Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Update on Salemtown SP proposal

CM Erica Gilmore sponsored a second community meeting last week to get feedback from Salemtown residents and property owners on developer Mike Kenner's request to rezone several parcels on the northwest side of the neighborhood to a "specific plan" from "R6". If approved, the specific plan would allow him to build 24 detached cottages instead of 20 units, most of which would be attached duplexes.

The particular focus of the second meeting was Kenner's proposal to build a soundproofing wall along the section of I-65 ramp against which the properties abut. Kenner told the group that at this point the 6 ft wall could be made of either rusticated block or brick veneer, depending on what the group decided. He also showed the large metal letters that he would use to spell out "Salemtown" and discussed plans to acquire a small amount of TDOT land to allow the wall to curve with the contour of the freeway. He also announced plans to require the "Salemtown Cottages" homeowners association to take responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the wall and the landscaping around it.

There continued to be vigorous discussion of the plan, including opposition expressed from 2 or 3 long-time residents who do not like the density or Kenner's plan to market the development to younger "Millennials". At points the meeting teetered toward a gripe spiral of diversion and sidetracked issues that had nothing to do with the details of the proposal. Pastors from Salemtown's AME and Missionary Baptist congregations assisted the development team and CM Gilmore with keeping the meeting on track and keeping the proposal in perspective.

Once again, Salemtown Neighbors members were noticeably absent from the meeting. I counted 3, maybe 4, of us in attendance (among about 18-20 in the audience), which was still higher than the number of members attending CM Gilmore's first SP meeting 2 weeks ago. Do SNNA members only attend developers' meetings that are announced on Nextdoor? Isn't this a slight of CM Gilmore to attend a meeting that she did not call and then fail to attend two meetings that she did call? Do they understand that Kenner's proposal is facing some opposition from long-time neighbors who do not seem to share their vision? Do they know how the proposal has changed since their first Nextdoor meet-up? How does SNNA challenge the perception that the association favors white gentrifiers when its members stay away from predominately African American community meetings?

There seemed to be a consensus that brick veneer was not a practical idea for the wall. There also seemed to be agreement that Kenner should include affordable housing in his proposal. The developer agreed to explore the possibility of affordable housing at Salemtown cottages. For her part, CM Gilmore commented that the SP seemed a possibility if it included accommodations of a wall--which she pointed out that many residents had asked for for years--and a unit of affordable housing. Folks attending the meeting seemed to accept that without debate.

I told Mike Kenner that the most attractive part of the development to me was that it would be detached because the last thing we needed was to become a neighborhood of duplexes. But I also told him that I believed that the community was being entirely fair in asking for a wall and for a provision for affordability in the SP to at least strive for diversity. If the developer makes the reasonable changes that the community is asking for, then I can see myself supporting the SP.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Double-edged infill

Salemtown came up in a discussion last week in the Nashville Ledger:
The “double-edged sword of infill,’’ as Lynn Taylor of Taylor Made Plans explains, is that new construction can fit in with the neighborhood and give it new life and diversity of price point, or it can spoil the neighborhood’s character and drive out anyone who can’t afford $300,000-plus for a place to live.

As infill houses have popped up all over Davidson County – East Nashville, Green Hills, The Nations, Salemtown, Germantown, 12South, Belmont, Vanderbilt, Brookside, Crieve Hall and Hillsboro Village – the debate moves along from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Germantown's Cohousing sign is up

At the corner of 5th and Taylor:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Photos from Country Music Marathon 2013: leading marathoners (with apologies to half-marathoners)

The weather during today's 2013 edition of the Country Music Marathon was simply atrocious for an avid picture snapper like me. I usually am all over the North End on race day taking hundreds of photos of marathoners, half-marathoners, volunteers, and spectators. With chilly winds and sideways rain threatening to take down my camera, I only stayed out to catch the leaders pass in and out of Salemtown. Besides, my nine-year-old umbrella-bearer was hungry and wanted to go grab breakfast. So, apologies this year as I am unable to offer the plethora of photos I annually do for this event. Below are the best ones of the smaller number I took today.

Country Music Marathon 2013 photos: winners were also leading through Salemtown

The Country Music Marathon website has declared the winners of this year's 26+ mi race: for the men, Scott Wietecha; for the women, Jill Horst. I went out this morning as I have for several years to get photos of the leaders passing by Salemtown to MetroCenter and then out to Bicentennial Mall State Park.

Both Wietecha and Horst were leading their groups when I took these photos.

Wietecha leading past 15 mi marker

Horst leading past 12 mi marker

Friday, April 26, 2013

Teach for America or perhaps "Temps for Nashville on Poverty Safari"

In the middle of a Twitter bull session a couple of weeks ago on charter schools Shani Dowell, Director of the Nashville branch of Teach for America, chimed in to challenge the perception that charters are free to expel underperformers and cream overachievers. She made the claim that "the data" prove those perceptions "false" (by the way, data usually does not prove, but indicates; that is a discussion for another time):

Since she included me in her point about "the data", I asked Ms. Dowell for links to "the data" to which she was referring. I assume that "SCA" refers to Smithson-Craighead Middle School (a charter) and not St. Cecilia Academy (a private), since the discussion was about charters. Although, on second thought, "assuming makes an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'", so she could be referring to the private school. On that score, her point would be absurd to a degree that it requires no reply.

