Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Walkability" is not a plan, but a buzzword

A Seattleite uses his community as a case for showing the arrogance of urban planning and the slippery terms of New Urbanism:
Urban planners, often in a theoretical world by themselves, say they are attempting to create a more functional city. They talk about walkability associated with transportation planning while others point to creating sustainable high-density neighborhoods. Unfortunately, as much as urban planners and lawmakers bandy about the term, it still has meanings that change depending on who you ask, where you ask, and how affluent is the person you ask ....

Is it possible to draw a circle on a map, designate it as a sustainable walkable neighborhood, and have it be economically viable for the small business person? Planners say, “sure, just create more housing units.” New jargon calls them “urban villages,” “urban centers,” TODs (transit-oriented developments), sustainable communities, or walkable neighborhoods ....

They didn’t come to grips with the reality that they can’t force a business to locate or thrive in these new areas. Most urban planners and most elected officials have never run a small business. They simply don’t understand what it takes to operate a retail store successfully ....

If walkability and healthy neighborhoods are the goal, then planners need to make some major changes in how they do their job. The first logical step might be to incorporate the Hippocratic oath into their decision-making: “Do no harm.” That means hanging on to the neighborhoods and stores that still function ....

If a neighborhood is thriving, talk to the shopkeepers who have been successful for a number of years. Listen to them. More important is not doing something that makes success more difficult. Maybe the city should pay less attention to the big downtown business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce. They may know how to run WAMU or sell luxury downtown condos, but not many know how to run small shops in neighborhoods any more than do planners. And, though it should be obvious, not all neighborhoods are alike. Each has its own demographic and character and neighborhood mainstays.
It is strong arguments like this that have had me re-thinking my own commitments to New Urbanism. If nothing else, looking at the problems of detached urban planning cause me to show more chastened and qualified support for New Urbanism. Walkability seems to be a term that holds a gaggle of unjustified class and culture assumptions that should not go unchallenged or untested.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Green Hills Infill Developer Indefinitely Postpones New Urbanist Project

A week ago a local media apologist for infill development criticized Metro council members who opposed the May Town Center proposal without trying to place new urbanist developments in their own districts. He mentioned the Valerie Crossings proposal for Green Hills as an example of a high-density project that should find council support.

According to an e-mail from CM Carter Todd published today on the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list, the Valerie Crossings developer has decided to "indefinitely postpone" the project. Thus, the August 13 Planning Commission hearing of the proposal has been canceled. CM Todd also wrote that he will indefinitely defer the bill at the August 6 council meeting.

I don't think that we should underestimate the role neighborhood leaders might have played in leveraging a delay given community ambivalence toward the project. Council members should not simply draw in any high-density project without reference to public feedback or community character.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chestnut Hill/Cameron Trimble Neighbor Confronts Illegal Dumper

From the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list:
INCLUDED BELOW- Violator who just dumped in our neighborhood
picture of truck, and perp. Next to sign that says $500 fine.

[Neighbor] saw this dumping just before 8am 07/24/09
This man said that "he can dump on his boss's property anytime he wants". He was dumping on the City's right-of-way on Old Radnor Car Line (just off 2nd Av South where Nolensville Pike turns into 2nd Av S)
registered to:
William Bass
6304 Laurelwood DR
Brentwood TN 37027
(Bass Properties)

Reported to Jawon Lauderdale- Metro Health Department
He will be charged a $50 fine.

Neighborhood leaders have asked Metro government to contact the tire merchants in the area and remind them that tire dumping is illegal and punishable. Community leaders are also organizing to picket the businesses of suspected dumping merchants.

Another Morgan Park Update

Assistant Director of Parks Curt Garrigan met with Salemtown Neighbors last night to discuss the delayed progress of the Morgan Park playground and planned fountain. Mr. Garrigan apologized for the years of delays to the playground and when asked for reasons said that they had to do with rising construction costs and searches for contractors.

He told the group that the tiered walls of the park do not permit the same placement of the new playground as the old because of ADA requirements. The new playground will be placed closer to the community center.

Mr. Garrigan told us that both the playground and the fountain (which is supposed to be a replica of that which was installed early in the 20th Century drawing water from the Werthan factory's sulphur spring) would be finished by Nashville Oktoberfest. Representatives from Nashville's sister city in Germany will be present for the dedication of the new fountain.

