Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We Don't Even Get to Choose the Mountain: The Day a Salemtown School Desegregated

Salemtown resident Grace McKinley escorting her daughter Linda Gail McKinley (second girl) and friend down Garfield Street from her home on 6th Avenue to Fehr Elementary School, corner of 5th and Garfield, Nashville, TN, 9 September 1957. Ms. McKinley walks through an irate crowd of segregationists carrying picket signs and protesters of public school desegregation (photo courtesy of Nashville Public Library, Special Collections; all rights reserved; do not copy or publish without express consent from Nashville Public Library).

Mt. Juliet author-farmer Will Campbell (who also had the distinction of being the only white person present at the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) writes of an exchange with Nashville NAACP president Kelly Miller Smith regarding Smith's decision to send his 6-year-old daughter to all-white Emma Clemons School (12th Avenue South) in September 1957 under the Nashville Plan in spite of threats of violence to his family. When Campbell asked Smith about the danger to his daughter, Smith read the biblical account of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham who sensed that God told him to sacrifice his son on a mountain. Smith told Campbell, "You see, my brother, we don't even get to choose the mountain .... All we're asked to do is obey."

According to civil rights historian John Egerton, no one paid much attention to Clemons school the next day when Joy Smith walked the steps with her father to enroll because white opposition decided to focus harassment elsewhere. One of those chosen places was Fehr school in Salemtown. There a 21-year-old mother, her 6-year-old daughter, and 3 other African American children--supported by several witnesses--braved taunts and threats from a roving mob of segregationists besetting Salemtown. Kelly Miller Smith was spared the anguish this unseasoned mother was not as she waded through the loud torment and took the inestimable risk of defying the mob for the sake of her family's civil rights.

Egerton writes:
[O]n Fifth Avenue North, four children crossed the segregation line: two girls who had registered early—Linda McKinley and Rita Buchanan—and two boys who hadn’t, Charles Elbert Ridley and Willis Edgar Lewis Jr. A fifth child, Bobby Cabknor, had pre-registered but was not in attendance on opening day ....

Twenty-one-year-old Grace McKinley and her daughter Linda lived with Mrs. McKinley’s parents and her invalid brother in a four-room house just around the corner and a block away from Fehr; the nearest all-black school, Elliott, was about a mile south, on Jefferson Street.

“I remember a lot about that morning,” said the mother ... fifty years later. “I heard they had better books at Fehr, and it was a lot closer than Elliott, and when they said Linda could go there, I made up my mind to do it ....

“I never was afraid to stand up for my rights. The day school started, I got Rita up, we got dressed, ate something. We must have been nervous. My mama said, ‘Don’t go down there with an attitude,’ and I didn’t, but my daddy was walking right behind me—to help me stay calm, I guess ....

When they turned the corner onto Garfield Street, a block from the school, they could see and hear the crowd: sign-waving demonstrators, police officers, curious neighbors (white and black), parents arriving with their children, school personnel, reporters and photographers—more than two hundred people in all .... [T]he protesters released a flood of epithets upon the mother and the two little girls; clutching their hands, she steered a path to the front door and entered ....
The fear on two little girls faces as they clung to one another and to Ms. McKinley while walking up Garfield is clear in the archival photos of the three. It doesn't look like the normal apprehension children have at starting a new school; that would have been enough for their little minds to bear. I see trepidation and dread on their faces: feelings that ought to be beyond the years of first graders.

Their parents were taking a great risk to go just around the block. It wasn't as if this 6th Avenue woman was a well-known leader whose prominence could have mitigated some of the risk of harm on Garfield that day. If something tragic would have happened to her and her first grader in 1957 it might not have figured as prominently as if it befell the NAACP president. But their pilgrimage to claim their equal rights on September 9, 1957 thrust them on a mountain that Grace McKinley did not choose in simply wanting access to a better neighborhood-based education.

Their mountain is our memorial; we should not forget that it happened right here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Salemtown's Fehr School: One of the "Most Protest Buffeted" Centers of Nashville Desegregation

Irate segregationists exchanging words with supporters of desegregation at Fehr Elementary School, 5th Avenue, North and Garfield Street, Nashville, TN; 9 September 1957. Police escorted African American students into the school, marking the first day of public school desegregation in Nashville (photo courtesy of Nashville Public Library, Special Collections; all rights reserved; do not copy or publish without express consent from Nashville Public Library)

One would hardly believe looking at the quiet Fehr School building in Salemtown today that it was one of the early centers of the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville, a city itself considered a cradle for the tectonic shifts of social change that erupted in the 1960s across the South. But in the late 1950s, Nashville joined Little Rock in the infamy of local segregationist resistance to the Supreme Court's Brown v. the Board of Education ruling declaring the separation of black and white public schools a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

According to John Egerton, on a rainy night in September 1957, Salemtown's Fehr Elementary School building narrowly missed segregationist destruction after an infamous New Jersey white supremacist, John Kasper, whipped a mob up into a belligerent frenzy on the steps of the state capitol 2 miles to the south. In his narrative, Walking into History, Edgerton notes that a white mob of four or five hundred roamed Salemtown streets that night. They set structures owned by black families on 6th Avenue on fire and they lit crosses in their yards.

Nashville police moved into Salemtown to disperse the mobs and stop the violence, but the domestic terrorists moved elsewhere and spawned a rumor that Fehr would be blown up at midnight. The elementary at the corner of 5th and Garfield survived segregationist sacking, but across the river in east Nashville they dynamited Hattie Cotton School for the crime of letting one little black girl attend class earlier that day.

Today it seems beyond belief that so much hatred was reserved for the entirely fair notion that innocent African American 6-year-olds should start school in nearby classrooms with white 6-year-olds. Salemtown joined 5 other neighborhoods that day in the Nashville Plan to desegregate public schools. Across Nashville on September 9, 16 families dressed their 6th graders for the first day at new schools closer to their homes than their assigned segregated schools, and walked them through white mob hails of shouts and slurs--and sometimes rocks and bottles--into buildings like Fehr where public school officials welcomed them warmly. Tomorrow I'll tell the story of Salemtowners who marched down Garfield from 6th Av. so that their children could go to school at Fehr.

In September 1957, Salemtown was a largely white working class neighborhood with 18 black first graders zoned for Fehr. Only 4 showed up for class on September 9. That seems no surprise because, according to Egerton, whites were trolling streets in cars adorned with "KKK signs, Bible quotations, Confederate flags," and standing along sidewalks shouting abusive epithets at parents walking their children to school. Around half the white children zoned for Fehr stayed home, many boycotting in a first fit of "white flight." To add injury to the insults, a black custodian was assaulted by whites, who also slashed the tires on his car, when he attempted to take down the American flag at the end of the day.

When I launched Enclave I quoted Peter Taylor who wrote of the ghosts of Nashville past that they were "real and present somehow." Looking at the Fehr School building now, it is hard to see the ghosts of the contention and unrest of September 1957. But realizing that 6-year-old children were subjected to seething, bitter, and spitting hatred because they dared nothing more than going to school gives me pause. I wonder if malevolent energy still stains and stalks the pathways, but I also hope the good will and bravery of people who welcomed and witnessed integration of a higher form of community is around our corners and about the intersections, too.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Council Member Cuts Through Growth Myths of May Town Developers' Scare Tactics

If you need some prep work in the run up to Metro Council's July 7 public hearing on the May Town Center proposal, look no further than CM Emily Evans, who turns over some stones in the developers' report and unpacks their numbers. As with most data, it must be mined to come to a well-informed interpretation free from the bias of Giarratana salesmanship:
We need to do the best possible job we can attracting and retaining employers but I have always found the argument that Williamson County was stealing our tax base to be a little misleading. A friend of mine says it is sort of like comparing the growth of your 18 year old with a 3 year old. Given that skepticism, I wanted to take a closer look at the question of tax base growth ....

Of ... $5.158 billion [growth in the last 15 years], $3.651 billion was a result of growth in residential and farm assessments. That's right, 70% of the growth in Williamson County's tax base is attributable to home and raw land values. The growth in commercial and industrial assessments accounts for $1.261 billion during the 15 year period or about 24% of the total. Their growth in the commercial area is certainly significant but not to the degree that May Town developers would like you to believe.

Of course, I doubt you would find Williamson County's theft of our subdivisions to be that terrifying.

Council Member Says May Town Is 3 or 4 Votes Short of Needed Margin in Metro Council

According to Michael Cass:
Opponents on the council — 10 of whom made their sentiments known at the Planning Commission's public hearing Thursday — said it would be difficult for the project to win that many votes.