However, risking the role of the ass, I'll go ahead and assume that she was referring to Smithson-Craighead, which is now suing Metro Nashville for intending to close its campus due to its abysmal performance. Consider what the lawsuit alleges: that SCMS students will be “forced to endure an educational experience of lesser quality” without the faith-based charter school.

That charge is an implicit acknowledgement that the charter "creams" (that is, it takes the best students from public schools "of lesser quality"). One of the reasons that public schools might be "of lesser quality" is that unlike charter schools they have an obligation to educate all students, good and bad, right and wrong, passionate and indifferent. The argument is also a tacit endorsement of the idea that in being free to take students of their choosing, SCMS can also rid themselves of and ignore students of their choosing.

While I would like to see the data, I do not need the data to understand the common sense, indeed the self-evidence, of that logic.

But getting back to my point, I waited and waited for a response so that I could see "the data" for myself, but Ms. Dowell never got back to me. I gather that either there is no objective data or the data can be interpreted in ways that do not prove my perceptions false. I've searched for the data online myself and not been able to find anything regarding Smithson-Craighead.

So, maybe Ms. Dowell is too busy to get back with me on "the data". She has got a local TFA branch to run. That TFA branch is currently absorbed in a "One Day Warrior" fundraising campaign to get a $10,000 grant from the national office, which the local branch claims is "the equivalent of bringing two new TFA teachers to Nashville".

Are they hoping to score the dough as they claim so that "all children in Nashville will have access to an excellent education"? Or are they doing so to indulge two privileged, but unseasoned leaders in what one observer calls "a poverty safari"?

The purpose of TFA is not to necessarily improve the lives of the kids their teachers teach; rather, it is to give bright, young leaders direct experience of the problem. The TFA recruits get to see right in front of them with a human face where we are failing our poor kids. And since these recruits are bright, young leaders, when they go on to do bright, young leader things, they will have this in their mind and fight for change. So on this view, TFA has a long-game strategy that will materialize down the line when these TFA teachers — most of whom quit of course — get into positions of political (or other sorts of) power and have the ability to make things better.

On its face, this strategy is wildly offensive. Basically it says that we are sending TFA recruits on 2-year poverty safaris. The point is not to accomplish anything while on the safari: it is just to watch and observe. See what it is like and become acquainted and maybe emotionally attached to the issue in some way so that later down the line you can do something more meaningful about it.

In addition to being fairly cringe-inducing, the theory is off-the-wall ridiculous. The basic problem is that even if these folks find themselves empowered to remake education, two years of failing in a classroom will give them no earthly idea as to what the problem is. These are not social science researchers and collecting impressionistic experiences during a couple of years of teaching some poors is not a good method for figuring out the drivers of a big, widespread problem like this. What’s more, since they are primarily just in the classroom, their “solutions” will almost certainly focus on schools. This would be fine if there was some consensus that this was the best place to focus, but the big counter-theory is that this is a totally misguided focus from the beginning. The poverty safari method for analyzing and coming to understand the contours of this problem is a total joke.

Another observer, a university professor who used to support TFA recruitment of his students but now no longer even allows them in his class, resents the unequal allotment of benefits that accrues during safari:

TFA alumni have used this access to move rapidly into positions as heads of local school systems, executives in charter school companies, and educational analysts in management consulting firms. The organization’s facile circumvention of the grinding, difficult, but profoundly empowering work of teaching and administering schools has created the illusion that there are quick fixes, not only for failing schools but for deeply entrenched patterns of poverty and inequality....

Not only has there been little progress in the last 15 years in narrowing the test score gap by race and class, but income inequality has become greater than at any other time in modern American history. TFA’s main accomplishment has been to marginally increase the number of talented people entering the teaching profession, but only a small fraction of those remain in the schools where they were originally sent.

But the most objectionable aspect of Teach For America — other than its contempt for lifetime educators — is its willingness to create another pathway to wealth and power for those already privileged in the rapidly expanding educational-industrial complex, which already offers numerous careers for the ambitious and well-connected.

From that point of view, I do not feel so interruptive asking Ms. Dowell to back up her argument with the actual data that I can see. What good will the TFA's "quick-fix" fundraisers do for Nashville kids anyway? I've read a TFA alum who argues that it is time for TFA to fold because the money he got did not make him a better teacher. I've listened to a TFA alum who insists that TFA training is like a glorified pep rally more than it is a realistic prep session for teaching troubled populations of impoverished children. And then there is this observation about what TFA actually does, as prompted by complaints from a TFA alum who never got paid for her summer work:

The simple truth is this: Teach for America does not employ a single teacher straight out of college. Zero. Zip. Teach for America does not employ teachers nor does it pay teachers. Teach for America is a recruiting firm. The organization provides minimally trained temps to work in place of professionals, while falsely promoting itself as a top employer of college grads/teachers.

It does seem that Teach for America is coloring reality by promoting itself as an employer instead of a recruiting firm. It is misleading, to say the least. Some might even say it’s dishonest. Certainly it is confusing to recruits who think they are employed by TFA and expect a paycheck.

And there are those not-so-insignificant reports from elsewhere that TFA branches are soliciting philanthropy and charging public coffers to add to their stockpile of wealth whether they actually help the kids or not.

