Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An open letter to council member Erica Gilmore

Dear Erica Gilmore,

Last night's Salemtown association meeting certainly could have gone better. Not that we do not need to our council member to show up to our meetings. I certainly wish you had attended more during your term on the council.

But last night we got more of the same that we have seen from you in recent years, CM Gilmore. All you seem interested in now is doing the absolute minimum that you are required to do instead of going a few extra steps for ordinary constituents who are not big finance cash cows. We were not asking you to go an extra mile like the Mayor is in getting you to sponsor ballpark and luxury sidewalk resolutions.

Some of us merely want you to keep a neighborhood association president in the loop about Specific Plan requests. That's not unfair or unreasonable. SPs call for community input and yet you seem to be bent on minimizing community input.

It was not always like this. I remember early in your first term you made efforts to stay in contact with us regardless of where we were located in Salemtown. Remember the failed "Ardelia Park" development? That was blocks away from where I live, and yet you encouraged me to attend the community meeting on it.

What a difference six years makes. On Aerial Development's latest proposal you could have done the decent thing and asked developer Britnie Turner to confer with the president of Salemtown Neighbors last spring before seeking approval. Notifications would have gone out from there, which would have forestalled the criticism I heard last night regarding your lack of communication.

Instead, you lectured us on Monday and repeated ad nauseum that "communication is a two-way street". You never gave us a chance to go down that road. You let Metro Planning send out the post cards on a community meeting to residents within several hundred feet of the property, which covers a small geographical area as well as your proverbial ass. It gives you the ability to say that you did everything the law requires to notify the community.

But are the rest of us who are affected by this development supposed to have a special sixth sense to know when a developer approaches you to formulate a resolution that requires community input? Is that really realistic, given the information and access advantages developers enjoy over neighbors?

Nope. You never gave us a chance to go down the road. And frankly you did not come down that street yourself. Relying on the planning department alone is not good enough; as if it were not made sufficiently clear from all of the feedback you got back at last night's association business meeting (which Aerial chose not to attend). Planners have no skin in the Salemtown game.

Moreover, your subtle criticism that communication is a two-way street is bad faith. I receive global email blasts from you regularly on subjects that I may or may not be interested in. Sometimes those blasts contain rezoning and development information or information about community meetings. In 2014 I have been notified of a meeting on Jefferson Street HUD development and on the meetings concerning the new ballpark. But I received nothing directly from you on a specific plan in Salemtown. Metro planners like these plans because they want to see higher density everywhere regardless of questions other departments have about differences with the contexts of neighborhoods.

Aerial's plan promotes higher density, but it has also sent up red flags due to its differences with Salemtown context, especially since the property falls within Salemtown's conservation overlay.

So, why now do you expect me to keep tabs on this under-the-radar proposal when you have made efforts to notify me about others?

But you really hit an all time low last night when you resorted to insinuating that Salemtown Neighbors--which celebrates its 10 year anniversary next February as Salemtown's first association--is not representative of the views of Salemtown. You do not even know that to be true, because you never gave the association the chance to participate in the community discussion about this development. Your inference was spurious.

That kind of foolishness undermines the credibility of our own process, and ironically, since you have done enough to undermine your own. You were not going to hold a community meeting on the ballpark proposal until a fellow council member asked you in open meeting to do so. You stood in front of the council and vowed that your constituents opposed any requirements put on the Nashville Sounds ownership as part of a ballpark agreement, after a number of us argued to the contrary. You ignored requests to hold public meetings on the Metro Water toxic dump site near Salemtown and punted any advocacy you could do for the community to PR specialists at MWS.

For you, CM Gilmore, to try to cast aspersions on Salemtown Neighbors as if we have not over the years tried to represent fairly the interest of the neighborhood amounts to unbridled hypocrisy. Your lack of broader advocacy on the Aerial proposal indicates to me that you have given up representing all of us. The fact that you wrote a letter to the Metro Historic Zoning Commission asking them to re-hear Aerial's proposal, after the developers failed to appear before that body, shows with whom you have cast your lot, and it is not with Salemtown. The quick approval timeline last spring indicates an interest in minimizing community feedback. And you have the gall to suggest that we do not strive to be representative.

I understand that at this point you are likely just playing out the string of days in your last term as our CM. I understand that house flippers with some cash make more difference than voters do in that context. Even so, neighbors in Salemtown ought to have at least as much credibility with you as the outside developers who make no bones about wanting "to tear up some real estate" to generate more wealth to take out of the community:

Things could have gone better last night, CM Gilmore. Unfortunately, you missed your chance to make it better last spring.

Mike Byrd

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