"I think 27 is really hard," said Councilman Erik Cole of East Nashville. "I'd say there are somewhere in the 16 or 17 category who are fairly solidly against it."
Getting 23-24 votes in support of May Town Center is still too close to 27 super majority for comfort. Hopefully, the opposition won't relax after winning last week at the Planning Commission.

Metro Police Say Primary North End Burglary Offenders Now "out of the Picture"; Other Crimes Down Here

In an e-mail to the Salemtown list, Central Precinct officers say that the arrest of Darren Lamont Hardemon and four other individuals, including juveniles, should provide relief to the North End after a 6-month crime spree:
We wanted to let our neighborhoods know there have been 5 arrests this week related to the residential Burglaries in the areas of Hope Gardens, Salemtown and Germantown. Two Adults were arrested and charged for Burglary and/or Robbery from this area by Central Precinct Detectives this week. We sent out a BOLO on these same two adult subjects in the below email in Jan./Feb. after we identified them on previous Burglary arrest in the area and we felt sure they were likely to commit future crimes. We have been actively trying to gather enough evidence since this date on them. Recently we have arrested them again and it is our belief that they are a major part of most of the issues in the area.

We also arrested three Juveniles for breaking into homes in the area last week. We expect more Juvenile arrest in the near future. We believe that between the adult group identified and the juveniles we have identified and arrested we have taken the primary offenders out the picture. In spite of their arrests, please remain vigilant because there may still be others out there willing to take their place .
We have had great communication and cooperation in our efforts and truly believe this helped limit the opportunities of these thugs. Central Precinct will continue our efforts in your area and hope that by years end will be able to have crime reduction across the board.

In your neighborhood Burglaries are the only area of crime increase we see and what we believe is we will see a large decline with these folks getting arrested this past week. Other areas of crime in your neighborhood are down overall for year to date. Police self - initiated activity is up considerably.

North End Serial Burglary Suspect's Preliminary Hearing Tomorrow

According to a letter from the District Attorney's office posted to the Salemtown Neighbors e-mail list, burglary suspect Darren Lamont Hardemon's bond will be set at $180,000, which will allow him to post bail of $18,000 to get out of jail:
Mr. Hardemon was arraigned in May on charges of aggravated burglary and theft. Until recently, he has been out on bond, which had been set at $10-thousand.

He has since been arrested on new charges: 2 aggravated burglary and one burglary. Investigations continue on other potentially charges. He remains in jail. His combined bond for these three new charges is $180-thousand. To make bond, if a defendant uses a bonding company, he or she has to pay 10%. In Mr. Hardemon's case, to make bond, he would need to pay $18-thousand. But given the amount of Mr. Hardemon's bond, he would first need to have a bond source hearing, to prove that the money to provide the bond did not come from ill-gotten gains.

The next step in Mr. Hardemon's prosecution is a discussion date in criminal court [last Thursday], which is more procedural than anything. Nothing significant to advance the case is expected at that time; since he has new charges pending, the criminal case will likely track these new charges.

He also has a preliminary hearing set on the new charges for Monday, on the 9a docket. (Although the docket starts at 9a, there's no certainty about at what time a particular case will be heard). During the preliminary hearing, the State (our office) has to prove probable cause...that this crime occurred, and that it was most likely this defendant who committed it. If the judge finds PC, he will bind the case
over to the grand jury. The police department will continue to investigate the cases, and it usually takes a couple of months for cases to be fully prepared. Our office will then review the case and present it to the grand jury. Then the grand jury hears the case, and if they indict the defendant, s/he will be arraigned a couple weeks after that, and the process continues at the criminal court level.

Those who are listed as victims on the police complaints will be alerted as to hearing dates on this case, and a Victim Witness coordinator from our office will assist them with where to go and what they need to know in advance.

Please know that our office continues to work with the detectives on this case to ensure we have all the information we need going into the prosecution of this case.

I know you are part of a very active community watch, and I encourage you to share this information with them, as I know it's a concern for many of the residents there.
Hardemon was able to bail himself out last Christmas for $1,000 and proceeded to go on a burglary spree around Salemtown. Will he be able to bail himself out once again in time for the July 4 holiday?

By Restraint They Make Themselves Whole

Seeing himself as a tiny member of a world he cannot comprehend or master or in any final sense possess, he cannot possibly think of himself as a god. And by the same token, since he shares in, depends upon, and is graced by all of which his a part, neither can he become a fiend; he cannot descend into the final despair of destructiveness .... He embodies the passing of human time, living and dying within the human limits of grief and joy.

- - Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Friday, June 26, 2009

Council Member Awed by the Neighborhood Response to May Town Center Proposal

Blogging CM Emily Evans has observations about last night's Planning Commission public hearing on May Town Center:
There were people from Germantown, East Nashville, Donelson, Downtown, West Nashville, Bordeaux and Green Hills. In a real "pay it forward" moment, I listened to one Bordeaux resident tell me about how supportive the Scottsboro/Bells Bend neighbors had been in the fight against the landfill. Now it was his turn to help.

Folks came for all sorts of reasons. Some were concerned about the community planning process. Some wanted to fight for preservation of a beautiful rural landscape. Some had worries about the fiscal and community services impact.

In the end they made a policy statement of what we should be - a city that preserves its rural character and promotes its core - and what we should not - Cool Springs. One resident of the 23rd District has dubbed the policy NIMBY - Nashville Is My Back Yard.

Prepare Yourselves for Interpreting the Planning Vote Labyrinth

Here are the details and dynamics of last night's eventual commission decision to disapprove May Town Center zoning (as I understand them):
  1. Andree LeQuire moves to disapprove Planning staff's recommendation to approve the MTC rezoning request with conditions; after some discussion, LeQuire's motion is defeated 4 (LeQuire, Hunter Gee, Stewart Clifton, Derrick Dalton) to 6 (Victor Tyler, Tonya Jones, Phil Ponder, Jim Gotto, Judy Cummings, and Chair James McLean w/the deciding vote).
  2. Jim Gotto moves to approve Planning staff's recommendation to approve the MTC rezoning request with conditions; LeQuire tries to start discussion, but an argument erupts with McLean and Gotto over whether a debate has been cut off by a parliamentary procedure called "previous question" and whether the Commission should move to an immediate vote; debate is allowed to continue with LeQuire, Clifton, and Gee leading the opposition to Gotto's motion, while Cummings, Jones, Gotto, and Ponder argue for support (those four need to sway Tyler--who says he is leaning toward MTC support--in order to cause McLean to cast the necessary 6th vote to approve); after debate ends, Gotto's motion is defeated "by rule" when only Gotto, Cummings, Jones, and Ponder vote for it; Tyler joins LeQuire, Clifton, Gee, and Dalton to vote against Gotto's support of MTC rezoning; no need for McLean to vote because the MTC supporters did not get necessary 5 votes to require his 6th vote.
  3. Planning Director Rick Bernhardt announces that because the Commission failed to approve the Planning staff's MTC rezoning request, it automatically switches "by rule" to a recommendation of disapproval; Commission has to vote on new recommendation to disapprove: 8 vote for motion to disapprove MTC rezoning (LeQuire, Clifton, Gee, Dalton, Tyler, Jones, Ponder, Cummings), none vote against, Gotto abstains, McLean's vote not needed.

All of this means that May Town Center lost last night's battle. Under the Metro Charter, the Planning Commission's vote to recommend disapproval of MTC requires Metro Council to approve it with a super majority of 27 votes (rather than a simple majority of 21).

I don't interpret the Commission's refusal or failure to approve as rejection of the plan. I do think that Clifton was the commissioner most strongly opposed to May Town Center. Gee and LeQuire seemed opened to certain aspects of it but could not approve all of it. Tyler wanted to vote for it but also asked for more time to reach a decision. Dalton never commented on the reasons for his vote, so he could have been either strongly opposed or opposed only to parts.

Clifton seemed to cue the possibility of delay of the plan when he told the commission that they could not defer, but if they voted against the staff recommendation it could leverage more time. The council may not get 27 votes to pass, but the developers would eventually be back with another proposal.

Taken together, I interpret this coalition of commissioners as wanting to move slower on grandiose planning developments, 1) because of the magnitude of totally changing Bells Bend and 2) because of our current economic downtown and market uncertainty. While I am strongly opposed to MTC and agree most with Clifton, the five together made the most prudent choice given the circumstances. There is no need to rush this through as the council's bill sponsor desired.

Planning Commission Fails to Muster 6 Votes to Accept May Town Rezoning Plan, Which Moves to Council for Super Majority Vote

Michael Cass has the most coherent details right now. I'm going to bed after 7 hours of tweeting that infernal meeting.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cutting Through Developer BS

Betsy Phillips turns the May Town Center marketing team's evasiveness against them:
How can anyone in the city have any kind of real discussion with you guys in the face of [the deception of the MTC zoning application]? We can't talk about real costs, because no one knows how much money it will take to dig up the archaeological sites that might be present under the MTC footprint, because y'all don't know what archaeological sites are there, no matter how much you misrepresent Ms. [Zeda] Law's work [to survey modestly smaller Bells Bend properties in 2005].

