Friday, July 25, 2014

Metro Historical Commission to present completed map of Bells Bend history tomorrow

This comes on short notice, but it looks like a worthwhile event for those of you with interest in local oral history and those of you who have been advocates of Bells Bend in the past. Tomorrow, Saturday July 26th, at 2:00pm at the Wade School Tim Walker of Nashville's Historical Commission will review a completed map of historic sites that have been identified via local knowledge.

The Historical Commission and the Nashville Public Library documented and recorded oral histories from Scottsboro-Bells Bend neighbors. They also gathered the neighbors together to pinpoint specific areas connected to those histories. The map that Mr. Walker will present is the culmination of that interaction. Organizers hope to recognize these important areas with historic markers.

UPDATE: Dozens of neighbors attended the Scottsboro/Bells Bend community meeting at Wade School on Saturday, which was designed to gather more historical information in light of the 70+ significant sites already documented in the community. Tim Walker told those in attendance that he made his first visit to Bells Bend a few years ago and was immediately impressed that such a unique place with rural culture existed so close to urban Nashville. He also asked the group to come up with more information that might have been missing from the oral histories they had collected and to identify more sites. Community leader Joe Engle told the audience that there was no deadline for collecting information and that the project would continue indefinitely.

While pressure might continue in the future to suburbanize or to urbanize Bells Bend, it is refreshing to hear a Metro official praise the unique culture of the area. Many of us have been believers in that kind of diversity for much longer. I want to believe that this exercise also has a way of defining community character which might be even more resistant to developers who drool at the thought of high-density infilling the Bend. Above all, the history should not be lost with the passing generations. This was a positive event all the way around.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fears of public school parents becoming realized

One year ago we pulled our daughter out of the Metro public school she was attending in North Nashville and enrolled her in a parochial school. Last August I explained elsewhere in greater detail than parents tend to do openly why we pulled away from MNPS. That statement is not entirely correct. Metro Nashville Public Schools pulled away from us.

The longer I was a public school parent in Nashville, the more I realized that the system is rigged to funnel money away from traditional schools and toward education reform gimmicks and band-aids like charter schools. We knew that the more the school district embraced privatization of public education, the more public money would flow away from public education.

A year later our fears seem confirmed by MNPS board member, Amy Frogge, who tweeted news of a disturbing trend:

We left MNPS because we were afraid that resources were going to be funneled away from public schools for reformers' experiments in privatized education. I wish we had been wrong on this one, because we miss public schools. But there is no way we were going to stay in a house that was falling down around us.

Priorities in this city are messed up.

UPDATE: Jump to more background of our decision to leave Metro Schools after 4 years of soldiering through fray.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Barely a contest: another big developer trounces neighborhoods

After months of fighting the Green Hills neighborhood association loses another battle to developers' definitions of growth, and the Nashville Business Journal makes it sound like supersizing buildings outside of scale somehow equals advancement for all of us. What else could "progress" mean?

The signs of progress are emerging in the days after a county judge ruled against the Green Hills Neighborhood Association, in a lawsuit the group filed this spring.

The neighborhood group sued Southern Land and Metro government, alleging that city planners did not follow proper steps in vetting the project. The neighborhood group wanted a judge to force the matter back before the planning commission.

Chancellor Russell Perkins ruled that Metro government followed appropriate steps. Planning department staff approved Southern Land's plans, which then appeared as one item on a consent agenda, a list of items that are voted on collectively by planning commissioners....

The neighborhood group has about a month to decide whether to appeal to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Otherwise, the ruling by Perkins will become final.

In my opinion, Green Hills neighbors do not stand a chance even if they win an appeal to leverage a new hearing before the Planning Commission, which is now exclusively developer-friendly. Anyway, they declared victory prematurely back in January. They put up a brave fight, but this one is over. With money and political influence, developers win again. It is still the same old story.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Do campaign donations matter to community revitalization?

State Rep. Powell
During and after a town hall meeting held in South Nashville a little over a week ago, I received some email correspondence from Mike Peden about important questions he had for elected officials about the community impact of developments. The companies funding those developments, Advance Financial in particular, have political action committees that dole private campaign donations to candidates for public office. Mike gave me permission to piece together his emails here into a narrative for the sake of underscoring the influence that money has over growth that can undermine our quality of life.

According to Mike, elected officials in attendance included state representative Jason Powell, CM Fabian Bedne and CM Jason Potts. Also attending representing the Mayor's Office was Daniel Wainwright. Mike has an office on Nolensville Pike and he says that he is particularly concerned about the impact of the growth of high-interest payday lenders along the corridor. Given that the town hall meeting encouraged questions about "revitalization of Nolensville Pike", Mike had some questions for Rep. Powell in particular:

I asked him how much money he has taken from the payday loan industry and he refused to answer.  He has, of course, taken several contributions from them.

