"I've lived here a long time. I get it. Anything Nashville does not want gets dumped on us in northern Davidson County."
-- Whites Creek resident to Ole South developers
Tonight at the KIPP school building in the Whites Creek area, Metro Council member Walter Hunt held a community meeting between concerned residents
and developers of a proposed vinyl-clad suburban development on Green Lane and Whites Creek Pike. I counted over 50 people in attendance for the hour I was there. And the meeting was still chugging along when I had to leave.
CM Hunt opened the meeting by saying that Ole South
developers and land owners approached him about 2 weeks ago about building on 11.8 acres of rural, tree-covered property. He told the group that he stipulated that homes should not be marketed for more than $200,000 because $300,000 homes would not sell when built next to cheaper properties. Walter Hunt is chair of the council's Planning and Zoning Committee, which gives him an influential seat on the Planning Commission
, which is set to consider this proposal on February 27. Suffice to say he wields some influence in that position, and developers likely show him deference.
Tom White, well-known local land use lawyer and registered lobbyist
for the Home Builders Association of Middle TN, followed CM Hunt. He mainly emphasized that since this is not a rezoning request no councilmanic action was needed. He said that Planning Commission approval of the "cluster-lot development" is "a high likelihood". In fact, he insisted at least 3 times by my count, and it eventually drew the ire of at least one resident, who said that it seemed to him that the deal was done and that the neighbors attended for nothing. He also wondered aloud (rhetorically?) whether the public should bother attending the February 27 public meeting where it was on the agenda.
Someone--I can't remember whether is was the land-use lawyer or CM Hunt--responded that residents can still attend the planning meeting and "say whether they like or don't like" the plan. But again, Mr. White reiterated that in his opinion, approval was "highly likely", because Metro planners see that the proposal fits the land use.
At one point Mr. White told the group that 90% of each home's exterior would be "masonry products" (like brick or cement fiberboard) and less than 10% vinyl. Later when a builder was discussing the exterior materials he said that the lawyer had misunderstood him. In fact, only the front of the homes would have masonry materials (and only 80%). The other three sides would be constructed of vinyl siding, a disclosure that drew visible expressions of shock and groans in the crowd. One resident responded that the 3 vinyl sides took away any excitement he might have had initially for the plan. "We don't need that," he told the builders.
Other questions launched from the floor at the development team included how the design was going to handle stormwater and what would happen if the homeowners association planned by the team did not take care of the open spaces (Metro would take them over). People were talking over one another to the point where CM Hunt stepped in and told the group to wait until Q&A to ask the team questions that could also be written down and presented at the Planning Commission meeting. Someone in the audience replied to CM Hunt, "We're not stupid, you know."
Community leader Alicia Batson told the development team that the group is concerned about protecting their "absolutely beautiful" pastureland and their watershed, which is the cleanest in Davidson County. She told the group that she had done her own research and found out that the average selling price of new construction homes in the county is $336,000 (2013) and that the average for the Whites Creek area is $296,000 (2013). To CM Hunt's earlier point she said, "The homes you say aren't worth much are going to increase in value if more expensive real estate is built around them." She said she would like to see Whites Creek develop more like Leipers Fork
When Alicia ended by saying of the proposal, "We don't need this here," applause broke out. I looked around the room. Nearly every person I saw was either applauding or nodding their heads. They all looked to me like they were on the same page in opposition to this plan for sprawl.
Another neighbor picked up where Alicia left off and told the developers and council member that the design needed to be an attractor to families and needed to be a positive force in improving Whites Creek schools. And she did not miss a beat. "We have got to get a community plan done," a point no doubt meant for Walter Hunt, who has failed to help them produce a community plan. Again, applause ensued.
A young couple who had lived in East Nashville said that they relocated to Whites Creek especially for the more rural setting with less dense space for their family and pets. One of them pointed at the developers' plans and said, "I don't want that anywhere near our house."
The builders seemed uncompromising in spite of all of the pleas the neighbors were making. Whites Creek residents seemed to be acknowledging, in some cases welcoming, development as long as it is suited to the character and priorities of their community. I did not detect NIMBY by any measure. They seemed to find this product unsuitable, and they wanted something consistent with Whites Creek. I am not very hopeful about compromise in the Planning Commission process because of developers' inflexibility.
In one case they came off as arrogant. Many in the group seemed particularly resistant to the Ole South builder's claim that he plans $200,000 houses because he believes in gradual price gradations between neighborhoods.
"You've got to have a transition. $150,000, then $175,000, $200,000 and so on. You've got to have a transition," he claimed in response to a room of shaking heads and audible disagreement.
"No. That's not how it works," a woman in the crowd insisted.
Before she could get her next words out he exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, woman
, I've built 9,000 houses in Tennessee. I should know."
That the builder seemed to be putting the "Ole" in "Ole South" by his dismissive, sexist pillory did not seem to sit well with the gathering. All around me I heard expressions of "Woman?!" and "How rude" and "He didn't need to insult her."
While he offered up a raggedy apology, I thought, "This guy is not concerned at all about his chances of winning this fight." He went after her even after CM Hunt had already lectured the group about being diplomatic. I did notice that Mr. Hunt failed to encourage the builder himself toward a show of respect and tact. If I were Mr. Hunt's constituent I might be insulted by that failure as well.
UPDATE: In his comment below Mike Peden says that previously Ole South dumped similar $200,000
vinyl-sided [see "editorial note" below] homes in an Antioch subdivision "full of $300,000" homes. That would contradict Ole South's claim last night that it builds incrementally up from the lowest priced homes in the area. Why didn't the builder start with building $350,000 homes in Antioch if they honestly "have transition" when they build new homes?
UPDATE: Tennessean business/real estate reporter Getahn Ward wrote a promotional piece on Ole South's planned development last month and he quoted Tom White as saying that he was not expecting any community opposition. It does not seem to me that the lawyer had a factual read on the pulse of the community. And did the reporter merely take Tom White's word for it without actually checking and verifying the question of opposition for himself?
UPDATE: Embarrassing. Last summer Ole South only cleaned up their blighted properties in Whites Creek after neighbors called a local news station for more leverage. They were apparently running down the Whites Creek community months before they ever hatched their plan to sprawl on it. You know who is conspicuously absent from this video tape on deteriorating conditions in his district? CM Walter Hunt.
I have said it over and over on this blog. If developers want to build credibility with a neighborhood (granted, maybe they don't care to), then they should not run afoul of those neighbors during times they are not developing. Like when they are just maintaining properties they own. If Ole South is an irresponsible neighbor in maintaining empty lots, can you expect them to suddenly become responsible in clearing lots and building houses?
- Editorial note--Mike P. sent me the following clarification on the Antioch homes after I posted this update.
The homes Ole South built in the Apple Valley subdivision are all brick (we bought one of them), but they are much lower quality than the homes that were already there. One of our neighbors asked Old South if they would modify the house they built next door to them so it would better match the other homes in their cul-de-sac, and Ole South refused. They have 4 homes under construction now on our street – the homes are built from kits – everything is delivered to the site and then assembled.
- Additionally, an anonymous commenter challenges Mike's claims that the homes in Antioch were listed at $300,000.