Road Kill 

Billions of dollars are at stake as developers and residents square off on a plan to build a second downtown in rural Davidson County

A classic, perhaps even defining feud is brewing among townspeople, preservationists and developers in one of the most picturesque underdeveloped areas in outlying Nashville, in the community of Scottsboro.

“God made the country,” writes the poet William Cowper, “and man made the town.” One can only guess who made the suburb, but the devil is in the details. A classic, perhaps even defining feud is brewing among townspeople, preservationists and developers in one of the most picturesque underdeveloped areas in outlying Nashville, in the community of Scottsboro. At stake in this battle is whether the county’s future is indisputably and irrevocably urban, and if its remaining rural residents have any choice but to accept that.

The Metro Planning Department is trying to strike a balance. In their plan for the Scottsboro-Bells Bend community in northwest Davidson County, the staff has laid out a blueprint for the preservation of the natural and rural character of much of the area. Yet their plan also supports a proposal to insert a massive development called the May Town Center onto 500 rolling acres in Bells Bend. And that has residents crying betrayal.

The proposed town center is essentially a second downtown built from scratch—a very seductive concept for planners and developers. The financial stakes are equally enormous. Hundreds of millions stand to be made by the developers and Metro’s tax collectors. The town center would require expenditures almost as vast as its potential revenues—a whole new infrastructure—with who pays for what still to be determined.

The plan for May Town is urban rather than suburban design, and is more environmentally sensitive than the big box developments of Middle Tennessee’s past. But it’s still a lot of big boxes that have generated furious resistance from Scottsboro-Bells Bend community members, historically leery of development.

Both proponents and opponents have enlisted all-star teams of high-profile lobbyists, who leverage close relationships with governors, mayors and Metro Council members. When the options are laid before the Metro Planning Commission on July 24, the final vote could set Nashville on a highly experimental course that the region has never attempted to explore: whether urban and rural can coexist. Scottsboro residents don’t trust that Metro can reinvent the wheel, or in this case, the country.

“We’ve got enough messes in town that they’re trying to clean up,” says longtime resident Jimmy Lewis. “Look at Dickerson Road and all the money put into reviving downtown. They should clean them up and not mess up more out here. This is just a get-rich-quick scheme.”

God’s countryThe Scottsboro community, of which Bells Bend is a part, is tiny—350 households. But it features the largest remaining agricultural and forested landscape in the Davidson County—13,000 acres. What some residents call “NoSco” lies north of Ashland City Highway and climbs to the West Highland Rim. “SoSco” is Bells Bend, a peninsula south of the highway inscribed by the Cumberland River and bisected by Old Hickory Boulevard. The site for the proposed Town Center sits in the Bend’s southern end east of Old Hickory, near the road’s terminus at the river and across the road from the 800-acre Bells Bend Park.

Despite its proximity to Nashville’s suburban and urban areas—you can see the downtown skyline five miles away from the higher ridges—Scottsboro has stayed rural in part because of its topography: floodway and floodplain along the river rimming the Bend, with much of the inland portion steep slopes sliced by narrow hollows. Metro codes forbid building in floodways and there are restrictions—and expenses—to developing floodplains and hillsides. The lack of sewer lines and good vehicular access has also limited development. The Bend in particular is infrastructure-challenged, a sort of gated-community without the gates because there’s only one way in and out. And that way—Old Hickory—is two curvy, narrow lanes with minimal shoulders.

As a result, Scottsboro is even today a place where homesteads can go back for generations, where gunshots ring out during deer season. The Lewis Country Store & More, which sits at the intersection of Old Hickory and Ashland City Highway, is the commercial “hub” of Scottsboro. There people pump gas, buy convenience and deli food—the milk shakes are first-rate—admire the Lewis collection of guns, taxidermied animals and funky signs and, on warm summer evenings, strum fiddles and guitars on the broad front porch.

But Ashland City Highway is now four lanes with urban lighting, lanes that are delivering subdivisions to points north (along Eatons Creek Road), east and west. Development is coming as Metro Nashville’s greenfields are vanishing, and what was once considered topographically and socially rugged territory—the area has always lacked the gentility of southwest Davidson and Williamson counties—is now looming in the crosshairs of those who turn land into real estate.