I guess we will see if this is just another bullet in the long timeline of promises on Morgan Park renovations. In a related note, yesterday I wrote that I had not received a response to my e-mailed queries about Morgan Park from the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods. Shortly afterward, MOON e-mailed me to say that they had received the e-mail and their response was to forward it to Metro Parks.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Andy Cordan's Report on Illegal Tire Dumping in Chestnut Hill

News 2 also helped Salemtown clean up a tire dumping problem back in 2005.

UPDATE: I embedded News 2's code, but their video player doesn't seem to be showing up above. That's messed up. Here's the link to the story.

New Single-Family Home Sales Up from Last Month, Still Down from Last Year

Economists believe that the continued month-by-month increase indicates that bottom was hit in January. I hope that the slowness of the recovery and the supersaturation of supply will continue to motivate market reforms rather than prompt an easy return to the housing market abuses of the Bush era.

Morgan Park Update

The Salemtown e-list is reporting this morning that Metro Parks officials will be updating Salemtown Neighbors on the progress (or lack thereof) of Morgan Park improvements at tonight's association meeting. I honestly cannot recall the last time Metro Parks attempted to communicate with Salemtown Neighbors.

A week ago I posted a timeline of failed Metro Parks promises on a new playground. Three weeks ago I posted photos of fountain construction that failed to meet its deadline for completion.

Last Monday I also sent CM Erica Gilmore, who reported in December 2008 that Mayor Karl Dean told her that Morgan Park's new playground was imminent, the following letter:
I am writing once again to appeal that you use the power of your position to follow up with Metro Parks about unrealized promises for a playground at Morgan Park.

I have corresponded with Metro Parks for almost 4 years regarding necessary upgrades and continue to live with deferred promises, especially regarding a playground. Most recently, I corresponded with Roy Wilson 12 weeks ago, and he assured me that playground construction would be beginning about 2 weeks ago. Ground is still not broken today.

If my memory serves Mayor Dean also told you that Morgan Park was lined up to get a playground last year.

Mr. Wilson also told me in April that a contractor had 70 days to complete a new fountain feature (see below). We are now up to almost 90 days and the fountain is still incomplete.

After four years, it is hard to interpret the slow progress as anything but a lack of commitment to some North Nashville neighborhoods. It is difficult to see upgrades for kids in parks at other ends of the compass in Nashville and wonder whether the delays have simply to do with a lack of will to provide for our kids.

Instead, if things are progressing as expected and this is simply a failure to communicate with us since April, then someone in Metro should be more intentional about updating us on unexpected delays and revised time lines. Salemtown is a neighborhood with a large number of children who rely on Metro Parks, especially when school is out. We continue to be particularly hurt by the closure of the community center on weekends. During that time this walkable neighborhood has had to settle for an obsolete playground or no play ground at all.

Thank you for your service, and please help us out once more.
I had also CC:'ed that letter to Scott Wallace in the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, but CM Gilmore replied that she was forwarding my e-mail to MOON to find out where the project stands. MOON has yet to respond.

Greenbelt Loophole Allows Billionaire Frist to Bail on Property Taxes

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hope Gardens Association Announces Its Night Out Against Crime

From Jason Powell:
The Night Out Against Crime event on Tuesday, August 4th is going to be great. Please plan on meeting at Hope Gardens park at 6pm so we can march over together to meet the other neighborhoods. Thanks!

Nashville Night Out Against CrimeTime: August 4, 2009 from 6pm to 9pm
Location: Hope Gardens Park then Corner of Rosa Parks & Jefferson St (African American Cultural Museum Future Location)
Organized By: Jason Powell

Event Description:
Hope Gardens NA is partnering with Germantown, Salemtown, & Buena Vista to have one great Night Out Against Crime event. We will meet at Hope Gardens park as a neighborhood then march together to join the other neighborhoods at the corner of Jefferson Street & Buena Vista (future home of the African American History Museum) at the BiCentennial Mall.

There will be food, drinks, music, and activities for the children. We will have several special guests in attendance. Please make plans to meet at Hope Gardens Park at 6 or meet us at Rosa Parks & Jefferson Street after 6:30. This is going to be a great event and an awesome time to meet your North End neighbors.