This also means that your estimates of when MTC would be done are also just numbers you're pulling out of your butt. You haven't even begun to estimate how many bodies might be under the MTC site and what it's going to cost you in terms of time or money to go to court and get permission to move them and then the costs associated with moving them or how long those kinds of projects might take.

At this point, I don't even see how people who support development in the Bend aren't nervous about working with y'all.

CM Holleman Warns Richland West End Neighbors of Increased Neighborhood Traffic with May Town Center

CM Jason Holleman sent the following letter to the Richland West End Neighborhood Association e-mail list last night:
By now most, if not all, of you have read and heard much about the proposed May Town project, and many of you have contacted me with your opinions. While I know that a lot of information -- both for and against -- has been widely distributed throughout the city, I feel an obligation as your District Councilman to make you aware of concerns that I have about the the specific impact that this project would have on our district.

- Although it would currently take about 30 minutes to drive from
District 24 to the proposed development site, the construction of the two
bridges recommended in the Metro Planning Department's staff report will
place our neighborhoods within *less that 1 mile* from May Town Center.
- According to the traffic study performed by RPM (an independent study
performed at Metro's request), this development will generate a total of
61,000+ new daily trips during the initial phase of the project.
- Obviously, much of this traffic will utilize already heavily-burdened
throughfares in our area such as Charlotte Avenue, White Bridge Road, and
West End/Harding.
- In fact, MPD anticipates that the project will raise traffic levels
such that both I-40 and White Bridge Road will have to be significantly
- Even our smaller, neighborhood streets will be impacted. Both the
developer's and Metro's traffic study indicate that turn lanes will have to
be added to 46th Avenue and 51st Avenue to accomodate the additional traffic
(the developer's traffic study actually offers the removal of existing
sidewalks as a possible solution to add capacity to these streets).

For more information on these issues, you may access numerous documents about this proposal at the Metro Planning Department's website:
You may also read the very detailed analysis posted by CM Emily Evans on her blog:

Finally, please be aware that the Metro Planning Commission is holding its final public hearing on the matter *tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. at the Metro Southeast building *on Murfreesboro Road (MAP: http://www.nashville.gov/mpc/pdfs/main/MeetingMapSmall.pdf). I strongly encourage you to attend and speak if you have concerns about the impact of this project on our neighborhoods and commercial corridors. Your testimony does have an impact. Although not as effective as attending the meeting, you may also e-mail or call the Metro Planning Commissioners prior to tomorrow's meeting:

Metro Planning Commissioners

Rick Bernhardt, Executive Director

James McLean, Chairman
(615) 256-1400

Phil Ponder, Vice Chairman
(615) 883-5149

Hunter Gee, Commissioner
(615) 726-1110

Stewart Clifton, Commissioner
(615) 383-8785

Judy Cumming, Commissioner
(615) 876-0917

Tonya Jones, Commissioner
(615) 259-1688

Victor Tyler, Commissioner
(615) 865-4898

Derrick Dalton, Commissioner
(615) 371-0049

Andree LeQuire, Commissioner
(615) 467-6700

Jim Gotto, Commissioner
(615) 883-3087

Thank you,

Jason Holleman
Metro Council, District 24

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

North End Serial Burglary Suspect Who Made National News and Lives with His Mother in MDHA Housing Is on Thursday Morning's Court Docket

Darren Lamont Hardemon--a suspect in 7-week burglary spree last winter in Salemtown and a strong suspect because of evidence left in 9 recent burglaries in the other North End neighborhoods of Germantown, Hope Gardens, and Historic Buena Vista--makes two court appearances beginning at 9:00 tomorrow morning. According to the constant buzz on Hardemon on the Salemtown e-mail list, residents have been in regular contact with both Metro Police and the District Attorney's office and plan to be in attendance at 9:00; they have been also trying to follow up with some of Hardemon's suspected victims, since testimony from victims can have greater impact on sentencing.

A couple of days ago MSNBC picked up and publicized nationally a WSMV story about Hardemon's latest arrest in which police found him hiding in a refrigerator. He was already on probation for another burglary. On Christmas Day 2008 he had been released from jail on for the miserable sum of $1000. Since then he had been arrested a second time and bonded out again before being found in the fridge.

After past bondings, he reportedly lived with his mother in MDHA administered housing on Delta Avenue, in spite of his lengthy criminal rap sheet stretching back to 2000 (which you can find here). According to affidavits, Hardemon was arrested at his mother's house for several past crimes.

Here are examples of Hardemon's probable cause of recent North End crimes from affidavits:
Defendant was taken into custody at his mother’s residence ... for an outstanding felony warrant. Defendant’s girlfriend let us in the home and defendant was found hiding inside the refrigerator. While inside the home, 2 bikes, a backpack, dvd movies were all visibly displayed in the living room. All items are stolen and were taken from 500 Madison St #107. A watch was also taken from defendant’s wrist which belonged to the victim on Madison St. Defendant was Mirandized in the home after items were seen. Defendant was questioned and he admitted to taking the items from 500 Madison St.
On 6/3/09 between the hours of 0930 and 1600hrs, victim's home was broke into. Entry was made through window of victim's residence, which was shattered. A flat screen LCD television was stolen from home. Defendant was arrested on 6/19/09 for other burglaries that occurred near victim's residence. Defendant was marandized. Det Mavity and Det Fisher drove defendant around the Germantown area and he pointed out homes he had burglarized. He pointed out victim's residence and gave detailed information on how and when he broke into house. He stated he took a flat screen television. Blood was left at scene. Defendant had a deep cut on his right hand, which was photographed.

If these police reports are accurate and the evidence true, Hardemon should be destined for a jail cell. However, some in Salemtown have been irked by a perceived slowness in the District Attorney's office. Jenni Leed, a newer, but very engaged Salemtowner wrote the following today to the DA's office:
After finding out that his arraignment was scheduled for May 20 (Criminal Court Clerk public case search), I wrote to the DA’s office on May 14, requesting that the prosecution pursue maximum sentencing to prevent this from happening again. Many of my neighbors did the same. My letter to the DA, with links to reports on the holiday break-ins, is here: http://enclave-nashville.blogspot.com/2009/05/dear-mr-district-attorney-remand.html

I did not receive a response to that letter, so I requested an update on May 21 - after the arraignment. Susan Niland of the DA’s office wrote back, and copied a letter that she sent in response to another neighbor’s inquiry....

To say that the residents of Salemtown and Germantown are infuriated by this recent turn of events is an understatement.

Also, MDHA should be evicting Hardemon’s mother, since he was living with her the last time he was arrested, and arrested there (living in the fridge…) last Friday. Upon his arrest in January, she was given the option to kick him out or face eviction because she is living in Section 8 housing. I’m sure he will move back in with her again when he gets out. Whatever, but Tennesseans should not be paying his rent or the rent of his mother, who let Hardemon live there while he continued to rob my neighbors.

The officers in Central Precinct are fantastic, and they are doing everything they can to keep us safe. No matter how great their effort, our police force will continue to fight a losing battle if the local justice system will not keep repeat offenders in jail.
Some in Salemtown are also peeved by the MSNBC/WSMV news that a Metro Juvenile Court Judge refused a police request to revoke a 17-year-old suspect's probation when they learned that he was under house arrest for an earlier incident. This is not the first time juvenile wing of the local justice system has let Salemtown residents down.

Monday night, a Salemtown neighborhood association officer attended the Mayor's Night Out at John Henry Hale Apartments and spoke with Mayor Karl Dean about the Hardemon case. She shared that exchange with the association e-mail list, noting that she tried to assure Mayor Dean that the "three strikes and your out" system that is supposed to be working here is failing here. She also conveyed to him that she found the MSNBC/WSMV story to be embarrassing. Those of you who have watched Mayor Dean closely since his 2007 campaign will remember that one of his campaign promises was to focus on cutting youth crime. The continuing rash of youth crime and the ability of suspects already on probation to walk free instead of being locked up sustain my October 2008 contention that Mayor Dean has not followed through on his campaign promise.

So, there are some heartfelt concerns here that Darren Lamont Hardemon will be back out on the streets terrorizing local neighborhoods as he seems to have in the past. However, there is a contingent of neighbors who not only communicate their concerns, but also intend to show up and start monitoring the sentencing process firsthand. Rather than live in fear as victims and potential victims, their intention is to organize and strategize and confront the system. For all of our sakes I hope the system responds favorably to them.