.... and beyond!

If all TFA donors knew that the money raised is going more to help privileged young adults--on career tracks to politics and other professions--instead of serving underprivileged students through the long arc of their schooling, then could TFA raise the money to bring the former to Nashville? I admit, that is a more significant question than the one currently preying on my mind. My more selfish cogitation is: if TFA Nashville is a temp agency designed like elsewhere to extract veteran teacher salaries from the equation rather than grinding out excellent educators, and Ms. Dowell has the spare time to counter me on the issue of charter schools, then maybe she has a skosh of latitude to share data links that render my view of charter schools indeed as "false" as she claims. I promise not to divert her from the safari too long.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

4 community meetings attended in 10 days

We are an involved, busy family, so setting my sites on 4 community meetings involving my neighborhood over the past 10 days has not been easy. But I felt that each one was important, so I am glad I sacrificed time and other tasks to make them. Last week I attended the North Nashville Political Forum, CM Erica Gilmore's Salemtown overlay meeting, and the meeting between developers of The Flats at Werthan Mills and neighbors effected by their construction. Last night I attended CM Gilmore's community meeting on the proposed SP rezoning for Salemtown Cottages.

There is not much more I can add to my view of the Salemtown overlay meeting beyond this. I will say that the meeting was well-attended by dozens of people and CM Gilmore seems to have come into her own as a public speaker to a general audience. What follows are summaries of the rest:

  • The NNPF had an impressive turn-out, but it should have with 9 neighborhood groups represented and a panel full of council members to engage. My main problem with the forum was the paradox of a lack of engagement. Questions to CMs were formulated ahead of time and many of them were lobs that the panelists could easily drive out of the park. Despite the set-up as a town-hall meeting, the audience was not allowed to ask questions off-script or engage in follow-up. CM Gilmore announced that she plans to meet with Mayor Karl Dean about the bus rapid transit concept and ask him to include a community benefit agreement that would set hiring targets for working class neighborhoods when and if the project begins. She also told the audience that the CBA would include a proposal for $30 million in streetscape improvements. CM Frank Harrison and CM at-Large Jerry Maynard trotted out some tired, raggedy cheers for the new convention center; Harrison at least acknowledged that there were critical community questions about benefits for North Nashville. CM Maynard made the curious comment that North Nashville institutions like Fisk and Meharry do not have glass ceilings with respect to women and people of color.
  • I originally helped organize the community meeting with the developers of The Flats at Werthan Mills (the old Werthan Mills packaging plant site) after receiving short-term notice of pre-blast survey deadlines before they start blasting for sewer lines. The meeting was attended by about 7 people from the community, which I thought was good for an ad hoc meeting on short notice. The upshot of the meeting was that we finally found out the exact blasting area: at the south edge of Hume St between 6th Av N to 5th Av N, wrapping around the latter (there will also be larger area blasting at Taylor St in the future). The development team departed from their hard line on survey deadlines exhibited in previous emails. The construction project manager told the pre-blast surveyor that the blasting should be delayed until 3 neighbors who had not had surveys done yet could get theirs done. They also explained the blasting process to the group and apologized for not doing so last October. Neighbors expressed other concerns, including the extreme amount of dust blowing from the site during demolition. The development team promised to bring in water trucks to abate the dust clouds. The meeting finished with developers' promise to meet with concerned neighbors at any time in the future that there were concerns. Overall, it was a constructive meeting.
  • Last night's SP meeting with Salemtown Cottages developer Mike Kenner was also positive. It was not tidy; democratic process never is. There was quite a bit of back-and-forth and talking-over between 12-13 people in attendance. CM Gilmore announced that she has asked Mr. Kenner to consider putting up a wall along the plan's border at I-65 that would serve as a gateway, a road-noise barrier, and perhaps a mural signifying the neighborhood's history. While the group seemed split on the question of higher density (the SP lays out 24 detached residences across about 10 plots), the idea of detached dwellings was generally well-received. 2 neighbors expressed strongest opposition to higher density, wanting something along the lines of one dwelling per plot, consistent with other parts of Salemtown. The problem with that is that the plots are currently zoned R6, which allows the developer to put connected duplexes on each. He indicated he might do if the SP is not approved (18 units instead of 24, without any community feedback). Concerns were also expressed about extra vehicular traffic and parking (Mr. Kenner allots 1.5 parking spaces per residence down an alley). When I suggested that residential parking permits might have to be considered, CM Gilmore balked, saying that she believes that public street parking spaces should be open to all. The exterior of the homes would be clad with cement fiber board and they would include aluminum roof accents. No one commented on preferences for or against style or layout of the homes, even though that feedback is also welcome in the SP process. The group scheduled another community meeting for next Thursday, April 25 at 6:00p at Morgan Park to discuss wall options as well as density issues again. I was surprised by how many people from the neighborhood association did not show up for this meeting. Their absence reinforced to me the disconnect between those who subscribe to Nextdoor and the rest of us in Salemtown who do not. Some of those absent may consider attending next week. The plan did not sail easily through the debate last night, and I suspect that SNNA members might be surprised at the criticism there is in the community even with detached cottages.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Moral hazard in Metro's purchasing past

One definition of "moral hazard" is taking undue risks with resources acquired when incentives exist to do so. I'm wondering whether the Mayor's Office, the police department, and Metro Council (34 members) realized that definition in 2009 when purchasing the old Frensley car dealership in order to flip it into the West MNPD Precinct.