I spoke to him on the phone a couple of months ago and he told me that he has no problem with payday loan stores, and that he knows the people at Advance Financial, and they are "good people".

Nolensville Pike
Mike tells me that everyone he talks to in South Nashville has a problem with the explosion of predatory lenders. It seems to me an entirely fair question to pose to any elected official who has influence over how a community grows and develops: have they accepted funds from owners of those shops? If they have, it should be stated unequivocally so that voters can determine for themselves whether such influence over quality of life suits their interests.

Not everyone who attended the meeting was happy with Mike for raising questions about the influence of the donations of predatory lending companies on conditions along Nolensville Pike. He forwarded me emails that accused him of having a "political agenda." How is it a political agenda to ask a politician to identify the sources of his financial support which might lead him to support certain developments that neighbors have issues with? It seems common sense to me.

I remember that right after CM Erica Gilmore was elected the first time to represent the district where I live, a Germantown leader told me straight up that several people in that neighborhood donated an impressive amount of money to her campaign to leverage their historic overlay, which she eventually took to passage. People understand that this is how the system currently operates. There is no other agenda in learning about who is beholden to whom. It is a natural question we should be asking.

Jason Powell's second quarter campaign finance report shows a $1,000 donation from the Advance Financial PAC. What is the harm in asking Rep. Powell to be publicly accountable to South Nashville constituents for the wealthy special interests that could influence how he supports revitalization along Nolensville Pike?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Salemtown Square coming to Salemtown. But where and how?

It is not unusual to read that Aerial Development is putting up houses in another neighborhood that cause concerns for some who already live in that neighborhood. Except for the real estate journalists who typically give them free advertising in the Tennessean, there continue to be some who have had concerns in the past with their ostentatious builds.

What I was surprised to see was a blurb in Getahn Ward's latest ode to Aerial about the developers starting work on "Salemtown Square," which will feature "six cottage-style homes." I haven't heard anything about this development. If builders are going to request any kind of zoning change, it is not yet showing up on searches I conducted on the Metro Planning website. If they are going to attempt the same sort of SP ("specific plan") rezoning (most zoning in Salemtown is "R6", which limits to duplexes or single-family detached), they will have to hold community meetings and get feedback from the neighborhood. That means incorporating feedback on everything from parking to capacity to design to materials used.

In Germantown AND East Nashville? (click on to enlarge)
The Salemtown Square website has a lot of imagery up of local vendors and organizations, but it is thin so far on the details and designs of the development itself. It also has some confusing pitch about the build "cresting" Germantown and "located in East Nashville's hot house market." Did the Aerial's content manager confuse the locations or this some sort of new marketing trend that only hipsters can understand? There is also a weird reference to to a bigger purpose: "creating a neighborhood association where old and new residents can protect, enhance and truly enjoy their new home and neighborhood." Funny, but I thought that had already happened a decade ago when we joined together to form "Salemtown Neighbors." Last time I checked, Salemtown's first association was still operational, so is Aerial going to jumpstart a competing association?

The images on the website, which I assume are intended to evoke historic feelings about Salemtown, bear little or no resemblance to any period in Salemtown's history that I have seen. This is also odd, because Salemtown Square developers claim to "honor [our] historic design and style." The area now called Salemtown was one of the original streetcar suburbs of Nashville and home to the blue-collar workers of the Warioto Cotton Mill and later the Werthan Bag Company. Aerial posts old photos of what look like a downtown square (Times Square?) and a Main Street in some unidentified locality. Old photos of Salemtown suggest a different kind of community. What eventually gets built may or may not have continuity with our real history regardless of the marketing hype.

Salemtown (inset photo) did not resemble Aerial's Main Street image 

Aerial developers have raised eyebrows in Salemtown in the past. I've heard long-time residents express displeasure about their disregard for the community. The people I have listened to do not believe Aerial has "honored" their history or style in the recent past. We will see what their plans are with Salemtown Square. If they eventually have to request rezoning for this development, they will have to listen to feedback from the neighborhood, and if they request an SP rezoning, they will be required to incorporate neighborhood input into their plan.

UPDATE: The Salemtown Square website seems to have disappeared. The links above take you to the Aerial website for now. The Salemtown Square domain is still registered to Aerial as this link attests. Not sure what this means, but the fact that websites can be scrubbed is one reason why I take screenshots to go with commentary.