Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Salemtown association walks a delicate, but firm line on the way to a Sulphur Dell ballpark

I find it interesting that Metro Planning's announcement of a community meeting to discuss a new ballpark at Sulphur Dell is coming on the heels of some notable conclusions that Salemtown Neighbors recently came to. SNNA had a business meeting a couple of weeks ago, and a new Sulphur Dell was on the agenda. The members present expressed concerns about unanswered questions about impact of the development, and they agreed that a community meeting with Metro officials to address their questions was necessary.

In my opinion, SNNA has generally been the most reflective and inquiring of a ballpark of any of the four neighborhood associations in the North End. Both Germantown and Hope Gardens hopped aboard the Mayor's ballpark bandwagon without a second thought to quality of life questions. I am not absolutely certain of the differences that would cause SNNA to be more circumspect about a ballpark, but I do know that their past stances on preservation, conservation and quality of life could make an all-in embrace of a new ballpark an uncharacteristic stretch.

Salemtown Neighbors is just coming off a long and contentious bid to pass a conservation overlay, which set height limits to protect the residential character of the neighborhood. That hard, but successful conservation struggle should have sensitized members to the important questions about untrammeled growth and its negative effects on community development. But an uncritical and blind acceptance of a ballpark would also be at odds with our association's history. After a period of open discussion and debate about impact, SNNA expressed support for Germantown's historic overlay in 2008. In 2005, SNNA opposed the closing of historic Jones Paideia Elementary School in support of their PTO's struggles with Metro Nashville Public Schools. To break with our past of exercised thoughtfulness about demolition and development would be inconsistent with who we have been.

If this ballpark plan passes, it should not do so without officials honestly answering serious questions about its long-term impact on our quality of life. You can bet that politicians with power interests, property owners with real estate interests and developers with exclusive interests in the financial bottom line will all show up to next week's community meeting. They will not be the ones asking the critical questions. They will be too busy bandwagoning and cheerleading this project. The process will need level-headed, sober community leaders to ask adult questions about this project. And SNNA's history on development has been one about cutting through childishness and asking the grown-up questions.

The news media tends to focus on the unabashed boosters and to ignore those with serious questions. And yet the latter are the ones who will eventually be the most effective catalysts of a sustainable and contextually-consistent ballpark integrated rather than at-odds with community life. Amid positive comments, the media parrots the Mayor's points that a ballpark would be an economic boon for the Jefferson Street business corridor. And yet, who will speak up for preserving the quality of life around our homes off Jeff St as economic development spreads if not the neighborhood associations? The Mayor has responded in the past that the neighborhood associations would be brought in at some point, but that a ballpark belongs to all of Nashville. Likewise, shouldn't the ballpark's impact on community development in Salemtown, Germantown, Hope Gardens and Buena Vista matter at least as much as the economic development for Jefferson Street's merchant association? The ballpark's beneficiaries should not begin and end at Jeff St.

If you look around different parts of Nashville, there are communities recently in upheaval after economic development in the business sector outstripped quality of life in the neighborhoods. We know that the Mayor and the powerful interests who are largely free to show up at next week's mid-afternoon community meeting at the Farmers' Market are going to breathlessly booster a ballpark. If the neighborhoods fail to warn the city to step back in order to take deeper breaths before taking the plunge, there will not be anyone left to do so.

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