Neighborhood leaders were skeptical and challenged Karl Dean's budget man Rich Riebeling and former police chief Ronal Serpas. They wondered if the cost was fair market. They wondered about the site's flood-proneness. They wondered about the political patronage behind the deal.

CM Buddy Baker, a buddy of Bob Frensley, spearheaded the effort even though the car dealership was not in his district. An ethics complaint was filed against Mr. Baker for allegedly concealing the information that the former police commander of the West Precinct was a trustee for Bob Frensley. Mr. Riebeling pushed the deal through without a detailed site plan, and he was surly and arrogant toward concerned neighborhoods, acting like he was going to put down $4+ million on a cheaper property simply because he could with or without public support.

The incentives for moral hazard were there.

Then came the Great Flood of 2010 that proved community leaders were exactly right to be skeptical of the risk Metro Nashville was willing to take for the West Precinct plan. So then, extra money was needed for flood mitigation of a HQ on a flood plain at a time when Metro was tearing down buildings on other flood plain. But Metro could not or would not spare enough money to provide a large enough community meeting space to allow public meetings for many to attend.

The flood was revealing of the undue risks Riebeling et al. were willing to take with public funds to ignore planning and to patronize the circle of good old boys built up around Bob Frensley through the years. Yet, it was also incentive to continue to take risks to mitigate the costs of keeping MNPD on Charlotte Ave flood plain and stay callous toward the community.

Jump forward to 2013, property reappraisal time.

If you are a property owner, you have likely received your tax appraisal from Metro in the past week. Mike Peden looked at a tax appraisal for a property near to the West Precinct and emailed me this morning:

The tax appraisal for the property next door to the West Precinct on Charlotte went down from $3,816,900 to $3,452,100. (5330 Charlotte Ave)

That seems strange since the tax appraisal on the land metro purchased was $2.88 million and they paid $4.2 million. I thought the justification for that was that the property was under appraised.

In a separate email, Mike wrote that the appraisal of Wendell's Restaurant (5300 Charlotte)--where CM Baker like to hold court occasionally--dropped 6% ($437,200 to $411,900).

Smells to me like moral hazard drove the Frensley dealership deal.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Salemtown community meeting details that the Nashville Post got wrong

CM Erica Gilmore mailed the following to Salemtown homes last week:

The real estate journo at the Nashville Post erroneously reported that this meeting occurred last week, and as of now they still have not corrected. Maybe they have no clue on what is going on.

I spoke with the developer, Mike Kenner, after last week's overlay community meeting. I told him this is a concept I could support as long as he incorporated the community feedback appropriate to SP rezoning into his plans. So far he is saying good things like, for instance, sound buffers along the interstate. I'll keep you posted on how receptive he is to neighbors' opinions at tomorrow's meeting. And, of course, if he gets rezoning, there is accountability for follow-up on the plan as approved.

Convention center projections continue to sink in a bog of broken promises

The new convention center is struggling to meet the projections its marketers set in order to sell the most expensive capital project in Nashville's history to Nashvillians. Sometimes I really hate being right. Indeed, I would have relished being wrong about Music City Center. But the red flags we waved continue to flip to red spreadsheet numbers. Promises continue to be broken.

You may remember that Goldman Sachs said that if convention consulting firm HVS projections are off 25% between adoption of the proposal and 2017, then our General Fund for dedicated Metro services has to kick in $5.29 million in 2017 alone. That's less money for Nashvillians and more money for tourism industry obligations.

And don't forget that HVS already dramatically low-balled projections on the utility bills of the behemoth convention venue during its first year to the tune of $4 million. Its inaugural debt is already worse than imagined.

So, of course we find out more bad news from the very newspaper that donated money to the Mayor's marketing campaign to hawk the lumbering, ponderous beast:

According to [the HVS] study — updated in September 2010 to take into account the addition of the Omni headquarters hotel — Music City Center during the 2013-14 fiscal year would generate 49 convention and trade shows, a category distinguished by producing considerably more overnight hotel stays than consumer shows, conferences, banquets and other smaller events. Conventions and trade shows would account for 418,950 hotel room nights, the study found.

But current CVB numbers for this stretch — July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014 — are 22 conventions and trade shows that would produce 134,921 hotel room nights. Tourism and city officials point out the center’s adjoining hotel won’t open until three months into this period, and thus they discount the projections as no longer applicable.

Buoyed by the consulting firm's serial exaggerations, Karl Dean, the Conventions Mayor, and his tourism industry patrons are dragging us down the path that Goldman Sachs warned us we could go: toward funding a looming Music City Center debt at the expense of the General Fund that provides for services including our infrastructure, our schools, our police force.

I fail to enjoy saying, "I told you so", on this one.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Where I stand now on the question of the Salemtown overlay

I sent CM Erica Gilmore the following email today:
CM Gilmore:

As you know for the past year I took what was an usual step for me by opposing the proposed Salemtown overlay (I generally support overlays), and I asked for deferral of BL2013-370 in order to facilitate a more deliberate and fair process than Salemtown Neighbors Neighborhood Association had in 2012.

