us outside the east-west corridor), but he or she has yet to reply to me. Anonymity has its privileges.

Assuming they do follow up with more than a select group of token businesses likely to tell officials what they want to hear, how do they possibly have time to meet with all of the businesses along the route from East Nashville to St. Thomas Hospital between now and the mid-March meetings?

The only conclusion that I can draw is that Metro officials are once again drawing up transit policy while privileging the voices of those with more money: business owners. I watched more than just business owners give feedback at the two meetings I attended. Nonetheless, their feedback, their votes count more than those of us who are no less affected by these biased, maddening transit decisions.