[Note: This roundup is an experiment. It will be awfully long for something online. The hope is that subheads will enable you to go to items that interest you rather than get bleary eyed reading the whole thing.]

@ Wednesday Feb. 2nd: City Planning Commission, a body that makes recommendations, leaving the final decision to the city council)

— Development community 3
— Angry citizens 0
  • Four items had no speakers from the public, and action was deferred on a fifth. We will focus on the ones with public input.

The agenda

— (1) Springfield Apartments, a luxury apartment complex proposed off Manson Pike. It will be next to the owners of single family homes who strongly oppose apartment dwellers as neighbors. The request was for annexation (which has been granted) and rezoning to a planned residential district.

— (2) A request for a rezoning from large residential lots to a planned commercial district so the applicant can lease the property to a daycare operator on Siegel Road.

— (3) A rezoning sought for 11 acres along Manson Pike east of SR 840 from large lot residential to a planned residential district. The developer plans to build 88 townhomes ranging from 1,500 to 2,100 square feet. Each unit will be sold under a horizontal property regime, which means each occupant owns only  the land under his unit. Everything else is held in common and managed by a homeowners association.

Water problems because a developer went bankrupt and walked away

— (4) Annexation and rezoning 16.5 acres on West Thompson Lane from a large-lot residential category to a planned residential district. The plan calls for 31 single family homes on lots of at least  9,000 square feet on the west side, next to the Northboro Court single family home development. The  homes themselves would be fairly large, containing at least 2,400 square feet. The balance of the proposal would consist of 91 townhomes with a minimum of 1,500 square feet.

The chief issue here is water. The neighboring Northboro subdivision was built by a developer who went bankrupt, and left the homeowners with a tremendous flooding problem. They fear the new development will only make things worse.

No. 1: The developer who had three ghostly visitors

The Springfield Mansion will be saved.
The Springfield Mansion will be saved.

Charles Haskett, principal partner at Bonavic Development in Birmingham, is a changed man. He came in last November with a routine zoning request for 17.3 acres, giving him about dwelling 15 units per acre. On the site is a historical home, the Springfield Mansion, that is more than 200 years old.

Haskett’s representatives have admitted that the original, conventional zoning plan did not respect the house. In other words, Haskett probably would have torn it down to make room for an apartment building.

Fire from all sides at the council meeting

His proposal got by the planning commission but ran into a buzzsaw when the council took it up in November. Haskett’s rezoning request fell apart under the combined  weight of: (1) neighborhood attacks, (2) claims he had not dealt openly and honestly with the city, (3) geological constraints on the parcel, (4) demands for preserving a historic mansion on the site, (5) fears for the fate of a cemetery on the property and (6) privacy issues for people who would live near the apartments.

As he left city hall, I asked him what is next. “We’ll be back,” he said. Between then and now, he must have been visited by the ghosts of Jane Jacobs, Planners Present and Planners Yet To Come.

He has met almost every demand of the neighbors, but they still aren’t satisfied.

— At the November council meeting one of the residents, Tammie Cleek, was choking back tears as she called the mansion property “sacred ground” and pleaded with the council to save it. In response, Haskett has pledged to repair the roof, the balcony and front porch on the mansion. He plans to make it a theme of the whole project and retain the home as a single family residence. It might be occupied by an on-site caretaker. In addition, Haskett is setting aside two acres around the old house to preserve as much of the home’s setting as possible.

Fears about peeping Toms

— Several neighboring homeowners complained that their privacy would be violated with three- story buildings looking down on their yards. Haskett plans to move the three-story buildings back from the property line and pledged to maintain a buffer of mature trees, supplementing it where it is thin. The closest building to the neighbors is about 80 feet away.

One of the longest caves in the state with a lot of water flowing through it

— The homeowners claimed a cave at the back of the property makes building homes near it extremely risky. Haskett is leaving about a 100-foot wide area where the cave is as open space. As a gate across the front of the cave is expensive and would not last in any event, he has pledged to fence off the cave entrance.

The cave entrance is at the bottom of the open space triangle on the right. Springfield house is at the end of the entrance road in the middle. The pool is on the far left.
The cave entrance is at the bottom of the open space triangle on the right. Springfield house, surrounded by trees, is at the end of the horizontal entrance road in the middle. The pool is on the far left. The cemetery is in the cutout at the bottom left. The vertical road down the middle connects to the neighboring homes but is for emergency vehicles only.




