Protecting our neighborhoods and why NashvilleNext is bad for you

 

My opinion of Nashville Next is crystal clear - it is a bad idea that was deceptively presented and dishonestly implemented to tie the hands of the next Metro Council and Mayor for years to come.  Nashville Next will harm our neighborhoods and cause undesirable growth – the opposite of what we want.  History has repeatedly shown that government is incapable of competently planning 25 years in advance (so-called “smart growth.”). It is not that every single aspect of Nashville Next is bad, but overall the plan is bad for West Meade and Belle Meade.

 

NashvilleNext's promoters told us the plan would complement and add to the 2009 West Nashville Community Plan worked on by so many people to protect our neighborhoods.  This spring, Councilwoman Emily Evans announced at a community meeting that Nashville Next would replace and repeal the 2009 West Nashville Community Plan.  Nashville Next provides less protection to our neighborhoods and the hard work of previous citizens has been squandered.  We were misled by Nashville Next's promoters who had their own agenda until it was too late to stop the process. 

 

After attending a few Nashville Next meetings, I realized the real and eminent danger this “plan” was to West Meade and Belle Meade.  I spent an evening at Hillwood High School working with Mina Johnson designing a residential, retail and commercial development for an area north of Germantown along the Cumberland River.  How I was competent to make important decisions regarding where residents live, where they shop, where they eat, or where they build businesses was never addressed.  It was arrogantly assumed by the attendees that we were entitled to tell other residents how to live, shop, eat and work.  The participants were asked to design a plan to manipulate someone else’s neighborhood, fill in their green spaces with development we thought appropriate, and generally inflict our utopian “ideal plan” upon their communities - without any consideration of this community’s desires.  Never once at a Nashville Next meeting was I asked what I wanted in our neighborhood.  The planners of Nashville Next did not care what you or I wanted in West Meade or Belle Meade. 

 

We should all be very concerned about who designed the Nashville Next plan for our neighborhood.  Was it someone in East Nashville, Antioch, or Hermitage?  Who are these people, and who gave them the authority to make decisions for our families?  More importantly, why weren’t we asked about planning our own neighborhoods?  The Planning Commission should release the names and comments of these 18,000 who allegedly participated in the process.  Let us see how many people in our neighborhood were asked about development in West Meade?

 

In the past, a Council Member had great authority over what development would be permitted in their District.  The people in the affected community, both by voicing their concerns directly and by the ballot box, could demand to be heard.  Nashville Next is designed to take away all “local authority” and give it to the Metro Planning Commission’s unelected bureaucrats.  As your Councilman, my first step will be to introduce legislation to allow every District the right to create its own plan to protect itself from undesirable “smart growth” and development.  Every Council District should have an absolute right to “opt-out” of Nashville Next and create its own community plan based on what its residents want. 

 

Growth should be directed towards the undeveloped and blighted areas of Nashville.  The Gulch, 12 South, Mid-Town have all benefited from transforming run-down and dilapidated commercial areas into vibrant centers for business and living.  We should continue to channel this type of growth to these areas, not to our neighborhoods.  Nashville Next fails to answer the basic question of how does West Meade benefit from having the everything that brought us here - large yards, abundant wildlife, and a park-like atmosphere - destroyed? 

 

Nashville Next has six “key elements.”

1.      Protect environmental areas and create new green spaces

2.      Complete a transit network to handle growing traffic

3.       Create affordable housing for retiring seniors and young families

4.       Develop pedestrian-friendly activity centers for more community involvement

5.       Redesign or changes to strategic corridors

6.       Enhance the character and uniqueness of Davidson County and its neighborhoods

 

While these do seem like laudable goals, they are just goals.  My father has often said, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”  Warn, fuzzy and non-specific ideas are nice, but how will each of these “key elements” be achieved?

 

I strongly disagree with the often expressed idea that “Development is – fortunately or unfortunately -- a way of life…”  The West Meade Park Neighborhood Association (WMPNA) spent years fighting undesirable development on the property where the Harding Academy Athletic field now stands.  Developers had proposed apartments/condominium complexes, an assisted living facility, and even commercial use.  The neighborhood fought every undesirable proposal until the neighborhood found the right match for West Meade Park.  Ten years ago under NashvilleNext, that property’s development could have been in the hands of some well-intentioned, community activist from East Nashville, or elsewhere, making the decision for the residents of West Meade Park.

 

A few weeks ago, I was being interviewed and the question arose of what to do with the Hillwood High School property if it closed.  The interviewer voiced her desire that the property be used for low-income housing to increase Nashville’s “housing diversity.”  This person admitted they did not live in West Meade, and stated she was more concerned about “fairness in housing” than protecting our neighborhoods.  I have no doubt that if she had participated in a NashvilleNext meeting her “plan” for West Meade would be radically different than my plan.