After listening to the open and honest discussions in the two public meetings on the overlay held in 2013 and after considering all sides of the debate, I am pleased to withdraw my opposition to the overlay. The changes made to the original bill seem to address many of the misgivings expressed in the neighborhood but ignored in SNNA's 2012 survey process. I hope you will feel encouraged to carry BL2013-370 through to third reading and council approval.

I am unpersuaded by opponents' arguments against this overlay. I am struck by the fact that they can give no specific cases where property values and market demand for homes has been damaged by any overlay, even as the supporters insist that study after study show that values and demand actually increase with overlays. Salemtown itself has benefited from being next door to Germantown, which has one of the most demanding overlays I have ever seen. In the final analysis, I am persuaded that the Salemtown overlay will enhance our quality of life while balancing the interests of all our homeowners and potential developers.

I want to extend a heartfelt thank you, CM Gilmore, for your willingness to defer this bill. Your extra community meetings made a difference for me, and any reservations I had about this bill are now gone.

Mike Byrd

CRIME ALERT: teenager shot this morning at a bus stop near North Nashville schools

Suspect Eric Goodner
Schools in North Nashville went on lock down this morning as news spread that a 17-year-old Pearl Cohn Magnet student was shot at 6:45 by another student at a bus stop a matter of blocks away from three elementary schools. From NewsChannel5:

The Juvenile Court arrest order charging criminal homicide has been issued against 17-year-old Eric L. Goodner for the shooting of Johnathan Johnson on 10th Avenue North.

Johnson left his home on 10th Avenue North to catch the bus just minutes before he was shot around 6:45 a.m. Thursday. Witnesses told police the shooter, later identified as Goodner, was sitting on steps leading to a vacant lot. When he saw Johnson, police said he walked up to him, shot him more than once, and fled the area on foot.

Police said assistance from the community aided detectives in identifying Goodner as the suspected shooter. He is last known to have lived on 26th Avenue North, and last attended Pearl-Cohn High School on February 13.

Police said he should be considered armed and dangerous. A motive for the shooting was under investigation.

Anyone seeing Goodner or knowing his whereabouts is urged to immediately contact the Emergency Communications Center at 862-8600 or Crime Stoppers at 74-CRIME.

UPDATE: Tennessean reporter Adam Tamburin (who a couple of years ago broke sensational news that a council member cussed in public) has an update that the suspect is still at large and might be receiving aid:

Police are still looking for Eric. L. Goodner, the 17-year-old suspected of shooting another teenager to death as he walked to his school bus stop.

Community members could play a vital role in capturing Goodner, according to North Precinct Commander Terrence Graves.

“This guy’s 17 years old," he said. “Someone is helping him. Someone knows where he slept last night. ... If folks know something they need to give us something"

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Nashville Post failed to verify developer's claims

Last week I referred you to an article by real estate reporter William Williams in the Nashville Post that constituted a friendly little pitch for developer Mike Kenner (MiKen Development), who is seeking Erica Gilmore's support for rezoning for "Salemtown Cottages". On Friday, I pointed out the problem of date change in the following paragraph (correction and emphasis added by me):

Kenner said the next step in the process is an April 10 [has been changed to April 17] community meeting (one has already been held) at Morgan Park Community Center. Metro Councilwoman Erica Gilmore, within whose district the proposed development would sit, is expected to attend.

As of this morning, neither Williams nor Nashville Post editors have corrected the misinformation, which may cause some to assume mistakenly that a meeting is being held tomorrow at Morgan Park.

If that were not irresponsible enough, I just found out that the "community meeting" that Mike Kenner told the Nashville Post "has already been held" was actually a gathering of 8 to 10 people in a home near the proposed rezoning parcels at Morgan Park. There was no general announcement sent out to the Salemtown community (Salemtown Neighbors neighborhood association did not even send anything out). It was announced on the private social network website, Nextdoor, to people who subscribe to Nextdoor (I do not subscribe to Nextdoor, so I did not receive an announcement).

In my opinion, someone either stretched the truth in reporting a community meeting or failed to follow up with others beyond the developer in order to verify that the meeting included the community.

CM Erica Gilmore did not attend that meeting. I requested minutes from the owner of the home where it was held Mike Kenner's Nextdoor communicator and I was told there are no minutes.

No council member. No minutes. No invitation to the entire community.

How does what looks like a small social network meet-up remotely resemble a "community meeting" for informed decision-making? How do we know this was not an attempt to get the developers' supporters organized to begin leveraging rezoning absent honest questions? And how does the Nashville Post (self-described as "Nashville's Premier Business Publication") get away with reporting a "community meeting" where one does not seem to exist? What's to stop me from questioning the legitimacy of this meeting in any future public hearing on Salemtown Cottages after the developer tries to claim to have had it?

UPDATE:  A local Realtor's blog not only transmits the Nashville Post's bogus date for the upcoming community meeting, but also posts a screaming headline and lede that make approval for Mike Kenner's rezoning request seem like a foregone conclusion; the screenshot below:

Really? Why even bother with community meetings?!

Again, I cannot emphasize enough that a proposed "specific plan" invites community feedback and influence more than any other form of rezoning. Easy approval with no changes should not be assumed a foregone conclusion. Approval in 90 days should not be a foregone conclusion, either.