May TownThe latest to draw a bead are Jack May and Tony Giarratana. The local May family, which holds a lot of downtown real estate and also counts the Belle Meade office park and shopping center in its portfolio, owns 1,400 acres in Bells Bend and wants to put May Town Center (MTC) on 500 of them. Giarratana, known for delivering high-rise residential to downtown, is serving as master developer.

The scope of MTC is big: 10 million square feet of office space and an additional 1.5 million square feet of commercial—retail, restaurant—as well as 5,000 residences in a mixture of town houses, flats, mid-rise and high-rise. By way of comparison, downtown Nashville currently has 7.1 million square feet of office space and Cool Springs approximately 3.4 million square feet.

The plan for MTC, first revealed in February, includes sites for nine corporate campuses surrounding a dense urban core, with the tallest structure reaching 18 stories. At the end of the projected 15-year buildout, in 2026, the development would have 150 buildings and its workforce of 40,000 people would rival downtown Nashville’s 47,000. To provide access for this hefty labor force, the developers are proposing a new bridge across the Cumberland River.

The stated rationale for MTC is to enable Davidson County to compete for corporate relocations with places like Cool Springs and create much-needed tax revenues for Metro. According to Janet Miller, chief economic development and marketing director for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, “Davidson is very limited in the number of 50-acre sites available for the suburban corporate campus. Corporations generally come with a pre-wired culture. If you try to sell a suburban corporate culture on downtown, they’ll just go elsewhere, to Charlotte or Atlanta.”

Or Cool Springs. According to market researchers with Colliers Turley Martin and Tucker, 51 percent of all the seekers of office space in the total Nashville market, including Murfreesboro, went to Brentwood-Cool Springs in 2007. And Cool Springs is rapidly expanding, with more than 1 million square feet of office space currently under construction.

The concept behind the May Town Center is to make the corporate executives as comfortable in Metro Nashville as they are in Williamson County. The developers will provide plenty of parking, and a bridge across the river to carry the execs to high-end housing in Hillwood and Belle Meade. And if Metro’s public schools lack the cachet of those in Williamson County, well, there are no flies on Harpeth Hall or Montgomery Bell Academy.

But if Cool Springs is generic high-end edge city, MTC is being touted by its promoters as “unique.” In Cool Springs the land uses are segregated into office, retail and residential zones. This typical suburban development pattern defines a series of work and consumer opportunities hyphenated by corridors for single-occupancy vehicles and acres of asphalt on which to park them.

MTC, on the other hand, is being laid out in the manner of a traditional town, according to New Urbanist principles. At the center of the high-density urban core would lie civic spaces for public gathering featuring “natural water features and a dazzling glass pavilion,” according to an MTC press release. Surrounding the dazzle would be street-level retail with offices and residences above and parking —surface and structured—to the rear of buildings. Flanking this core is medium-density residential and office as well as the corporate campuses. Sidewalks are as important as streets in linking the site. The idea is to create a walkable environment, with a footprint smaller than the likes of Cool Springs, so that people don’t need to—or want to—drive between one land use and another.

The undeveloped portion of the May land—900 acres—would be permanently preserved as open space and serve as a green buffer between MTC and the rest of Bells Bend. The developers also promise, in another press release, that “the commercial and residential structures will be built to LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] standards (or equivalent)” established by the U.S. Green Building Council and that “an extensive network of natural trails and walkways” will connect MTC with Bells Bend Park.

So who could object to a project that introduces good urban design of such a scale to Nashville while preserving so much of the May’s land? Well, most of the Scottsboro community.

“They’re trying to build a city to compete with the city we already have,” says Sharon Work, a fifth-generation resident of the Bend. “I’m shocked at the idea of an 18-story building out here. Last spring we went door-to-door and it was hard to find a person who embraces this concept.”

In April and May—after Giarratana had publicly presented MTC and the project had been the subject of community meetings—15 volunteers conducted a survey of Scottsboro-Bells Bend residents to determine attitudes toward MTC. Of the 355 households in the area, 242 yielded signed ballots; of these, 92 percent were opposed to the development.

The people surveyed stress MTC’s incompatibility with preserving Scottsboro’s rural character. Others worried about the impact on natural resources and, naturally, the increased traffic the development would bring. A few residents seemed resigned to paving paradise. “I hate to see farmland used for this purpose,” writes one undecided, “but I know it will happen.”

The oppositionThe citizens of Scottsboro have experience fighting development. “They’ve tried to cram everything down our throats that nobody else wants,” explains Jimmy Lewis, of Country Store & More.

