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.

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