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.

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