What nobody else wanted in the 1970s was a chemical factory planned for Bells Bend by Eastman-Kodak before the company decided to consolidate operations in Kingsport.

In the early 1990s, Metro proposed a landfill on the former “Kodak” site to replace one in Bordeaux. Opponents formed the Scottsboro-Bells Bend Defenders to derail the project. The landfill plan collapsed after the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation declared the hilly terrain of the site unfeasible for a landfill.

The defenders were less successful with a halfhearted effort against the widening of Ashland City Highway to a big fat highway. And despite much stronger opposition, the Harpeth Valley Utility District located a sewage treatment plant in Bells Bend in 2000, after winning an appeal in the state Supreme Court.

In 2005 a group headed by local developer Jeff Zeitlin optioned 835 acres in Bells Bend east of Old Hickory to build 1,200 residences in what they called a “conservation development subdivision” named Bells Landing. (Zeitlin’s acreage is now part of the MTC site.)

Bells Landing’s site plan included many admirable features that distinguished it from the conventional cookie-cutter-houses-on-big-lots subdivision. But Scottsboro residents feared that the water and sewer lines the development would have required—the Bend currently relies on septic—could usher in further waves of development.

Ultimately, the Planning Commission refused to incorporate Bells Landing into the official community plan. So Bells Landing died.

The Third VisionAfter the landfill dust settled, Scottsboro defenders talked with Planning Department executive director Rick Bernhardt and his staff about how to move beyond the “Just Say No” mode. Bernhardt suggested they develop a positive vision for the future of the area.

The result is a proposal that gives an alternative vision of what a conserved Scottsboro could be. Beaman Park to Bells Bend: A Community Conservation Project is a glossy 192-page book on the resources of Scottsboro and recommendations for preservation and controlled growth. With the assistance of the Land Trust for Tennessee and a host of state and local government experts, the community researched data on history and archaeology, geology and water systems.

“The effort to sustain the essential rural characteristics” of the corridor between Beaman and Bells Bend parks “while ensuring quality growth has been dubbed by stakeholders as ‘The Third Vision,’ ” the report explains. “This name sets it apart as an alternative to the other two models of development that have been proposed . . . including conventional suburban development on two-acre lots and higher density conservation subdivisions.” (This was before MTC loomed on the horizon.)

Key elements of the “Third Vision” include a town center mixing residential and commercial, with a likely location at the crossroads of Old Hickory and Ashland City Highway, and the preservation and expansion of working farms as local food sources. The vision also foresees a green infrastructure to establish Scottsboro as a recreational destination for the county and beyond, with greenways and hiking trails providing access to camping, birding, fishing, boating and hunting.

But nowhere in the Third Vision is a virtual downtown with 40,000 people working in it. That would be the fourth vision.

The great white holeDuring the development of the Third Vision, Scottsboro activists met informally with planning staffers, seeking guidance. “We asked for their help on how to realize what’s in the book,” says NoSco resident Minda Lazarov. The staff suggested a detailed design plan, which planning defines as addressing “land use, transportation and community character at the neighborhood level.”

For the residents of Scottsboro, a detailed design plan seemed the logical next step. The process would enable residents to take advantage of the planners’ expertise in fleshing out their vision for Scottsboro. Planning staff conducted the first three public meetings in the fall of 2007 at the Scottsboro Community Club, an unpretentious block of a building whose walls are adorned with photos of barbecues and fish fries past. These meetings considered the existing state of affairs—character of landscape, current zoning and infrastructure—as well as options for agriculture, the preservation of the natural landscape and tourism. January was the mega-meeting, a workshop in which planning staff asked participants to answer questions on what they liked and wanted preserved in Scottsboro and what changes they wanted to see in the future. The vision of an overwhelming number of participants was for rural preservation and low-density development; i.e., the Third Vision.

In February the planners returned to Scottsboro to present their draft concept plan based on what the residents had been saying. “That’s when all hell broke loose,” Lazarov says. “There was this big white hole on the map at the bottom of Bells Bend.” The white hole was May Town Center.

Giarratana and May had previously held a downtown press conference to unveil MTC to the biz crowd. At this flack-filled event, the buzz was a happy hum. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Ralph Schulz described his reaction to the project, in an orgy of assonance, as “excited, enthusiastic, ecstatic.”