CORRECTION: The Nextdoor subscriber who communicated Mike Kenner's meeting plans emailed to say that I was wrong for placing the meeting at her house above. Instead, she says it was held at Morgan Park Community Center. Consequently, I corrected above with strikethroughs.

Monday, April 08, 2013

On a possible legal challenge to the Mayor's bus rapid transit neglect of North Nashville

Apparently, I am not the only one who believes that Mayor Karl Dean's bus rapid transit proposal leaves North Nashville in the dust of Davidson County's economic disparities. North Nashville leaders more powerful than I am believe it, too; and strongly enough to consider legal action:

A lawsuit against the city could be in store if Metro officials don’t alter a proposed bus rapid transit project so that it steers toward North Nashville, according to a Nashville lawmaker.

“That’s certainly an option,” said state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, who represents a large swath of the low-income, predominantly African-American area and is part of a group of a few dozen North Nashville residents concerned about the issue. “And there has been some discussion about that.

“Historically, North Nashville has just been neglected,” she added, stressing that litigation would be a last resort and that the group hopes to work with Mayor Karl Dean to address the concerns. “It’s pretty clear that wherever BRT has gone across the nation, businesses, housing and amenities have sprung up immediately. We would like to see some of that wealth spread.”

Gilmore, who plans to reach out to Dean in hopes he will meet with the group, said any lawsuit from the group would have an “economic disparity” focus but didn’t elaborate further on a potential cause of action. She cited legal action in Los Angeles she said led to the re-routing of a BRT line to include a low-income neighborhood there.

Even the possibility of litigation underscores what was bound to be a hurdle for a proposal to place the 7.5-mile East-West Connector from 5Points in East Nashville to White Bridge Road by way of Broadway and West End Avenue.

This route cuts through affluent West End-area neighborhoods such as Richland and Whitland – which happens to include some of the project’s loudest critics – but doesn’t deviate from a straight line to include the low-income area north of Charlotte Avenue.

Three things come to the fore in this article:

  1. We should all acknowledge the lingering effects of racism and classism on the uneven economic development of west Nashville and North Nashville. Prejudice and class consciousness influence the quality of development, the extension of infrastructure and the flow of money across both ends of town even if individuals may not themselves be intentionally prejudiced against people of color or the working and lower classes. It is not unfounded or unsubstantiated to argue that economic disparities endemic to the ebb and flow of capital benefit west Nashville more than North Nashville. Neither is it untoward to argue that individuals are often prompted and limited by such a system. Karl Dean's transit policy perpetuates the racist and classist system insofar as it makes little attempt to serve the masses of Nashville's humanity in North Nashville. In my opinion, North Nashvillians have a case against this BRT plan.
  2. The Mayor never faces tough buck-stopping questions himself. He always farms out the harder, uglier stuff to underlings. Other people take the falls. Nothing ever sticks to him. Likewise, with BRT. One of his two communications shills on the Metro payroll referred the Tennessean to the Metro Transit Authority, even though Karl Dean treats BRT like a signature policy when credit is involved and when bold vision is the tagline. The Mayor, who is the Tennessean's two-time "Tennessean of the Year", should be more accountable to North Nashvillians left behind by his new transit idea. Given the way he ducks difficulties, I'm not betting he will, especially if a suit is filed.
  3. In attempting to defend MTA against charges that transit policy is biased in favor of affluent neighborhoods, the CEO unintentionally sustained the point that those neighborhoods enjoy better infrastructure due to their enjoyed wealth. David Lipscomb gets better bus stops because the university has the money to pay over and above what Metro does to provide them. (Recall that Green Hills' Julia Green Elementary got iPads for their 3rd graders after parents raised the funds and Metro matched the donations.) And which stops are likely to be better maintained? Ones that reflect the most basic investments or ones with a bankrolled quality ? Again, the point here, unfazed by MTA spin, is that wealthier west Nashville communities enjoy better infrastructure precisely because they are wealthier. Economic development continues to be uneven and prejudicial, rather than mutual and impartial.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Developer watchdog: Mike Kenner proposes SP for edge of Salemtown

Last year I described problems with perceptions of a 5th Avenue development and I suggested that we keep our eyes open in the future for any other rezoning requests by the developer, Mike Kenner. The future is now: the Nashville Post has the latest spin on properties along Rosa Parks and I-65 that Mr. Kenner wants to rezone for "cottage-style" abodes. He is seeking a "specific plan":

For Salemtown Cottages, Britnie Faith Turner serves as principal of Aerial Development, with Michael Kenner the principal of MiKen Development.

Kenner said the next step in the process is an April 10 [date changed; see below] community meeting (one has already been held) at Morgan Park Community Center. Metro Councilwoman Erica Gilmore, within whose district the proposed development would sit, is expected to attend.

“We want to develop in Salemtown with the support of Councilwoman Gilmore,” said Kenner, adding that Civil Site will serves as the project’s main engineer, with Village Real Estate Service’s City Living Team to market and sell the homes. He did not disclose the name of the architect.

“We’ve already submitted an SP (specific plan) and are waiting for comments from the Metro Planning Department,” Kenner said. “If everything goes well, we’ll get Planning and Council support and break ground within 90 days.”

Kenner said the development team will purchase eight different parcels on which Salemtown Cottages will be built only after all Metro approvals are finalized.