Salemtown Streetscape Update: MDHA & Landscape Architect May Work Together to Put Some Trees Back into Construction

Yesterday afternoon three Salemtown community advisers sat down with an MDHA planner, director, and construction overseers and with contracted landscape architects in a meeting to clear the air about delays and cost overruns in the neighborhood streetscape project, which is over a year behind schedule.

For their part, the neighborhood leaders asked for more budgetary accountability from MDHA regarding the exact line-item costs. They expressed their frustration that there was a delay last summer that was partially caused by Ragan Smith's occupation with a minor design element in the crosswalks that was eventually eliminated anyway in order to save on costs. Other causes of delays that could not be helped by either MDHA or Ragan Smith was an October-December 2008 misplacement of the streetscape applications at Metro Public Works and the heart attack of the lead architect earlier in 2008.

Taken together the delays caused the project to past a state deadline for a grant that would have planted trees across the neighborhood. Leaders also expressed their concern that MDHA failed to follow up with meetings when it became apparent that elements, including non-grant trees and shrubs for the traffic-calming curb bumps-outs, were going to have to be eliminated. To paraphrase one leader: MDHA and Ragan Smith put our project on the third-class backburner instead of stepping up to insure follow through.

While MDHA staffers defended their shepherding of the project, they did concede that they could have communicated with us better last year when higher than projected costs (as negotiated between MDHA and Ragan Smith in the absence of neighborhood leaders) became evident. They also announced to the CAC members that they were working with landscape architects on an arrangement to pool remaining funds with some late breaking Ragan Smith donations to go ahead and purchase smaller caliber (2") red bud trees for the curb bump-outs (instead of blue juniper shrubs). They expect to have a proposal to bring to the CAC in July regarding the possibility of trees.

The meeting seemed to end cordially, although the post-meeting conversation among leaders was still critical, guarded, and realistic about expectations. If Ragan Smith comes through with the extra effort to put trees in the bulb outs, they will have made some progress toward relieving hard feelings caused by what some of us felt were major fumbles of our streetscape project.

Will TSU's May Town Research Hub Support Small Agriculture or Capture It For Corporate Agribusiness?

Wendell Berry points to the destructive tendencies of universities crossing the purposes of agriculture:
If agriculture is acknowledged to have anything to do with culture, then its study has to include people. But the agriculture experts ruled people out when they made their discipline a specialty--or, rather, when they sorted it into a collection of specialties--and moved it into its own "college" in the university. This specialty collection is interested in soils (in the limited sense of soil chemistry), in plants and animals, and in machines and chemicals. It is not interested in people.

So much has been assumed and so little has been articulated about the quality of support a new Tennessee State University agricultural research facility on Bells Bend would offer should May Town Center be approved and built. I admit to not knowing a lot about TSU's agricultural program, but I keep my eyes open for information, and at least one commenter on a media website recently argued that TSU already owns farmland for research purposes that is underutilized.

However, the larger question for me is: why are we giving TSU a pass on communicating the nature and purpose of its May Family-donated research wing? That institution should not be given the benefit of the doubt to do the right things. If the recent history of disappearing family farms and small-scale organic land-use holds, TSU will look to large agribusiness corporations that focus more on squeezing surplus value out of land and crops than they do the quality of the farming and the natural conservation of soil.

TSU's agribusiness philanthropists will likely argue, like May Town investors have, that they are agents of job creation for those local communities with ties to the university. They will likely stipulate that the university turn its focus away from small family farms, which Wendell Berry argues are the loci of quality of agriculture versus the quantity scales of agribusiness. TSU is likely to assume the conventional approach that small farms are inefficient to the production lines of agribusiness, and more likely to serve the employment interests of their constituent alumni and neighborhood groups than they are Tennessee's small family farmers.

At this preliminary stage it is not clear to me that TSU's presence on Bells Bend is net benefit for agriculture. They may in fact obstruct local agriculture by further enabling and maximizing agribusiness.

Another conservative Metro Council member tries to supplant Eric Crafton as Nashville's own culture warrior poet to Fox News

Did CM Robert Duvall say "anal inspection"?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Quote of the Day

Betsy Phillips on the benefits of May Town Center for the incarcerated along its access corridor:
Residents of Cockrill Bend--Um, well, yes, you're incarcerated, so on the downside, it'll be more traffic with no corresponding increase in family visits. On the upside, a pedestrian friendly bridge will make crossing the Cumberland much easier if you are able to escape and head west.

Can Metro Planning regain public confidence with their lingering failures to wait for studies?

The Metro Nashville Planning Department has already established an irrational pattern to rush to judgment without benefit of independent, objective studies to back their recommendations. In yesterday's excellent analysis on May Town Center, Christine Kreyling reiterates Planning's switchbacks with respect to neighborhoods proximate to Bells Bend:
Despite all these conditions on which the planners insist to curb the May Town beast, [last week's Planning] report states: “Staff acknowledges that because of the project’s regional scale and long term build-out, not all effects of the May Town Center project can be known at this time.”

The report therefore calls for a profusion of “additional studies” to project “the offsite impact of the project on development patterns.” These “offsite impacts” are creating widening ripples of concern — not to say hostility — in the neighborhoods across the Cumberland from the May Town site. And the planning department’s support for the project in the absence of “additional studies” threatens to undermine citizen trust in the planning staff and the whole community planning process ....

Council member Emily Evans, who represents Hillwood, West Meade and Belle Meade, noted that the planning climate has cooled considerably since May Town loomed on the horizon.

“In the summer of 2007, we did a plan amendment for West Meade, and the planning staff were great and we got a real consensus,” Evans said. “The participants gave the staff a standing ovation” at the final meeting. “Now the attitude is suspicion and distrust, because the community perceives May Town as a bait-and-switch deal.”

Three weeks ago I e-mailed a neighborhood planner under new urbanist Rick Bernhardt's oversight who is connected to these recommendations, Anita McCaig, asking her specifically about Planning's switch from a West Nashville community plan to priority for May Town Center. I have corresponded with Anita about various neighborhood issues going back to early 2005, and I don't ever remember her being hesitant about either answering my questions or referring me to another official who could do so. I have yet to hear back from Anita on the question of May Town Center.

When planners are not forthcoming with citizens about their motivations and intentions behind their abrupt about-face, it lends to the perception that they have battened down against broad public blowback and are working in cahoots with influential developers against the public interest. I concur with the belief that the way the planning department has handled this episode undermines public trust in the community planning process. How can we have faith that the time and energy we sacrifice to give Metro Planning our feedback will be wisely invested in fair plans that benefit all?

Deep Thought

So, in endorsing 3 bridges to get people out of Greater Nashville and into Bells Bend, is Planning Director Rick Bernhardt attempting to be the Robert Moses of our city?

How May Town Center Could Destroy New Urbanism

Before the Planning Commission and Metro Council jump into bed with the Giarratana development team on May Town Center, they better think about how it could actually destroy prospects for new urbanism in Nashville. Jeff Woods with the prognosis:
The planning staff says we should all accept May Town because it now includes so-called New Urbanism concepts--bells and whistles like sidewalks and trees. The staff is even demanding that developers build a pedestrian bridge. But nobody's buying this bullshit. First of all, almost as soon as this albatross is approved, Tony Giarratana will start asking for cost-cutting "amendments" to the fabulous plan, claiming job losses unless the commission knuckles under. Second, the planning staff's logic is flawed in that it ignores the bigger picture: By allowing May to build a second downtown, we're turning our backs on all we've accomplished over the past decade to make Nashville a more livable city. So what if he plants a few trees?
So, we end up with some younger trees more carefully spaced that the older growth trees Tony G knocks down to build, plus a lot of cost-cutting measures that erode many of the wonderful concepts sold to us in mock-ups now. Sounds great for Nashville and new urbanism, doesn't it?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Interrupting the Echo Chamber

I took it upon myself to challenge May Town developer David Koellein's claims to be an informational resource when he actually acts like a spin doctor:
[Quoting Koellein from the City Paper]:
The real disaster would be the pitiful alternate future of Bells Bend: the economically meaningless, far more environmentally damaging and character obliterating subdivision of duplexes for which the site is already zoned.
[My response] This is entirely misleading statement and not just because it reduces Bells Bend alternative future to a disaster.

It is misleading because building a subdivision of duplexes involves obliterating the very same natural obstacles to high volume transportation that the May Town Center project relies on. In short, nobody is going to build duplexes without bridges. And the same group of opponents bolstered by others who currently support May Town would organize to fight smaller duplexification of the Bend (And I won't even go into the hurdles by state and federal archeaologists when and if ancient burial grounds are surveyed along the Cleece's ferry shoreline).