"What Actions Were Possible?" Was a Better Question than "Why Did They Stay?" in Katrina-Ravaged New Orleans

Some psychologists conduct a scientific study of the motivations of Katrina victims who did not evacuate and suggest that middle class observers may approach the problem from an incorrect premise:
Most stayers were lacking in resources, not resourcefulness. Thus, “they needed to adjust to the constraints of their contexts by enacting a different model of agency – one that involved connecting to others, being strong, and maintaining faith in God. …What is clear is that stayers’ agency diverged markedly from the … model of agency that is pervasive in middle-class white contexts.”

Unemployment, Need for Emergency Assistance Hitting Exurban Counties Harder then Urban Davidson

According to Saturday's Tennessean:
In a new report this week, Brookings researchers charted the growing gap between the urban and suburban recession in Middle Tennessee. The unemployment rate is higher outside the Davidson County limits than inside. Suburban and rural residents are registering for emergency food assistance at twice the rate as their urban neighbors,

"Things are really starting to shift and change," said Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research analyst at Brookings. "The communities that are seeing their unemployed populations growing fastest are the exurbs (rural counties where fewer than a quarter of the population lives in cities) and the suburbs."

Nashville, its work force cushioned slightly by its base of government, health-care, education and service jobs, is actually faring a bit better than the rest of the country.

The counties that ring Davidson are faring worse. Outside the cities, Kneebone said, jobs are scarcer and many tend to be in industries decimated by the downturn, like construction and factory jobs.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Local News Media Quote of the Day

Reporter Caleb Hannan on reporter Nate Rau's seeming pro-developer slant:
My first thought is that, in Rau's hands, "'neighborhood' Council members" is thrown around like a slur. Second? Since when did it become a Council member's job to sell developers on the idea of building in their districts?

May Town developers may owe the Vice Mayor mad props for her committee appointment

What if a progressive CM had run strongly for the council's Planning and Zoning Committee? What if VM Diane Neighbors had appointed that progressive instead of pro-developer CM Jim Gotto? Would the May Town Center proposal ever have made it this far without Jim Gotto (who made the motion to approve MTC on the Planning Commission)?

May Town Developers Withdraw Request for Commission Reconsideration

According to one Nashville neighborhood leader:
Observers said Jack May stood in the audience talking on his cell ... before the meeting and seemed to be scanning the commissioners present. There did not appear to be sufficient votes present in favor MTC. Immediately before the meeting started, he walked over to the staff table and asked that his proposal to reconsider be withdrawn.
In related news, the West Nashville Community Plan and the West Nashville Traffic Proposal, both of which are at odds with the bridge recommendations of May Town Center were approved by the Planning Commission.

The May family still a few weeks to resubmit their request for reconsideration of MTC.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Those darned "neighborhoods"; always in a reporter's way

I live on infill property. My neighborhood is becoming mostly infill. So, I don't have an issue with all infill; I do take exception to the kind of infill marketed by journalist Nate Rau in this morning's City Paper. His conception seem less interested in community events as they unfold ground-level and more interested in what the ruling class at the Metro Courthouse is saying about those community events.

Rau seems to scold council members for not promoting infill in their districts while opposing May Town Center. What Rau fails to report, acknowledge, or perhaps even see is that these CMs have to deal with organized neighborhood leaders, some of whom have participated in the community planning process that happened before Rau came on at the CP. Those leaders attempt to hold Metro officials accountable for the liberties they take with developers under the auspices of "SP." Even so, Rau naively encourages the CMs to "work with Nashville's development community," as if there are not already value-laden incentives through campaign finance and with paid lobbyists to do so.

Rau could apparently care less about the checks and balances that neighborhood leaders bring to the political process of zoning and rezoning, regardless of the regressive implications for residential life in the neighborhoods. (I encounter few young reporters who express an interest in boring old residential life anyway). Once again, his one-sided analysis makes him look more like a page for Downtown elites than someone who actually spent time pounding pavement, talking to people in the neighborhoods he wraps quotes around. As such it is difficult to draw the line between reporting and spin in his analysis. At best his views are not balanced or fair, hence, they lack grassroots credibility.