Rezoning for a specific plan allows a development to integrate elements of the neighborhood and allows neighborhoods a voice through community meetings and public hearings. It has been used well and misused, but it is generally designed to address "the unique characteristics of an individual property" while ensuring that "the surrounding neighborhood and community at-large are not adversely affected".

The concept posted here to keep our community informed.
In his interview, Mr. Kenner did not say he was seeking the support of Salemtown neighbors, even as he admitted that he was seeking CM Gilmore's support. However, the spirit of the original SP legislation is that developers seek the support of the neighborhood and not only the council member. Feedback about integration with community character and plans are welcomed in the process of this, and the council member is supposed to facilitate that process. In exchange the developer does not have to navigate pre-existing zoning that itself may no longer fit community character and hampers the build. It is vital that Salemtown residents attend the meetings and public hearings and give feedback that can be incorporated into the SP. It is also important that Mr. Kenner, who lives in the Sylvan Park neighborhood, listen to feedback in good faith.

I emailed Erica Gilmore to tell her that I did not receive an announcement about the April 10 meeting advertised in the paper and to ask her for all the details. She replied that the meeting had been moved to April 17 and that she was working on a mailer. I will post the details here when I am made aware of them.

Former CM Mike Jameson held an SP community meeting process almost 7 years ago that gives us a good idea of what it is supposed to look like:

JAMESON: “If you build a coffee shop in a residential area, right now you just get zoning variances or terms of conditions and it doesn’t say anything about hours of operation, so many parking spaces and so forth. SP allows that and it becomes your zoning. This coffee shop will have 6 parking spaces and will close at 9pm and it won’t play loud music or live music after 9pm or whatever you want to put in and that is the zoning.”

Both traditional and SP zoning have to go through the same process: planning commission approval, public meetings, and three readings before the metro council. But SP lays out the land usage up front, and neighborhoods have the opportunity to change what goes into a given property ....

SP can be used to apply design guidelines, or even regulate what types of businesses are in an area. Councilman Jameson wants to use SP to curb the number of duplexes built in his district. He hopes that including the neighborhood on the front end will give his SP duplex regulation smoother passage.

In the case of Mr. Kenner's request, the SP process actually allows us to keep tabs on what he is doing with his development and how whether he is responsive to community feedback. Once the SP is approved, the developer has to abide by the terms and we can verify whether he is or not. During a separate SP in 2007, I documented how another development team initially reversed course on installing brick veneer, which had been mandated in the SP. They would have had to go through whole rezoning process again if they had not gone back and installed it.

Let me reemphasize the important point that all neighbors interested in the character of our neighborhood should attend community meetings and public hearings on the Salemtown Cottages SP and keep up with the process. If you are a property owner who lives out of town, follow the news on it and write CM Gilmore with your feedback ("Erica.Gilmore@nashville.gov"). If you have concerns about parking, noise, signage, landscaping, design, number of homes, square footage, density, etc. you should involve yourself in this process. You can be sure that both the developer and the council member will. You cannot have any influence over them if you do not participate.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Werthan site developers set community meeting date on blasting, but the timing makes me think it's more PR than neighborhood interest

We received the following letter a week ago from a "seismic services" company, which seems to view it as effective communication about blasting that could damage our property:

I sent the following email response to Jim Bricker of Bricker Seismic Services and carbon copied CM Erica Gilmore, neighbors who might be affected, the Salemtown Neighbors president, Metro Water, the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods as well as the Werthan development team at SWH Residential Parters, Smith Gee Studio, and Reno & Cavanaugh:

We received your "letter of introduction and authorization" (see attachment) yesterday, which stipulated that you may be conducting pre-blast surveys of our premises and other properties in our neighborhood based on their proximity to construction of a new sewer line as part of the Werthan development. In it you warn us that you intend to have the surveys completed by this Friday, March 29, 2013.

First of all, I am disappointed that you and the Werthan developers did not schedule a community meeting with us to describe the blasting process, proximity, and possible risks to those of us within 300 feet of the project. I do not recall this ever being brought up by the development team with SWH Residential Partners, Smith Gee Studio and Reno & Cavanaugh in the community meeting they held with us last October, because I would surely have raised these questions. At the very least, you and the blasting company should have sponsored a face-to-face meeting to explain every step of the process to us. My sense is that, if we were a wealthier, whiter neighborhood in Green Hills or West Nashville, then Bricker Seismic would have already done so.

Second, this short timeline is unrealistic--if not ridiculous--for affected property owners to make sure that our rights and interests are protected given the possible risks that have not been adequately communicated by your company. Metro Nashville schools are currently in the second full week of spring break, which means that some affected families may not even be present to get the letter that you left at houses within the affected radius. If you would have dropped this off last week with a similar timeline that ended last Friday, my own family would not have been properly notified because we were out of town and did not get back until after 8:00 pm Friday night. Do you actually know how many residents might be in the same position this week? What about affected property owners who do not live in Nashville? How have they been notified? In your letter, you encourage us to call as soon as possible, but "soon" for some not here may be too late. Frankly, we should have been notified about his demolition weeks in advance by either you or the developers with appropriate lead time to ask questions or seek outside legal advice about our rights in this extraordinary situation. As it is, you do not even give us time to pay for our own independent inspections if we choose to do so.