But your commentary is also misinformation in the sense that many of the people who would be trying to build duplexes across Bells Bend are the land holders currently in league under Bells Landing LLC. Are we supposed to view your comment as a veiled threat by your associates? Two of those associates, Frank and Leon May, are attempting to leverage a decision by the Planning Commission on Thursday to exclude duplexes from the Ensworth Place block that their own homes sit on now. Why couldn't the May Family commit to work for similar zoning that prohibits duplexes in the Bells Bend context? If it's good enough for their homes, why isn't enough for the Scottsboro/Bells Bend homes?

About Time the Media Spotlighted the Economic Potential of the Bells Bend Alternative to May Town Center

According to the Tennessean, May Town Center opponents are not intolerant do-nothings courting economic and development "disaster":
An alternative vision of the area where the controversial May Town Center is proposed could generate more than $23 million a year in economic activity from farming, tourism and recreational uses, economists hired by a group of residents write in a new report ....

As an alternative, they envision preserving 4,000 acres of farmland and establishing the corridor to Beaman Park as a cultural and historical center, a recreational hub and/or a local attraction. Possible uses include a conference/retreat center and musical performances.

"We're trying to respond to the claim that this giant development is needed for economic benefit, and if we don't do this, it's a big zero out there," Scottsboro resident and May Town Center opponent Barry Sulkin said. "It's not a zero. And it doesn't cost much to try."
Opponents are not the slick marketers that Tony Giarratana's white-collar shock troops are on the future of Bells Bend. They have less money and less pull in the government and with the media, and so their proposal is oftened drowned out. It is no less real.

Developer Overspeak about Metro Council from Beginning to End at the Charrette

One weakness of the Nashville Charrette is its cocoon quality that insulates planners and urban design aficionados from social impact and public debate on developments. Giarratana/May Town Center developer David Koellein has lately been dominating discussion in the forum, and he is encouraging an echo chamber for the aficionados to agree with him absent any strong opposition.

Koellein's latest commentary on Metro Council is the typical dualistic hyperbole we get from developers when they are locked in to selling their product to the powers that be and to stirring up local support. To paraphrase, "It was the best of CMs and the worst of CMs":
Councilman [Lonell] Matthews, in whose district May Town Center will be located, has been a brilliant supporter of the project, one of those who really "gets it." Lots of other members of the Council are known to support it, too. Of course, there are also those who oppose it, but the political opponents seem to be few and mostly of the ilk whose ideals sometimes obscure their better judgement, waiting to support a candy-coated future that never comes and content to watch the whole region get paved over in the meantime.
This is the same guy who began appearing on online discussions about Bells Bend a week ago insisting that he deals in fact while those of us who oppose his vision are dealing "misinformation." If you have a chance drop in on that echo chamber and fact check Koellein's claimed facticity. I bet you could find a few more holes in his logic without even trying.

The Wizard Pulling Levers Behind the Curtain

Christine Kreyling divulges news that I suspected all along: the source of Metro Planning's enthusiasm for Bells Bend comes directly from the Executive Director Rick Bernhardt. May Town represents his answer to Cool Springs:
May Town, on the other hand, is laid out according to New Urbanism principles, with a mixture of land uses integrated in the manner of a traditional town.

Sidewalks are as important as streets in linking the site. The idea is to create a walkable environment, with a footprint smaller than the likes of Cool Springs, so one need not drive between one land use and another. The undeveloped portion of the site would be permanently preserved as open space and serve as a green buffer between May Town and the rest of Bells Bend.

As a founding member of the Congress for the New Urbanism, Metro Planning’s Executive Director Rick Bernhardt has espoused for years the design principles embodied in the May Town site plan. That is one reason he likes May Town.

“Within the region,” he explained, “you have a need for economic growth that should be as compact as possible” for it to be sustainable, as sprawl is not.

Bernhardt believes that the 900-acre greenbelt to surround May Town, and the steep slopes to the north, will function as a cage holding development in check, with the combination striking a realistic balance between development and preservation.
I've tended to be an advocate of new urbanism in the past as a solution to sprawl, but as a tool in careful planning balanced by community character and citizen expectations. Rick Bernhardt's unchecked support for May Town Center is quickly changing my mind about new urbanism. It looks more like a weapon now than a tool.

May Town Center is a warped vision of new urbanism in the wrong place. It is an afterthought instead of a planning agenda applied region-wide. It is an experiment that puts pristine wilderness and farmland at risk so that planners can transcend the demands of community feedback and assert their own vision for Nashville. It is a violation of the natural boundaries that already exist around Bells Bend in order to rationalize a new set of boundaries and buffers that themselves may be ruptured in the future in the name of new urbanism, and because the precedent will have been set by Mr. Bernhardt.

Do you see where I am going with this? May Town Center is sex with new urbanism to save our relationship to undisturbed back country. And as surely as Walt Disney created a hyper-real replica of Main Street, USA to function as an experiential stand-in or skin for dying American Main Streets, Rick Bernhardt intends to empower developers to impose the idea of a town artificially across a rural community, rather than acknowledging the community's interest in naturally determining their own structure. In the end it still looks like segregation of human activities, but micro-scaled instead of super-sized. Is a smaller, walkable Cool Springs the best use of Bells Bend?

Metro Planning Is Not Exactly a Rational Animal on May Town Center

By the power of a model, the specialist turns the future into a greenhouse of fantasies.
- - Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Nearly a year ago the Planning Department had the audacity not just to recommend the May Town Center proposal to the Planning Commission without the benefit of neutral traffic and economic impact studies, but to admit publicly that they did not conduct the studies because they did not have enough money to pay for them. Instead, they made their recommendation based only on the quixotic projections of the MTC developers, who also market their product like carnival barkers.

This year, the Planning staffers received two neutral studies, which seemed split in judging the feasibility of the MTC model as planned. But they seemed to accept implicitly MTC developers arguments that historical and archaeological surveys of the parcels had already been conducted, even though two historical commission heads and one state archaeologist insist that they were never contacted. Yet, even while making collaboration with these researchers a priority, the Metro planners gave MTC developers' model a ringing, enthusiastic (and highly subjective) endorsement.

Still and all, the single most irksome act of Metro planning staffers in the recommendation of May Town Center to the Commissioners was to judge public opponents harshly by intimating that the latter are irrational, cynical, conniving, and unobjective:
From the initial presentation by the developer and with the previous proposal for development of the site, the community dialogue has focused on the fundamental issue of whether any significant development at this location should be approved. Issues related to transportation have been researched and analyzed. Issues related to preservation have been widely discussed and understood. Issues related to economic development and regionalism have been presented. As a result, staff strongly believes that the community is polarized to the point that it is difficult, if not impossible, to meaningfully and rationally discuss any other planning and community development issues that may be desired until such time as the Planning Commission and Council resolve the issue of whether or not a development of this magnitude will be approved. Realistic and appropriate resolution of secondary issues is currently so wrapped up in positioning on both sides to support their positions that objective communication toward a desirable solution is not possible. While there do remain issues that need to be addressed, staff believes that adoption of the staff recommendations will address the most critical impacts of the proposal while, if approved, allowing ongoing opportunities for resolution of remaining issues through the planning process once a decision has been reached.
What is clear to me in this staff recommendation is that Metro planners are convinced that they have been the reasonable, rational, disinterested (or less self-interested), and objective parties in this discussion. This also seems to me like the classic contempt of a supercilious courthouse elite toward common citizens who desire to claim a seat at the table where the Bells Bend pie is being cut up and doled out to other nobles and aristocrats.

But whether you agree or not with my own admittedly populist interpretation of what planners are suggesting about you and me in their recommendation, there remains a hypocrisy that should not be missed. Planners seem to have the sheer audacity, the unmitigated gall, the brash cheekiness to call their own approach objective, neutral, and otherwise reasonable after endorsing MTC developers blindly with no independent data and while promoting the MTC concept near-sightedly even though developers have been caught being dishonest about surveys of sensitive burial sites.

How do these planners have any credible leg to stand on when they accuse the masses of undermining meaningful and rational discussion? I don't claim to have a comprehensive grasp of rationality, but in my book, appeals to reason in Metro Planning itself seem convenient and contrived. Hence, they're as likely to give rise to fantasies as they are reasoned and balanced recommendations.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Mays Want to Bring High Density to Bells Bend While Attempting to Switch Their Own Street to Lower Density

Irony of local developers' ironies: the very same night this week that the May Town Center proposal is up before the Planning Commission once again for public hearing, CM Jason Holleman brings a request to the Commission by approximately 2 dozen Enworth Place and Ensworth Avenue property owners to change their current low-density zoning to even lower density. Two of those residents are Frank and Leon May, who reside on Ensworth Place, and who are the would-be catalysts of May Town Center sprawl across Bells Bend.