Only one building potentially impacts the cave

Jason Richards, a cartographer with the National Speleological Society, said Thursday night that the only issue is Haskett’s northernmost building. He recommended “electrical resistivity geosurveys” to determine whether that building is far enough away from the cave to be safe.  Parking over the cave and the other buildings are not an issue, Richards added. He also recommended that on this one building, blasting should not be done to prepare the foundation.

The cemetery

There were several complaints from residents that the proposed development doesn’t respect an ancient but still active cemetery just south of the proposal’s property. This is the location of the project’s swimming pool.  Haskett is placing  an L-shaped club house and an apartment building  between the pool and the cemetery to cut down the noise.

Security issue paramount to homeowners

— The residents said they were concerned about security with such a huge development full of renters next to them. Haskett agreed to their demand for a fence, which will run along the common property line with the neighbors and loop around where the cemetery is.

Give us an eight-foot-high fence!

Wednesday night, the residents came at him again. Joe Lozano said the homeowners want an eight-foot-high, chain-link fence with material on it to keep people from looking through. He said the wooden fence the developer plans is too easily damaged by falling tree branches. Lozano also opposed the use of any blasting in preparing the building foundations.

The project will have a homeowners association, which will be responsible for maintaining the fence.

Margaret Ann Green, one of the city’s principal planners, explained that the project will come under the city’s Gateway District rules, which don’t permit fences above six feet or chain-link fences if they are visible from the main roadway.

Cemeteries and swimming pools don’t mix

Donna Watts, who lives on Hallmark Drive, said the cemetery still has flowers on graves and added that there was a funeral there just eight months ago.

“The pool is within eye distance of the cemetery,” she said. “Would you like to visit a grave and have people yelling and playing in the swimming pool nearby?” she asked. “I wouldn’t.”

She added that she has been in her home for 36 years and her neighbors for almost as long.

Buildings that tower over everything

Cleek claimed that the project doesn’t respect the old mansion because apartment buildings will be towering over it. “It looks as thought they just dropped it (the old home) in after the apartment buildings were built,” she said.

She complained that there is no more guarantee than a handshake that Haskett will carry out everything he has vowed to do.

Actually, her handshake charge was only valid under the original conventional zoning plan. Under a planned district, however, everything Haskett has committed to do is legally binding.

Too much crammed on too little land

Lesie Smith agreed that this plan is better than anything Haskett has presented to date, but he said it still crams too many living units on too few acres. He also cited a study prepared about 16 years ago that called for mixed uses, such as offices, tech firms and educational uses and limited commercial in this area.  In essence, however, this plan would not have protected the historic Springfield mansion.

Renters are not low class

Jean Cline, who is in the property-management business, defended the project, saying the idea that all renters are by definition low class is false. She said renting is a housing choice and probably everyone in the room has rented at one time of another.

When the item came back to the commission for a decision, Councilman Eddie Smotherman made the motion to approve.

Saving the house makes this project worthwhile

Smotherman: "That deer is going to be gone. We have to grow."
Smotherman: The deer residents enjoy now are going to be gone. “We have to grow.”

“One of the first words I heard (on this proposal) were about the Springfield house and not to let this house get away,” he said. “This developer has committed not only to preserve the house but preserve a (two-acre) lawn around it. He could have preserved the house and put a parking lot next to it. … He’s made every effort to determine where the cave is and not put any buildings on top of it. .. He has shown concern for the neighboring property… The property is next to a cemetery, but there will always land next to cemeteries. You can’t say it can’t be developed. … This (project) is upscale, and it is going to be beautiful.”

Smotherman’s motion carried.  It is unlikely the residents will see a different outcome when the issue comes before the council.

Issue No 2: Water, water everywhere

Review of the single-family and townhouse development proposed next to Northboro got lost in a parade of complaints from neighboring homeowners about standing water on their properties. They complained about the expense some had replacing ductwork after the water in 2010 invaded crawl spaces in their homes. Their point is that more concrete on what is now vacant land will only compound the flooding problem, they argued.

Up a backyard lake in a paddle boat

Rob Mitchell, who lives on Northboro Court, said that during the 2010 flood he decided to make “lemonade out of lemons” by buying a paddle boat for his kids to paddle back and forth across the flooded land. He brought pictures to show he wasn’t kidding.

Bill Huddleston, whose firm Huddleston Steele is doing engineering work on the proposed development, said the planned housing wouldn’t put any added water on neighboring properties. In fact, it might even alleviate the existing homeowners water woes somewhat, he claimed.

He promised to build a large ditch along the property line to carry water from the development he is working on to a large pipe on Thompson Lane. The commissioners, anxious to get more detail on Huddleston’s plans, deferred action on the zoning request.