Finally, you say that you are paying an inspector for pre-blast surveys, which may seem fair on the front end. However, I would like to know how this rises above the appearance of a conflict of interest? What I mean is that you give money to an inspector to produce reports on the condition of our properties; and to whom is this inspector most likely to be obligated? To those of us who are not paying him/her? Or to Bricker Seismic (which pays inspectors now in order to avoid a costly legal future legal process over properties that may have been damage in blasting)? How can we be sure that the inspector you hire is going to be impartial and fair to both sides? There may be a reasonable explanation of honest impartiality in this. However, that should have been stated in a community meeting properly publicized, with a chance for question and answers.

Spray paint marks have appeared on the street in front of our houses indicating gas lines and water mains/lines, which suggests to me that blasting and demolition could come very close to some properties. But we cannot be sure because neither Bricker Seismic nor the development team has been forthcoming about the blasting patterns. Again, I ask you to please extend your deadline and hold a community meeting with affected residents, explaining everything to us and giving people who may not be here a chance to be notified. We also need to know that the inspection process is going to be fair rather than biased in favor of protecting your rights above ours.

If you cannot make more of a concerted effort to be a good neighbor while visiting our community, then we may consider contacting a lawyer in order to protect our rights as clearly as you are protecting yours.

I received no immediate response from Bricker, but within two hours of sending this email, I received the following from John Trill, SWH partner:

Blasting rock is occurs on almost every construction site in Middle TN which is why we did not specifically mention it during the meeting.  I apologize for my over sight. If you would like to schedule a neighborhood meeting to discuss our construction schedule, I am happy to meet. I could meet the evening of April 10th or 11th. We could meet at the community center or the Taylor St. Warehouse on site.  If those dates are not convenient, let me know some other dates that are better.  If we do meet, I would appreciate your help with notifying the neighbors.

Okay, the construction of apartments happens a lot around Middle TN, but that did not stop the development team of this project from pitching this project last fall as a beneficial one for the local neighborhoods. So, why overlook the risks to homeowners? The rezoning was coming up for public hearing and developers put the best possible spin on the benefits for the community with no mention of the costs.

Nonetheless, Trill apologized and seemed to reach out with a community meeting to "discuss" the construction schedule.

At least one of my neighbors who lives a door closer to the blasting area told me she did not receive the letter and she sent me an email from contractor R.C. Matthews Project Manager that said:

I’ve asked our site contractor and his blasting sub to review and advise your on situation…..I’ll keep following up and will follow-up with you.

FYI….we are NOT blasting anytime soon and won’t until you’re fully informed.

So, they promised at least one person not to blast without fully informing. And so, why keep the pre-blast timeline of 5 days in place if affected neighbors who Mr. Bricker did not contact have to be informed? More importantly, why set the deadline before rather than after Mr. Trill's community meeting with us? That is puzzling.

Then last Friday afternoon I came home to find a second Bricker letter with the words "Final Notice" handwritten on it taped to our front door. After having emailed Mr. Bricker 5 days beforehand without a reply and corresponding with the developer to set up a community meeting between affected residents, I considered the "Final Notice" a slap in the face. I tried to call the person whom the letter told us to call between 8-5 each weekday but he did not pick up. I tried to call Mr. Bricker but he did not pick up. I tried Bricker again a few minutes later and he did pick up. He told me that he was considering moving the deadline to next Friday (Apr. 5 at 5:00p), which for me was still not good enough, given the community meeting a week later. Bricker told me that it was not his decision and that the people above him on the Werthan project had already made the decision.

I thought that was curious, given that Mr. Trill had seemed to reach out to offer a community meeting. So, today I raised the question of Bricker's pre-blast survey deadline with him, and I asked him to help me understand the need to continue to contract the survey process to a deadline a week before neighbors had a chance to meet with developers to discuss the process of blasting and documenting any damages. Here is Trill's reply:

I am happy to meet to discuss our construction schedule, which is subject to change. However, we are not stopping construction prior to this meeting. Metro has issued a Grading Permit for the entire site and a Building Permit for the parking deck. The blasting, which is typical for a site in Middle TN, is approved by Metro and approval of the neighbors is not required.  The blasting will be performed in a controlled and professional manner. All blasting will be monitored and if there is damage caused by the blasting the contractor will be responsible which is why they want to document existing conditions.  If there is damage caused by the blasting, the documentation of existing conditions will benefit the Owner of the damaged property because there will be before and after documentation.

So, I'm bound to ask: what is the point of "discussing" the construction schedule at next week's community meeting if affected Salemtown residents are not granted more time to schedule a survey or to consider the option of having their own documentation of damages done? I did not ask for a halt to construction. I asked that the survey company give us a more reasonable amount of time to consider documentation of damages to our property. The pre-blast deadline as it stands is arbitrary and coercive; if we take more time, then developers and their lawyers will respond, "You had your chance, and now it's gone". And they are going to use the Bricker documentation so to serve their special interests.

Otherwise, there is no reason why they cannot extend the deadline until after they meet with us, just like there is no excuse for having neglected to speak with us about the possible risk of damage in the first place and to give us a realistic, rather than self-serving timeline.

I feel like I gave my support to this project too enthusiastically, and these exchanges make me wonder what other surprises the Werthan site development team have in store for us in the future that they are not telling us about now.