The existing zoning at Ensworth Place and Ensworth Avenue allows single-family homes and duplexes on a minimum of 40,000 sq. ft. lots. The proposed zoning that the Mays are advocating--for parcels on which their own homes and those of their immediate neighbors sit--would eliminate duplexes from the formula and reduce density to .93 dwelling units per acre on a minimum 40,000 sq. ft. lot. They seem to want to keep developers in check where they live.

Metro Planning staffers are once again siding with the May family in a zoning proposal but for entirely different reasons this time around. This time they intend to protect the current character of the area by selectively applying this rationale:
This 48 acre area is an established, low density residential development with predominantly single-family residences.
Keep in mind that a little later on Thursday evening's agenda, the Commission will be discussing the planners' endorsement of the May family's attempt to convert historic, lowest-density farmland into high-density, urban, multi-use, car-cultured development of substantially more than .93 units per acre. I guess protecting the character of Bells Bend doesn't matter quite as much to Metro Planning since the Mays don't live there.

However, I doubt that any Metro planner will be considering the inconsistencies of the evening. They'll no doubt see it as all part of the big plan.

Development Components vs.Democratic Qualities

In The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, Wendell Berry gets real about coercion of assimilating family farms into an industrial agribusiness market. He also addresses how the fiction of development models assign a regimented division of activities to peoples lives under the guise of liberty. His realism applies to Metro Planning's new beatific vision of an urbanized Bells Bend with the May Town Center development:
It is clear, at least, that official policies ... have come to be routinely justified in this country on grounds that they will uphold freedom, dignity, and equality of opportunity .... But these assurances are always incidental, outside the boundary of whatever allegedly benign (and profitable) innovation is at hand. People are not going to be free or dignified or even well fed just because some specialist says that they will be .... People will be allowed to be free to do certain things in certain places prescribed by other people. They will be free to work in the places set aside for work, free to play or relax in places set aside for recreation, free to live (whatever that may mean) in places set aside for living.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Jonathan Belcher tweets that during a bike ride to MetroCenter just now he observed "a lot of US Marshalls, David.Co. Sheriffs Dept and MNPDs looking for someone" there.

Nashville Preservationist Quits Local Preservation Board Rather than Serve with May Town Center Developer, Tony Giarratana

Fletch Coke explains her decision to the Historic Nashville, Inc. Board:
Since I am firmly opposed to the development of the May Town Center in Bells Bend, I can no longer serve on the HNI Board with the developer Tony Giarrantana.
I'm sad but not surprised by this decision. The acquisitive culture among Realtors and developers is often at odds with that of preservationists, and sometimes the latter have to do something drastic to shake up the playing field. Historic and archaeological value may not easily convert to dollar signs for cash out.

I also wonder if Giarratana sits no this board not because he is sincerely interested in preserving, but because he intends to redefine preservation so that it contains nothing more than the appearance of preserving historic and pre-historic treasures. A superficial notion of preservation greases up the conversion of historic value to monetary gain.

Giarrantana Developer Clarifies the Archaeological Survey that the Hall Strategies Flack Obfuscated

After a development associate at Giarratana Development replied to yesterday's Enclave post on possible burial ground desecration with May Town Center construction, Pith in the Wind blogger Betsy Phillips was able to traverse the archaelogical labyrinth Giarratana PR flak catcher, lobbyist and former journalist Joe Hall built in evading her questions about surveys. Betsy underscores the striking admission:
The first one is from David Koellein, who says he's a "member of the May Town Center development and design team." The whole thing is worth reading, for the sake of discussion, but the important thing he says is "A site-wide survey was conducted by Zada Law (corroborated by discussions held by Wilbur Smith and associates), the results of which have been submitted to the city."

So, here we have it, folks, confirmation that this mysterious survey they claim to have is the very survey that says "Background research alone cannot suffice as an assessment of whether archaeological remains are present in a given area."

In other words, Law could not be clearer that the type of work she is doing should not be substituted for an actual assessment of the actual site.

And Koellein is admitting that Law's work is being passed off as an actual assessment.

I would like to take a moment to gloat, but I'm instead struck by how incredibly disrespectful it is of Law and her very interesting and well-done work to use it in the manner she expressly warns against.

But now we know the truth.

There is no complete archaeological assessment of what's where May Town Center would go. And they lied when they said there was.

Let me remind you, that means they lied TO THE CITY, in every document they handed the city that said a complete survey had been done.
Given the Giarratana team's cynical reliance on an uncomprehesive survey, the patent dishonesty abounding around their quarters, and their rush to pave over the dead, I'm not surprised that a firestorm of oppositional Enclave comments erupted since developer Koellein weighed in yesterday.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Metro Planning's 2nd May Town Center bridge condition at Cleece's Ferry may contradict their condition of sensitivity to archaeological sites

An Enclave reader pointed out that the 2nd proposed bridge--set as a condition for May Town Center approval--appears to be something along the lines of desecration:
I just read your post from June 15 regarding the 3 bridge options for Bells Bend. Had not seen that all laid out before. Aunt B has been talking a bit about the archaeological aspect of things, but I'm not sure if folks realize how much of an archaeological clusterfuck (pardon my language...) building a bridge at the Cleece's Ferry spot would be. The river bank for a quarter mile on either side of the boat ramp is something like 30 feet deep of solid archaeological site & has been spitting out human burials since at least the late 1800s. Hell - according to an article from the State Archaeology office over at Nashville Past & Present blog (http://nashvillepastandpresent.blogspot.com/2009/06/archaeological-investigations-at-clees.html) it just kicked out 6 more bodies this month. I wonder why the Native American community isn't in full-throttle protest about the May Town thing yet?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

With Planning's Requirement of More Than One Bridge, Metro Council Member Recants Support of May Town Center

District 20 CM Buddy Baker tells Channel 4 News that he is renouncing his support for May Town Center because of Metro Planning's bridge conditions.

Planning's Support for May Town Center Highlights the Trickiness of Planning Commissioner's Strictly Land-Use Appeal

I want to return to the claim made last week by Planning Commissioner and former CM Stewart Clifton (on the subject of LED billboards) that the Planning Commission should only allow issues of land-use rather than public opinion to influence their zoning decisions. Keep in mind that "land use" can mean anything as basic as "approved, legal use based on zoning" or as nuanced and open to interpretation as "modification of the natural environment." It is difficult to tell which meaning of "land use" that Planning clings to the exclusion of any other factors, but it seems to me that the farther Planning moves from strictly legal terms to interpretative frames of modification, their views of "land use" become more open to public scrutiny and criticism.

The more I read of Planning recommendations for developing agricultural Bells Bend, the more disingenuous qualities behind strong claims of "land use" over public feedback stick with me. Take the Planning staff's justifications for May Town Center development based on region-wide employment patterns. In a section on job sprawl they mention a recent liberal think-tank's policy paper on jobs migrating out of central business districts region-wide. Hang on. In a democracy, policy recommendations are not simply mandated by planning elites by fiat. Instead, employment policies should be up for public consideration and argumentation, especially if the land use theories supporting those policies have more to do with modification of what is perhaps the largest natural environment in an American urban context.

To discourage job sprawl to exurban satellite campuses, Metro planners assert that the rest of us must stop looking at planning from the level of Metro Nashville and instead see it from the region-wide area of Middle Tennessee (including the 6 donut counties around Davidson):
If the question is approached from a Downtown Nashville perspective, with the scale being the distance from Downtown, May Town Center is clearly on the edge of currently developed land in the northwest corner of Davidson County. If, however, the scale for comparison is the Middle Tennessee region – which is the scale considered for future population growth and the area within which air and water quality impacts will be felt by development throughout the region – the proposed May Town Center site is more accurately considered “inner ring” development.
But several significant problems emerge from planners claims.

First, planners claim to remedy the problem of sprawl by shifting the focus to the level of sprawl. That makes no sense to me. The logical way to plan to mitigate sprawl is to narrow the focus of "scale" and promote development in a limited, bounded scope. By placing Bells Bend in an "inner ring" (in the archaic fashion of the old Chicago school of urban sociology?) Metro planners are framing it relative to sprawling developments outside of Davidson County. So, how can they possibly propose to mitigate sprawl by defining development by sprawl, and by promoting a development that is indisputably sprawl when the aperture of our scope closes in tight on Nashville?

