Monday, January 07, 2013

When did you find out about tonight's conservation overlay meeting in Salemtown? Me? 48 hours ago.

In just a few hours Metro Council member Erica Gilmore and a couple of representatives from the Metro Historical Commission will be meeting with some residents from Salemtown to discuss the important question of a conservation overlay for the neighborhood. Why am I just now blogging this meeting? Why won't I be going? Because I just found out about it the day before yesterday when someone tossed an announcement flyer on our porch.

Note to event organizers: expecting stakeholders to show up to an important meeting with 2-day-lead notice is impractical (unless organizers actually do not want certain stakeholders to show up; in that case, poor communication would be self-serving).

There is background to tonight's meeting. Last April the Salemtown neighborhood association's president Molly McCluer and SNNA's executive committee generated a slanted survey straining the limits of objectivity. Tonight's meeting, billed as "hosted by" CM Gilmore, is based on the results of that survey, so I felt it necessary to send an email this morning to CM Gilmore to wit:

Someone tossed a flyer on our porch on Saturday, January 5 with the announcement of a community meeting tonight regarding a conservation overlay proposal for Salemtown. I will not be able to attend because the news was communicated late to me. The manner in which the news was communicated to me is also troubling, given that the flyer could have easily blown off our porch altogether.

At this point I oppose a conservation overlay for Salemtown, because of the way the April 2012 survey on this question was conducted by former SNNA president Molly McCluer and the association's 2012 executive board. In my opinion, an honest survey on the overlay should have asked stakeholders straightforwardly whether they supported or opposed the question on its merits. Instead, the conservation overlay question was "double-loaded" in the survey with a separate proposal for mixed-use zoning along with insinuations of getting a coffee house or a nail salon as a result. Hence, this survey seemed to me to be a push poll that linked attractive small businesses and mixed-use with conservation overlay, even though there is no necessary link between boutiques, coffee houses and mixed-use; and, to suggest such a link between specific businesses and a conservation overlay, is even more farfetched. In sum I believe that the survey could have created false impressions about the overlay and improperly influenced the votes of some in Salemtown.

I also believe that the survey reduced conservation overlay to a trojan horse in order to allow what had been a push by last year's SNNA executive board to seek preemptive mixed-use rezoning for large sections of Salemtown absent any specific mixed-use requests by developers (alleviating prospective developers of the obligation of public hearings for each mixed-use plan they have). If the conservation overlay proposal that you intend to discuss tonight is the result of the flawed survey, I continue to have concerns that cause me to speak against the proposal. A conservation overlay should not serve as a tool for implementing preemptive mixed use to sections of Salemtown.

I am not opposed to mixed use in general. I have supported a number of mixed-use proposals. Hopefully, you will remember at the most recent community meeting at Morgan Park, I expressed to you personally strong support for the rezoning of the Werthan Packing property to allow residential and commercial. I am also not opposed to conservation overlay proposals in general. Indeed, we have explored this possibility several times since we moved to Salemtown in 2004 and we have discussed it with neighbors since we helped found SNNA in 2005.

I wish I could tell you that I support this overlay proposal, but I am troubled by how the survey on which it was founded was conducted, and at this point I am inclined to oppose it and I reserve the right to speak against it publicly if necessary. The fact that information about tonight's meeting was so irresponsibly and carelessly communicated to me--a Salemtown resident with honest reservations about it--is consistent with the slapdash and biased April 2012 survey. I was on the 2012 SNNA executive committee for a short time last year before the survey was generated, and I was struck by how my questions seemed unwelcome even then.

One curious addendum to this event: association minutes of the October 2012 business meeting report that one of the historical commission leaders who will be at tonight's meeting "took a bus tour with developers around the neighborhood to discuss criteria". I guess common residents were not invited. But that seemed to be standard operation for last year's association leadership: preferential treatment for and exclusive meetings with developers and realtors; a survey for the rest of us.

If my council member follows up, I'll update.

UPDATE: Here is response I got from my CM


As always, thanks for your email. I missed you at the meeting. The concerns that you expressed have been expressed by another neighbor or two so the point is well taken of not wanting to ruch any type of legislation. However, I did want to make you aware that Robin Zeigler at the Historic Commission is more than happy to discuss any questions or concerns that you may have as it relates to the Conservation overlay.

And I as always you can count on me to listen to what your concerns are. At this point, the bill has been filed, but it will probably not come up for first reading at the late February early March so there is plenty time to continue to discuss the concerns you have about the overlay.

Kind regards,

Erica Gilmore
Council Lady District 19
1022 10th Avenue N
Nashville, TN 37208

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