One example is his treatment of the push and pull over the proposed Valerie Crossing development in Green Hills:
Developers were proposing a multi-family housing development for the Green Hills area called “Valerie Crossings.” The proposal included about 300 units, and naturally the neighbors balked.
While Rau goes on to acknowledge the traffic problems that is a concern to neighbors (not to mention to everyone else who drives through Green Hills), he says nothing about the fact that the amendments to the community plansought by developers render it pointless (to quote one Abbott Martin road resident). However, that plan was formulated by Green Hills property owners in 2005 at the behest of Metro planners.

Woodlawn Area Neighborhood Association President Bell Newton put it best:
The fact that developers can come in and ask for amendments to the adopted Community Plan that would then enable them to proceed with obtaining zoning changes that would allow increases in density for their projects without consensus of the residents included in the plan is most disconcerting.
Nate Rau seems to have no conception that working with Valerie Crossing developers undermines public participation in the Planning process itself. Or maybe he doesn't give a crap about public participation. Either way, simply supporting the high-density infill is directly at odds with both the democratic process and the encouragement that planners once showed to Green Hills residents. Rau effectively calls for further empowerment of the Courthouse crowd and less participation by the common rabble in the process.

Rau reserves his praise for CMs who work with developers on infill, but who don't necessarily communicate their intentions to neighborhood leaders:
District 17 Councilwoman Sandra Moore is expertly navigating a complicated development proposal for the neighborhood. The proposal would bring 14,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space to what is currently a strictly residential street. It’s essentially 12South bleeding into 10th Avenue.

The proposal would use existing infrastructure and it would do so by fitting into the character of the neighborhood. Still, neighbors are split on the project.
Contrast that to the less than laudatory assessment of CM Moore of one long-time Waverly Place resident to the Nashville neighborhoods e-list. How does increased automobile traffic that won't fit into a designated parking lot and thus will spill over on to almost exclusively residential streets fit the character of Waverly Place? We don't know because Rau doesn't tell us.

Are we to conclude that CMs are doing the right thing only when they communicate with developers regardless of the lack of consensus in the neighborhood? If not, then what exactly does Rau mean in encouraging CMs to work with developers on infill? And does he mean any infill the developers and planners approve with or without regard to the neighborhood plan?

As I said, my neighborhood is increasingly an infill neighborhood, but having lived through part of the development process I can tell you that there is nothing inherently good about infill, and the quality of infill must not be left up to developers or reporters alone. We've seen some infill that is bad and some that does not promote the highest quality of life in a diverse community. The best infill we have has been that which incorporates community feedback. The best reporting I've seen considers community perspective. Nate Rau's "neighborhoods" analysis fails on both counts.

With Stimulus Going to States, Cities Often Operate without a Safety Net

One DMI blogger underscores the hit cities take when stimulus dollars trickle down from the federal government through state governments:
While the stimulus package directed about $140 billion to state governments, the recovery act sent very little money directly to cities: much city aid was funneled through state governments. Providing money directly to cities in a subsequent stimulus package would not only mitigate procyclical state fiscal policies, but would generate longer-term dividends for federalism.

Targeting aid directly at cities would free up state money to balance budgets in the exact same way that aid to states would prevent cuts in state funds for city schools and other urban programs. The countercyclical effect is the same: federal funds prevent service cuts at a time when they are most needed. In fact, the effect is even enhanced if state governments - which ... are disproportionately influenced by rural areas - enact more severe cuts for more populated urban areas than for suburban and rural ones ....

Directing stimulus funds to cities would make mayors and city governments less captive to their state governments, which currently hold cities' budgeting - and thus policymaking - processes hostage. One of the worst examples of this came when Mayor Bloomberg budgeted 14,000 teacher layoffs in case significant state education funding was withheld.

Another DMI blogger explains how the trickle plays out in west coast cities:
Unfortunately, the sacrifices that statehouses are asking city and county governments to make will only prolong the country's economic slump and hinder long-term growth. California is planning on keeping $900 million in gas tax revenue from cities and counties, keeping construction crews out of work and prolonging critical repair work that will lead to deteriorating transportation infrastructure. The state is also looking to keep $1.3 in property taxes that was set to go towards local redevelopment agencies. While most private construction has hit a standstill, these public-private partnerships are still supporting construction projects. In Los Angeles, this would mean putting 2,300 construction jobs at risk.