Second, even if we accept the premise that job sprawl warrants high density corporate campuses closer to the urban core to balance exurban job growth, why should that justify paving and building over Bells Bend? The built environment of May Town Center could fit into New York City's Central Park and still leave over 300 acres of green space. Using the same logic that Metro planners use, would the boroughs of New York City stand in better stead with a centralized job-producing corporate campus in Central Park? The planners' region-wide approach also defies their own developer-friendly logic at this point. Couldn't Bells Bend serve as a region-wide analogue to Central Park? While Metro Nashville may have commensurate green space at Bells Bend Park, wouldn't larger scale assumptions see a totally green Bells Bend as a benefit that fits the Middle Tennessee region? And wouldn't it be most advantageous to have that large green space in what planners have defined as the region's inner ring?

Finally, planners are begging the political question of community when they insist on framing the problem of jobs region-wide instead of by Metro Nashville. Whether we define ourselves as Middle Tennessee or as Nashville is not simply a planning conundrum. It is a matter of identity, definition, and allegiance. These are all highly interpretive questions of what our community means to us. They will not be settled simply because a specialized courthouse elite dictates what we must be. In a constitutional democracy, answers emerge from reasoning together in public, and the elite class must convince rather than co-opt.

Mayor Wants to Meet Neighbors

Ya'll come:
Mayor Karl Dean’s
Night Out Meeting

Monday, June 22, 2009

5:30 P.M.

J. Henry Hale Apartments
Community Building
1433 Jo Johnston Avenue
Nashville, TN 37203

Come meet with
Mayor Karl Dean
The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods
Metro Department Representatives

Please Plan To Come And Bring Your Neighbor!
Your Input and Concerns Are Important!


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

State and Metro Historical Commissions Express Concerns to Metro Planning about May Town Center

Betsy Phillips brought the scoop Monday night that there are people more well-placed than she is who are growing more concerned about how little developers know of sensitive archaeological sites laying under the pastures of Bells Bend. According to Betsy, Metro Planning Director Rick Bernhardt received three letters Monday: one from E. Patrick McIntyre, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Historical Commission; the other two from W. Tim Walker, the Executive Director of the Metro Historical Commission.

The state letter tells Mr. Bernhardt that Tennessee officials cannot complete a study of the May Town proposal in the absence of an exact map showing the development and bridge footprint. Mr. McIntyre also emphasized "the over sixty recorded archaeological sites, the historic properties, the potential for encountering human remains, and the rich human history of the Bend," while also pointing out that the Bend has not been comprehensively studied as it should be before ground breaking.

The first Metro letter attempts to discourage Mr. Bernhardt from uncritically recommending the Bells Landing developers' zoning request, but instead to trammel and regulate growth by using the innovative method of Transfer Development Rights. In his second letter Mr. Walker appeals to Mr. Bernhardt to work with the Metro Historical Commission and state archaeologists to conduct a comprehensive archaeological survey and to provide a conservation/mitigation plan for the Bend. That recommendation appears in the Planning staff's report released yesterday:
Our office strongly recommends that as part of the approval process of the development there be a condition requiring a comprehensive archeological survey of the proposed footprint and the potential bridge crossing(s) by a certified archeologist who will work closely with the (Metro Historical Commission (MHC), State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), and the State Archeologist. This should be conducted prior to the approval of a final site plan by the Planning Department and include a conservation/mitigation plan for the development.

This archaeological survey should be performed as early as possible to allow for consideration of the project’s impact upon significant archaeological resources.

The developer is seeking a change in the zoning classification at the polar ends of the Zoning Code from AR2a to a Specific Plan with development standards similar to MUI. Rather than simply handing this change to the developer, the developer should be encouraged to buy down, via Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs), some of the existing zoning rights in the impacted area where there is a delta between CS and MUN.
That feedback caused the Planning staff to set this condition:
A plan for protecting significant archaeological resources finds shall be presented with the initial final site plan and the applicant shall work with the Metro Historical Commission, the State Historic Preservation Officer, and the State Archaeologist in preparing the protection plan.
Betsy intimates that such a condition is at odds with a previous conclusion of the Planning staff itself:
There are a number of historic features on the site that will be preserved. There is one structure, a farmstead that has been designated Worthy of Conservation, two cemeteries, and three possible prehistoric burial grounds. As required by the ADA, an Archaeological Inventory Report was conducted and additional archaeological surveys will be completed on any area proposed for development prior to final site plan approval.
The May Town Center developers, as Betsy points out, have not been transparent about who conducted their limited survey and about its dated character and lack of comprehensiveness. They have not expressed an openness to apprise state and local historians and archaeologists of their plans unless and until required to do so under the conditions of the Planning staff.

So, even with the conditions, why is the Rick Bernhardt's Planning staff so quick to lend developers the benefit of the doubt and speak so enthusiastically and uncritically of them in their report? In a coming post I'll point out that their lack of objectivity seems galling given the jaded criticism that this elite planning class aims at the public response to the MTC proposal.

MDHA's Private-Public Partnership on Rolling Mill Hill Hits the Skids

Despite its increasing focus on growth through condo builds, Nashville's only governmental real estate developer, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, has allowed 3 condos at Rolling Mill Hill to list into receivership and lost a Baltimore developer who would have built out the retail part of the development.

Why can't public housing authority MDHA effectively market RMH condos? Probably because the price tag is too high for a grand view of the mountains of scrap metal at the Steiner Lift metal works across the river.

Metro has already dumped $10 million into the project; another example of indiscriminately locking ourselves into an expensive project that we cannot afford to stop spending on now?

Deep Thought

How is local PR firm McNeeley, Pigott, and Fox's deal to launch positive blogs and tweets to rehabilitate coal-ash marred Roane County anything but further exploitation of the toxic market niche that the Hawthorne Group first generated with the faux-eco "clean coal" campaign?

Racist E-mail Story First Broken by a West Tennessee Blogger

Pro journalist and avid blogger Newscoma was the first to publish the story on Sherri Lynn Goforth (a state employee who sent a race-based .gov e-mail attack on President Obama to Capitol Hill Republicans); that story has been picked up by Tennessee's mainstream media:

Monday, June 15, 2009

The 3 Bridges the Planning Department Envisions for May Town Center

May Town Center developers have consistently argued without compromise that they only require a single bridge to handle high volume traffic to and from their "second Downtown" in Bells Bend. The Metro Planners have lent their support to the MTC blueprints, but under conditions that include 3 bridges.

That vision confirms opponents' prophecy that limited development inevitably expands beyond initial limits to include greater spread over undeveloped green areas. Why? Because developer-driven growth is by definition acquisitive until all resources are exhausted. Once growth is allowed to cross the natural barriers that separate the Bend from the rest of us, you could stop a swarm of locusts descending on crops more easily than barring future waves of developers from consuming increasingly accessible pasture lands.

In the case of MTC, one of the areas affected would include Bells Bend Park, a huge nature preserve that includes hiking and horse trails and overnight pedestrian campgrounds:
While the developer states that only one bridge will be needed, Planning staff has identified the need for a limited access bridge – for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit – based on the recent independent review of the applicant’s Traffic Impact Study by RPM Transportation Consultants (RPM). This bridge is required and most likely will be located near the old Cleeces Ferry site. However, the details regarding a limited access bridge have not been finalized, and will require further discussion with Scottsboro/Bells Bend and Bordeaux-Whites Creek stakeholders.

During the planning process for the Scottsboro/Bells Bend Detailed Design Plan in 2007/2008, some stakeholders wanted to remove the bridge crossing the Cumberland River from the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPOs) Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). This bridge project has been on the books since at least 1991, and its illustrative configuration goes through Bells Bend Park, which was created after the bridge was included in the LRTP. The bridge discussion grew increasingly complex when the developers of the proposed May Town Center began discussing possible bridge locations to accommodate their project. Planning staff discussed the issue of removing the bridge project from the LRTP with Public Works, and the decision was made to leave the bridge project in the LRTP as there will likely be a future need for it, even if the proposed May Town Center is not approved.

After further study, an additional full-access bridge may be needed in the area representative of the bridge included in the LRTP. If this third bridge is needed in the future, the presence of Bells Bend Park, the intent of conserving the rural character of Old Hickory Boulevard in Bells Bend, and the presence of environmentally sensitive natural features placed in Natural Conservation special policy need to be factored into its design in order to minimize any potential negative impacts.
Clearly, Metro Planning has ended the debate on whether more than one bridge will be needed. At the very least two bridges will be needed and developers and Metro agencies should act under presupposition that growth and swelling transit arteries will make a 3rd bridge probable.

Bridges #2 and #3 will increase infrastructure costs for Metro Nashville. They will stress west Nashville neighborhoods, which would run the risk of becoming subsidiary "pass-through" areas rather than primary destinations of themselves. On the Bend side of the River, 3 bridges would effectively subdivide the Bells Bend community, which currently has a tiny, tucked, and little-used farm road in and out. Bridge #3 would certainly dissect one of Metro's own natural wonders, Bells Bend Park.