 

We are currently faced with a surprise proposal to move West Meade Elementary School to Highway 70.  A developer owns four houses on Highway 70 and wanted to “trade” them for the Brookmeade School property on Davidson Road and Charlotte Pike.  The obvious next move for this developer would be to rezone the property and cram in 100’s of apartments or dense commercial development.  A smarter idea would be to re-zone the Brookmeade property before trading it, and appraise it at the new re-zoned value.  Let the residents of West Meade and Bellevue decide the amount of growth desired, and then choose whether to move the elementary school.  The most significant problem at West Meade Elementary is overcrowding: why not build a new elementary school on the Brookmeade property, and leave the beautiful homes and yards on Highway 70 alone, which maintains the character of the neighborhood?

 

If NashvilleNext’s real goal is to “protect environmental areas and create new green space” then why give the Brookmeade property to a developer at all?  Convert it to a park for families to use?  In NashvilleNext’s terminology, why not use it for a “pedestrian-friendly activity center for more community involvement?”  NashvilleNext makes no mention of the proposed “land swap” in its 25-year plan.  How did the drafters not know about Brookmeade School’s closing, and if they did know about the closing, why didn’t they include it in their plan as future green space?  

 

If NashvilleNext was really about protecting “green spaces” the plan would create more green spaces, not less.  Which would you, as a resident, prefer to have at the corner of Davidson and Charlotte, a park and/or community center – or another few hundred apartments and the accompanying traffic.  If you are uncertain, just drive a little farther down Charlotte Pike.

 

I recently attended a Metro Transit Authority meeting to discuss Metro’s “transit plan” for the future.  The most interesting comment came from the MTA director who stated “all cities like Nashville have transit problems.”  If “all cities like Nashville” have the same transit problems, then why should Nashville follow the failed policies of other cities?  Nashville must face the reality that 60% of the people working in Davidson County come from outside the County.  Transit solutions must be addressed on a regional basis, and no amount of local effort is going to fix the problem.

 

The AMP/BRT represented classic, 1960’s false beliefs about traffic solutions.  The misguided idea that people would abandon their cars for the opportunity to walk a half-mile or more, in rain or cold to catch a bus, or that they would walk another long distance to their work, is naïve.  The AMP’s purpose was to collect “free” federal and state transit dollars.  Like other poorly planned transit solutions, it would have failed miserably and cost Nashville taxpayers millions of dollars annually in upkeep while making traffic worse.  I am proud I am the only candidate that worked publically against the AMP.  I wore my red “Stop-Amp” t-shirt to public meetings and spoke out against this terrible waste of your tax dollars and the city’s limited transit resources. 

 

The “solution” to traffic congestion is not complicated – stop encouraging policies that bring people downtown from outside the area.  The development of The Gulch, 12 South, and the Downtown District, which allow people to live downtown near where they work, has reduced traffic more than the $175,000,000 traffic–lane consuming AMP ever could.  

 

NashvilleNext does not “enhance the character of West Meade.”  NashvilleNext envisions five-story apartment complexes along Charlotte Pike.  To “fit” with the neighborhood, the rear of each project would taper down to three stories – taller than almost every home in West Meade.  Furthermore, to keep apartment traffic from interfering with the existing Charlotte Pike traffic, apartment residents would be routed onto side streets – also known as the streets in your neighborhood.  This is what the Planning Commission and certain people consider to be “smart growth.”

 

The residents of West Meade must understand that to the Metro Government, our neighborhoods represent an untapped resource for more property taxes.  The “best use” of West Meade property in Metro’s eyes is to tear down every home and stuff in two or three McMansions as seen in Green Hills where four multi-story homes are being shoved into lots where one home previously stood.  Overbuilding will increase property tax revenue which is good for Metro – but it will destroy the unique character of West Meade.

 

Fundamentally, NashvilleNext is about who is going to decide what happens in your neighborhood.  If you think government-mandated central planning is the solution, then NashvilleNext is for you.  If you believe that the residents of West Meade should have more input about development in the neighborhood than the Metro Planning Commission, then you should vote for me, Jim Roberts.

 

I was asked if I would “be willing to maintain an open mind” related to NashvilleNext.  If having an “open mind” means accepting foolish ideas, then the answer is definately “no.”  Instead, I promise to use “common sense” to review NashvilleNext’s plans on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, and then evaluate the portions that are well thought out, logical and desired by the affected District #23 residents.  This is how I will be “your voice” for District #23.