North Carolina City Strives for Balanced Rather than Reckless Infill

Fayetteville is attempting to solve developer abuses in urban infill with the wise approach of including neighborhood feedback in its Unified Development Ordinance.
Infill - normally a byword for reducing urban sprawl and breathing new life into aging pockets of town - became a bane to homeowners in some established neighborhoods about four years ago.

That's when developers began resubdividing lots that already had homes on them to make room for town houses, condominiums or palatial brick homes.

Rising land values and demand for good neighborhoods and schools spurred the trend. It also alarmed homeowners, who suddenly found their streets being reshaped without any public input.

In 2006, the City Council adopted an infill ordinance meant to address some of those concerns. It adds city oversight and gives neighbors more input before a lot is redeveloped in a residential area.

With infill cases, a lot can't be subdivided without approval from either the Fayetteville Planning Commission or the City Council.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

And Tennessee State University Would Pass Higher Insurance Costs on to Tennessee Taxpayers

Betsy Phillips pulls out the Army Corp of Engineer maps that I first referred you to in March to point out the opportunity TSU provides May Town Center developers to unload some floodplain land they never would have built on anyway:
Who wants to buy flood insurance if they don't have to?

Of course, if TSU is going to build there, they'll need flood insurance.

It doesn't matter how many community leaders and ministers they trot out to say how great it is, the truth of the matter is that this isn't just a gift from the generosity of the Mays' hearts. This is a gift that solves a lot of problems for the May Town Center folks, gives them enthusiastic advocates in North Nashville, and hands off some big headaches to TSU to deal with.
Not just headaches to TSU, but to Tennessee taxpayers who will have to bankroll flood insurance perpetually inflated by the risk of catastrophic failure of the Wolf Creek Dam upstream from Nashville. Engineers are now in a second phase of repairs to sections of the Kentucky dam that failed to respond to attempts at a first fix in 2007 when failure was imminent.

So, while Nashvillians wait and hope to see the latest round of dam repairs work, higher-risk flood insurance is sure to be an expense line in Tennessee's future if TSU builds agricultural research centers on Bells Bend floodplain. As Betsy points out, May Town won't be saddled with those expenses, and the presence of university institutions will increase its property values. Advocates of the May Town Center, especially those in the TSU administration, should be transparent about the substantial cost of insuring the proposed resource.

Tennessean Reporter Points Out that Tony Giarrantana Has No Clothes on May Town Survey

Kudos to journalist Michael Cass for calling Tony G. to some accountability on his fast and loose spin of how Nashvillians view May Town Center:
In his latest bid to turn a loss into a win, May Town Center developer Tony Giarratana has released a poll saying “a large majority” of Nashville residents support the controversial proposal.

But that’s not really true, according to the fine print. In fact, 50 percent of the 400 surveyed voters said they support the potentially $4 billion mixed-use project itself, while 40 percent said they’re opposed and 10 percent are unsure.

Rather than highlight that inconvenient fact in his news release, Giarratana tries to make his case by pointing to other findings from the poll by Larry Powell, a professor of communication studies at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Powell found, for example, that “voters want elected and appointed officials to focus on economic development and job creation (61%) and not on preserving open land (24%).”
We also need to listen very carefully to how Metro Planning and the Planning Commission might use Tony G's spin on popularity after the commissioners admonished the public that planning decisions should be based more on reason than on popular opinion.

Council Member Communication FAIL

According to the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list, CM Sandra Moore failed to communicate her sponsorship of rezoning for a commercial enterprise in residential Waverly Place (12South area) before she failed to communicate her intention to defer the rezoning bill last night:
At the Council meeting on Tue. July 22, Council Lady Moore moved indefinite deferral of the SP-zoning bill that would permit building a 13,000 sq. ft. 2-story commercial building on 10th Ave. South in the all-residential, historic Waverly Place neighborhood. She said the deferral was at the request of the developers. Previously, at the Council's public hearing on the issue on July 7th, opponents were surprised when Ms Moore, who had been uncommitted up to that time, supported the development that is in her home neighborhod. At that hearing, proponents and opponents were both numerous but evenly matched. One of the proponents said the split between the proponents, mostly new to the neighborhood, and the opponents, mostly long-time residents, was a tragedy. Then on Mon. July 20, the Council's Planning & Zoning Committee had approved of Ms Moore's plan to defer. The some dozen Waverly Place neighbors who attended the Council meeting in opposition to the development - they called it "creeping commercialism" into the residential zone - did not learn of the imminent deferral until they arrived at the Courthouse and were told by other Council members before the meeting.