With the natural obstructions to development subsumed and overwhelmed, there would be nothing to stop developers, planners, council members, and a university from reversing themselves and compromising on present lip-service patronage to "aggressive" conservation. The bridges would tip the scales of environmental balance toward consuming growth.

The only way that Bells Bend's unique qualities can be preserved is by refusing to cross over to this multi-bridge vision that Metro Planning would have us blindly and uncritically follow.

Planning Staff Sucking Up to May Town Developers from the Get-Go

Metro Planning Director Rick Bernhardt's staff is not even attempting to strike an objective pose on the very first page of their approval of May Town Center sprawl. They twist what could have easily been a simple descriptive statement of their actions (for example, "We evaluated May Town Center economic impact, its land conservation plan, and its intention to constructing public roads and bridges") into a declarative cheer for May Town Center in the opening:
Staff has evaluated May Town Center’s substantial economic impact, its aggressive land conservation plan, and its developers’ commitment to constructing public roads and bridges over the life of the project to manage off-site traffic impacts.
This seems like a total lack of fairness. Tony Giarratana couldn't have written a better sound bite.

Introducing those leading terms about the development opens the report up even on page 1 to public debate, because terms like "substantial" (i.e., "true" or "real"), "aggressive" (relative to what?), and "commitment ... to manage" (can only be judged in hindsight) are debatable ideas. They should be tested in the crucible of argument instead of with the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen. Last week on another issue a Planning Commissioner argued that planning decisions should be made strictly as they concern land use and not based on public response to the proposals. And yet, the Planning report is making no bones about interjecting contentious terms to invite public debate from the get-go, even if Planning officials choose to ignore that debate. Whether economic impact is real, whether developers exhibit authentic commitments, and whether conservation is aggressive; these are matters not settled by elite urban planners but social questions that should be open to widest audiences possible to consider on the basis of the most reasonable arguments.

Rick Bernhardt's office has chosen not to remain neutral, but to embrace May Town Center enthusiastically, and given them deniability on building second and third bridges by making them conditions of the MTC project going forward. So far, it looks flawed and biased to me.

Text of Planning Staff's Approval of May Town Center Proposal with Conditions

Editor's Note: Planning staff has approved the May Town Center plan and spent 48 pages explaining their decision to try to get Planning Commission approval. They have put their rationalizations on line and you can find the summary of their position with conditions they place on developers at the end of the document. I am posting their conclusions as written to start getting your impressions and feedback.

||||| Staff has evaluated May Town Center’s substantial economic impact, its aggressive land conservation plan, and its commitment to constructing public facilities to manage off-site traffic impacts. While recognizing the work currently underway to update the West Nashville Community Plan, should the associated plan amendment be approved the SP will be consistent with all currently adopted community plan policies. Therefore staff recommends approval. Because of the project’s scope and extended build-out schedule, other changes will continue to take place in and around the area affected by this development. Subsequent community plan updates will reflect those changes as well as updated data on the progress and impacts of May Town Center. Staff has concluded that localized impacts can be successfully managed and that the projected benefits of the project to the greater Nashville community make the project appropriate for approval.

  1. The applicant shall submit a corrected copy of the SP plan to include the following:
    a. A redesigned Park Residential District that promotes more consistency in building height and street relationship and a neighborhood design consistent with other District in May Town Center.
    b. A revised street-layout in the Regulatory Plan and all other plans within the SP that includes the street layout to address design issues within the Town Center component and concerns with the disbursement of traffic from the Cockrill Bend bridge.
    c. A multi-use path added as a permitted use in the Buffers in the Conservation Easement Plan.
    d. That government agencies can administer the funds and hold the easements for the buffers along Old Hickory Boulevard outside of May Town Center and a multi-use path added as permitted use in the buffer.
    e. A goal of 20 percent of workforce housing in the Sustainability section of the SP plan.
    f. A description the maximum levels of development for each of the five phases as shown in the staff report.
    g. Minimum levels of development for each of the five phases as shown in the staff report.
    h. A statement acknowledging that a traffic monitoring plan, will be developed by the developer acceptable to Public Works, Planning, MPO, Metro Transit Authority (MTA), and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) in the Development Caps section of the SP plan and include that the monitoring period will be annually, with a report due July 1 of each year beginning with the opening of the recommended bridges to full project build out (90% of full development entitlements).
    i. A statement acknowledging the conditions of MTA on the Transit Plan and that a transit report will be prepared annually and submitted at the same time as other monitoring reports.
    j. The preliminary SP be accompanied by an application for inclusion into the Urban Services District.
  2. The developer of May Town Center provide the Metropolitan Planning Commission funding, in an amount not to exceed $300,000, for developing and finalizing detailed corridor design plans and implementation recommendations in the following five (5) areas prior to approval of Phase II of the project and that any approval for Phase II be conditioned upon the findings of these plans and recommendations to the degree that the impacts can be credited to the approval of this application.
    a. Cockrill Bend Corridor from the Cumberland River along Cockrill Bend Blvd, Centennial Blvd and John Merritt Blvd to Tennessee State University.
    b. Bordeaux Corridor from Briley Parkway along Ashland City Highway, Clarksville Highway to Rosa L. Parks Blvd.
    c. The Charlotte Pike/Richland Park Corridor from the railroad east of 42nd Ave to a point west of White Bridge Road with specific consideration of the appropriateness of implementing a storefront and development easement or transfer of development rights program to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood center in light of specific increased development pressures attributable to May Town Center.
    d. The White Bridge Road Corridor from I-40 south to Nashville State Technical Institute.
    e. The Old Hickory Blvd Corridor from the Cumberland River south to a point south of I-40 should the third full-access bridge be required with specific evaluation of how to minimize environmental impacts immediately south of the Cumberland River.
  3. A plan for protecting significant archaeological resources finds shall be presented with the initial final site plan and the applicant shall work with the Metro Historical Commission, the State Historic Preservation Officer, and the State Archaeologist in preparing the protection plan.
  4. Transfer or a plan for irrevocable transfer of the easements for tax purposes shall accompany the first final site plan approval after the permit for the initial bridges has been received.
  5. Two bridges shall be provided prior to the initial development of May Town Center.
  6. Absent a direct finding that it is unnecessary to achieve the stated objectives, a third full-access bridge shall be provided as the development of May Town Center progresses.
  7. The responsibility for ensuring that all three potential bridges are constructed falls exclusively to the developer(s) of May Town Center and that the Metropolitan Government will not assume any financial or other obligations for the construction of the bridges or associated infrastructure improvements.
  8. No building permits for construction of any new structures shall be issued when the projected level-of-service reaches a LOS of mid-level E.
  9. Following approval for development within Phase II as outlined in the phasing section of this report, no further site plans or building permits authorizing any new structure in Phases III, IV, and V shall be issued or approved until the Metropolitan Planning Commission evaluates and determines the need for construction and the design of the third bridge as conditioned herein.
  10. The requirements of the Public Works Department shall be met.
  11. The applicant shall work with the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority to mitigate any undesirable impacts on aviation.
  12. The water and sewer capacity required by the Water Services Department shall be kept current.
  13. The uses for this SP are limited to the uses as described in the plan.
  14. For any development standards, regulations and requirements not specifically shown on the SP plan and/or included as a condition of Commission or Council approval, the property shall be subject to the standards, regulations and requirements of the MUI zoning district as of the date of the applicable request or application.
  15. A corrected copy of the preliminary SP plan incorporating the conditions of approval by the Planning Commission and Council shall be provided to the Planning Department prior to the filing of any additional development applications for this property, and in any event no later than 120 days after the effective date of the enacting ordinance. If a corrected copy of the SP plan incorporating the conditions therein is not provided to the Planning Department within 120 days of the effective date of the enacting ordinance, then the corrected copy of the SP plan shall be presented to the Metro Council as an amendment to this SP ordinance prior to approval of any grading, clearing, grubbing, final site plan, or any other development application for the property.
  16. Minor modifications to the preliminary SP plan may be approved by the Planning Commission or its designee based upon final architectural, engineering or site design and actual site conditions. All modifications shall be consistent with the principles and further the objectives of the approved plan. Modifications shall not be permitted, except through an ordinance approved by Metro Council that increase the permitted density or floor area, add uses not otherwise permitted, eliminate specific conditions or requirements contained in the plan as adopted through this enacting ordinance, or add vehicular access points not currently present or approved.
  17. The requirements of the Metro Fire Marshal’s Office for emergency vehicle access and adequate water supply for fire protection must be met prior to the issuance of any building permits. |||||