Maybe this project can ease the residents’ flooding woes

“Sometimes we need a project to help address a need,” said Sam Huddleston, the city’s environmental engineer. “I think that’s the case here.” He explained that the city couldn’t work to fix the problem since it can’t work on private property without the landowner’s permission. That permission was not granted until now by the applicant if his request is granted. Huddleston added that the one certainty is that the water problem will persist “if we do nothing.”

Issue No 3: Declining property values and that blasted trash compactor

The common theme for opposition to a planned district with 88 townhomes planned along Manson Pike is that this multi-family development will have a negative impact on the single-family home values next door. In addition, residents were worried about a trash compactor planned for the development.

Actually, the compactor will be placed way from the homes along the project’s other property line, next to a church.

Townhomes are townhomes and homes are homes

Vice Mayor Doug Young, who serves on the planning commission, said the property value concerns were overblown. When it comes to comps, he said, the comparison is between homes of similar types — single-family to single-family homes and townhouses to townhouses. The motion to approve passed with all voting for it except commissioner Kathy Jones, who abstained.

Issue No. 4: Why do we need another daycare center?

The plan for the daycare center on 2.3 acres along Siegel Road drew fire from neighbors, who said there is no need for a daycare facility in their neighborhood. City officials explained that the decision on whether there is any need for such a center is up to the developer.

Chris Conklin, who lives in the Windsor Green subdvison, said the daycare center offers no benefit to himself or other people living in Windsor Green. “It looks like something to benefit one property owner to the detriment of the rest of us,” he said. “I ask you to deny this request.

These residents were also concerned that the project might increase a flooding problem in the area.

The 2.3-acre site is part of a larger parcel. It was annexed under a 15,000 minimum lot home designation. The applicant is  seeking approval planned commercial district , which the commissioners recommended to council. Smotherman abstained.

@ Thursday, Feb. 4th

Defending Mr. Broden’s honor!

Following a recommendation from City Manager Rob Lyons, the council voted to hire the Nashville consulting firm of Farrar and Bates to keep the city informed about what is going on in the legislature and to lobby for or against legislation that affects the city.

The firm will be paid $3,333.33 monthly from February to the end of the year.

"It seems they protesteth to much."
“It seems they protesteth too much.”

Councilman Eddie Smotherman stressed that despite news reports implying that this is all about undoing a current ban on forced annexations, this is not the case.

“Mr. (Councilman) LaLance just remarked to me about a story in the paper talking about the lobbyist, and I guess Mr. Broden (Scott Broden of the DNJ) referred to it (the agreement) that we were getting it primarily for annexation concerns. That’s not the case, is it?” he asked

Lyons assured Smotherman the firm would not confine itself to the General Assembly but would also give advice on dealing with government agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Environment and Conservation and the state Transportation Department.

"Watch the shells carefully."
“Watch the shells carefully.”

That response is not the same thing as pledging that the firm would not try to undo the ban on forced annexations.

The usual argument is that people living outside the city get city services but are freeloaders who don’t pay for them. This argument is made, for example, by the city’s 2035 planing consultant. Let’s look at the record, as Al Smith used to say.

Sneakily using city roads without paying tolls

— The consultant says we outsiders get free use of city roads. Most of our use of city roads involves shopping, however, since we have few options outside the city. When we shop we benefit the city’s economy. In addition, of the 9.75% sales tax rate we pay, 2.75% comes back locally. Half is distributed between city and county schools and half goes to the jurisdiction (usually the city) where the sale was made.

Freeloading on our high schools

— The biggest part of the property tax bill anywhere is schools. People outside the city send their kids to county schools, which we “freeloaders” pay for. The city doesn’t fund high schools, the most expensive part of the school budget. Instead, they send their kids to county schools.

Charge us more for services we use

— The fairest way to handle the “freeloader” problem is to charge outsiders more for the services they use. When I lived in N.J., I paid $100 a year for a while to belong to a better library outside my town. In other areas, recreation departments often charge higher fees to outsiders to participate in their programs. It is possible in contracts with local sports leagues using city fields to require that city children get priority for roster spots. In a recent meeting, a councilman asked a city staff member why the city doesn’t charge higher fees to outsiders. The response was it did once but then canceled that arrangement. The staff member never said why. Perhaps it is because those higher fees undermine the case for annexation.

— Finally, some of us use city parks. There has never been a thought by Nashville or New York City to annex outsiders who use their parks.

— I made a donation when I took a hayride last Halloween along the Greenway. If there is a Jazzfest this summer, I plan to donate to the Main Street group. If you are a freeloader, like me, you would be wise to do the same.