Journalist Admits that In a "Perfect World" Journalists Would Investigate High Crimes

Political news directors suddenly become hardened realists when faced with the prospect that criminal investigations may also divulge that the news media was asleep at the wheel when they themselves should have been investigating:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - A Perfect World
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Southern Utah Planners Also Attempt to Foist New Urbanist Town Center across Open Spaces

Nashville is not the only place where planners are raising the hackles of the populace by trying to force mixed-use developments across undeveloped back country. Out west in Utah, they're working on a high density "town center" concept called "Vision Dixie," which has proved to be unpopular:
some residents are concerned about the effect such large-scale development could have on the local quality of life. A larger population could equate to more traffic, more pollution and more demand for public services and puts more strain local resources, especially water - a touchy subject given the debate surrounding the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.

"You still come down to the basic question of what do you want Washington County to look like in 20 or 30 years," said Paul Van Dam, executive director of Citizens for Dixie's Future, a local advocacy group for conservation and controlled growth.

Van Dam said he would be glad to see if the South Block developments meet Vision Dixie principles, but said he was uncomfortable with the general idea of building up the outskirts of urban areas. The South Block would be situated several miles southeast of the city center, an idea clearly unpopular among the public during the creation of Vision Dixie, he said.

"Any time you plop something down, basically in the middle of nowhere, you have urban sprawl," Van Dam said. "It doesn't really matter how nice the community is."
Are Nashville planners merely chasing national trends to pave over greenfields rather trying something authentically new and sustainable in Bells Bend with the May Town proposal?

Potential for Greenfield Loss to Sprawl Downunder, Too

Australians are struggling over greenfield developments in Canberra, too, with many of the same infrastructure and environmental issues that Nashville faces in the prospect of losing Bells Bend to developers:
However, the burgeoning urban sprawl in Canberra is becoming a significant financial burden the whole community, Flannery said.

“Establishing infrastructure for services in new suburbs is an enormous cost, subsidised by the tax payer,” Flannery said.

This includes the cost of water, gas, and electricity reticulation, stormwater and sewer services, communications networks and the expense of extending the already struggling bus network to the ever-extending outer edge of the city.

“There is also an equity issue here,” Flannery said. The greatest number of affordable housing options in ACT is on the outskirts of the city. This means that less wealthy people often end up paying the most towards extra infrastructure provision.

“Disadvantaged and less financially well-off members of our community are also directly subsidising the hidden infrastructure costs of suburban fringe development … and, over time, they then have to pay the additional cost of living in an outer area of the city,” Flannery said.

BREAKING: Planning Moves Thursday's LED Workshop to August 13

From LED Task Force member Burkley Allen at the Nashville Neighborhoods e-list:
I just got word that the Planning Commission has moved the special
workshop about the LED sign bill to August 13 before their regularly
scheduled meeting.

I'm not sure why, but I'll keep you posted on further developments.
Did Commissioners feel that having to do this alongside Bells Bend and the West Nashville Community Plan would make them too tired?

After Years of Beaucoup Metro Promises, Morgan Park Still Sits Playground-less in a Neighborhood Full of Kids

The past 3 years are littered with a string of broken Metro government promises on upgrades to Morgan Park, particularly with respect to the installation of a new playground for the neighborhood children. I find it particularly vexing to watch upgrades go up in parks at other ends of the compass in Nashville and wonder whether the delays have simply to do with a lack of will to provide for kids in the North End.

Here is the frustrating timeline for Morgan Park playground promises:
  • August 2006 -- Metro Parks says that a new playground has been designed
  • December 2006 -- Metro Parks says that new playground will be finished by mid-summer 2007
  • July 2007 -- Mid-summer passes without construction of new playground
  • June 2008 -- Mayor Karl Dean announces double-digit budget cuts to Metro Parks
  • November 2008 -- Mayor Dean calls CM Erica Gilmore to tell her that Morgan Park will have a playground "this year."
  • December 2008 -- Re: "this year," the calendar year passes without playground construction starting (in June 2009, Metro's 08-09 budget year will pass without construction starting)
  • April 2009 -- Parks Director Roy Wilson pledges that playground construction will begin in 10 weeks
  • July 2009 -- 10 weeks pass, and as you can see from the photo I've taken above of the playground area today, no construction has started.
Please write CM Erica Gilmore ( and please contact the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods and find out what they've done with the new playground that Morgan Park was promised for so long.

Deep Thought

Given how May Town developers keep cutting the size and density of their project in the face of wilting opposition, if supporters of Bells Bend preservation keep the heat on the proposal may eventually shrink to the existing rural scale.

But What Are the Conditions?

Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr picks up Metro Planning's meme that the May Town developers' request to the Planning Commission to reconsider a do-over has merits that can be assumed without being publicly articulated:
it is legal to ask, and it is legal to grant a rehearing under certain conditions.
She moves on without saying anything else about "conditions." This time the media is colluding in the question-begging, even though Ms. Kerr spends the rest of her column trying to convince us of how hard Tony Giarratana is going to have it on Thursday. As if it weren't already a wonder that the May Town Center zombie has made it this far with assists from Planning and Metro Council in the face of much public rancor and so little promise. While my heart bleeds for this against-all-odds image of poor Tony G., the character test here is put to the Planning procedures which have allowed consideration of a do-over without stipulating the merits of so allowing.

If this zombie can be permitted to keep coming back, then anything can happen Thursday, and Gail Kerr's column could result in a false sense of security and pacification of the opposition, which seeks to preserve rather than pave Bells Bend.

Monday, July 20, 2009

How to Prompt Planning Commissioners to Ask the Right Kinds of Questions

Besides the important proceedings on Bells Bend and on the West Nashville community plan Thursday, the Metro Planning Commission is also going to be busy in a workshop to learn more on the impact of commercial-weight light-emitting diode signs in residential neighborhoods.

In anticipation of that event, LED Task Force member and neighborhood leader Burkley Allen provides a primer for concerned neighborhood leaders to contact and encourage commissioners to ask the important questions during that session:

After much discussion and a great showing from opponents of the ordinance, Charlie Tygard's LED bill was deferred at the 6/11/09 planning commission meeting and the council public hear was deferred until November. Because of the strong opposition and all the valid points raised at the planning commission hearing, the commission is holding a workshop this Thursday to get further information on the issue. Planning staff will be presenting at the workshop.

I think our input to the planning commission is still important at this point. Please write the planning commissioners and ask that they ask for specific information about the important issues. I would pick your favorites from the list below and expand:

· We need to be sure that they ask a lot of questions about our peer cities and what they allow. It is worth pointing out that we continually look at Williamson County as our most vigorous business competition and their sign restrictions are very stringent. Even the Green Hills UDO does not allow signs with “any apparent visible movement.”

· The second issue to stress is the difficulty of enforcement. The more confusing this law is, the harder it will be for codes to identify what is allowed where. 9 months after the task force was formed, and i gave codes a list of non-complying signs, I can still see many out of compliance on West End in plain sight.

· Energy conservation has been listed as an advantage of LED signs. Bulb for bulb, LED’s use less energy, but a sign has hundreds of LED bulbs. From what I’ve found so far on vendors’s websites the wattage of a typical LED sign is as much as or greater than that of a spot light for an externally lit sign. Does it really save energy over an existing sign illuminated by a 150 watt spotlight when an LED sign has to be illuminated during daylight hours as well as after dark?

· The planning staff report states that the proposed ordinance attempts to balance the “need” for these signs against neighbors’ concerns. Has this “need” been verified or documented? Technology now makes it possible for most churches and community centers to give detailed information about all their programs on their websites and through listservs.

· Safety is still an issue. The Federal Highway Administration is conducting an independent study to determine whether LED signs present a traffic hazard. There are a number of studies with conflicting conclusions.

· The issue of community character came up in the planning commission public hearing. The aethestics of LED signs seem to be universally regarded as out of place in neighborhoods.

· The ordinance as written does not deal with the possibility of using SP (Specific Plan) zoning to completely disregard all the regulations and make up a complete new set of rules for LED signs.

· The ordinance as written has most of its requirements under the Special Exception portion of the zoning codes 17.16.230 and very little information in the Sign Regulations, Chapter 17.32. From a planning perspective, this seems like a very convoluted way to spell out what is allowed for signs.

· One of the planning commissioners implied that this ordinance applies a consistent rule for LED signs over the whole county. On the contrary, it creates arbitrary setbacks and previous sign requirements that make two identical businesses or community services subject to different restrictions. The current code is much more clear and enforceable.

· We need to consider is whether to take a stand on expansion into limited commercial, mixed use, and office zoning districts. We have focused pretty intently on residential and agricultural, which is 80% of the county by land mass. Any thoughts on the other areas where LED signs are currently prohibited?

· Finally does this ordinance really address the issue that got this process started? A church in a residentially zoned district that no longer had any houses in sight wanted an LED sign and asked the BZA to grant it a hardship.

The official planning commission vote on this is currently scheduled to take place August 13. The council hearing is now schedule for November. It is very likely much will change between now and then.

There are three possible amendments already mentioned:

1. Measure the 250 foot setback from the boundary of residential property rather than an existing residential structure.

2. Allow LED signs in CL districts by right so that none of the restrictions except staying static apply.

3. The Board of Zoning Appeals would be prohibited from allowing LED signs in single family residential zoning districts.

Proposed amendments 1 and 3 seem to be attempts to take some of our concerns into account, but I believe that they still leave the issue of enforcement unanswered. Proposed amendment number 2 opens up Commercial Limited areas to the less restricted LED options. This includes places like Hillsboro Hardware and Bongo Java.

Our input can shape where this goes. Thanks for your help.

Burkley Allen

Hillsboro West End Neighborhood representative to Sign Ordinance Task Force

Owner of SoBro's Sole Mio to Donate Dinner Sales to East Germantown's Nashville Jazz Workshop

This one's for all of you Sole Mio fans and jazz aficionados from the Nashville Jazz Workshop's newsletter:
[Sole Mio] owner Debra Agnoletti is also an NJW vocal student and supporter, and is creating a special night for NJW at the restaurant. The evening of Tuesday, August 25, 50% of all dinner sales will be donated to NJW! This is a fantastic opportunity to feast on great fare and help support the Workshop at the same time. Be sure to tell all your friends about this. You'll want to make reservations in advance for this event, which you can do by calling 256-4013. We'll see you there!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Well-Financed Tennessee Dem Blocks Health Care Reform

I received this from Jeff Parcher at the Center for Community Change:

Bart Gordon is blocking health reform right now in the Energy and Commerce Committee (see this story:

He’s taken a lot of money from the special interests (see below) and we really need to hound him into supporting people and not lobbies! Let’s get people to call his office: (202) 225-4231. Tell him to stop blocking real health care reform!

Representative Gordon and the 6th District Stream

Rep. Gordons Career Fundraising

1989 - 2010 Total Receipts:


1989 - 2010 Total Spent:



Individual Contributions




PAC Contributions




Candidate self-financing








Top Donors



Health Professionals


Industrial Unions


Public Sector Unions


Commercial Banks


Lawyers/Law Firms




Telephone Utilities


Hospitals/Nursing Homes


Transportation Unions


Building Trade Unions




Real Estate


Electric Utilities


Securities & Investment




Air Transport


Pharmaceuticals/Health Products




Is Gordon Voting for Tennessee or His Out-of-State Donors?

Top Contributors to Campaign Committee and Leadership PAC

Rank ↓

Contributor ↓

Total ↓

Indivs ↓

PACs ↓


Blue Dog PAC





FedEx Corp





Raytheon Co





Operating Engineers Union





Wal-Mart Stores




How much has Gordon received from the Health Care Industry? $951,000 from PACS and $195, 979--thats OVER $1 Million

Gordons Big Campaign Donors Include:

· The American Medical Association

o Who came out about the house health care bill this week

· National Health Care Corp

o Which he incidentally sponsored a bill about this session

· Altria Group

o Formerly Phillip Morris