The buzz in Scottsboro was more of a hostile murmur. As Giarratana presented MTC, a WSMV-Channel 4 camera recorded the stunned reaction of the standing-room-only crowd. One visibly angry community member muttered “same old crap.” When Giarratana pointed out that the current zoning would allow a subdivision, another resident asked loudly, “Is that a threat?”

“We knew the general outlines of Tony’s proposal, but we’d thought Planning was still working with us,” Lazarov says. “We were flabbergasted to see that a land speculator could come in and hijack our whole vision, and that Planning would go along.” The chasm between residents and developers was reflected in the dress code. The former favored jeans, fleece tops and ball caps; the latter sported suits and ties.

As planning staffer Jennifer Carlat explained in April, after months of wonky meetings, “We see [MTC] as a unique product in a unique location. We think our proposal balances a certain amount of economic development with rural preservation. We are, after all, a property rights state.”

Giarratana took notes of the comments and presented MTC modifications designed to soothe and accommodate. He explained how MTC is anti-sprawl because it’s mixed-use urban design would allow people to live, work and play in the center.

Scottsborians were polite, but obdurate. At the April meeting, Jane Coble said that the plan’s recommendation for low-density residential “surrounding a town of 40,000 people is meaningless. You might as well bring Gallatin Road in here.” Sumter Camp complained, “Rick Bernhardt said, ‘bring us your vision,’ and we did. And we invited you out here to help us. Then this development comes along and the Planning Department rolls over. So what’s the point of planning?”

Bernhardt admits that his department’s support for MTC is, from the community’s perspective, an about-face. “But the May family owns the property, they’re stakeholders and have a right to be at the table,” he says. “We’ve heard from people who were afraid to speak out in the public meetings, who want to preserve their right to develop their property when they need to.” That could lead to “piece by piece, destroying the character of the Bend.”

Bernhardt points out that “there will be constant pressure to develop. Our biggest concern is that unless we put a plan in place, you’re going to piecemeal develop the Bend and that creates the worst of all situations.”

Bernhardt also thinks you have to look at the bigger picture “than just property owners in the Bend. Within the region you have a need for economic growth that should be as compact as possible” for it to be sustainable, as sprawl is not. “And you have a cap on property taxes” because it now takes a public referendum to increase them. So the delivery of government services rides on the back of new development.

Bernhardt sees the debate about MTC as prompting a broader community discussion on “whether or not the bigger public purpose is served by leaving the Bend natural—you can make that case, but then you have to have the tools to preserve it. Or whether you should preserve the part that can be preserved, and develop the part that can be developed, but do it in an environmentally sustainable way. That’s the middle ground we’ve taken. And if we do all of that right, I think you’ve got a win-win.”

For most Scottsboro residents, that’s too big an “if.” Lazarov likens the situation to the infamous statement by the commander in Vietnam who said, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

The planners’ planAt the final community meeting in June, residents and planners, exhausted by contention, essentially agreed to disagree. And the residents acknowledged all the hard work the planners had done and thanked them. But they requested that the text of the final plan reflect their discontent. “Don’t try to pretend we support this plan, that we’re all on board—we’re not,” said Joe Ingle. “This isn’t the community’s plan; it’s the Planning Department’s plan.”

Much of that plan’s map is colored green to denote natural conservation areas. What’s conserved are farmland and environmentally sensitive features—ridgelines and steep slopes, watersheds, woodlands, floodplains and rare species.

A village center focused on the intersection of Old Hickory and Ashland City Highway encourages neighborhood-scaled—one to two stories—mixed-use development in a pedestrian-friendly format. Surrounding this center is a complementary residential area, with homes of three stories max developed at a density of no more than one unit per half-acre. All this is consistent with the Third Vision.

What’s inconsistent with the community’s vision is May Town, which is a village center on steroids. It’s important to note, however, that the planners have not given MTC developers a free ride, establishing certain conditions they have to meet. The most important—and most costly—is the primary access into the site: “a bridge(s) connecting the Alternate Development Area to West Nashville or to Cockrill Bend.” This bridge must be built at the front end to carry equipment for the construction of the rest of the site, minimizing traffic on Old Hickory Boulevard.

The cost of the bridge and the rest of the road infrastructure has been the subject of endless speculation on the Nashville grapevine. Until right-of-way and design specifics are nailed down, there’s no way to come up with a solid cost figure. But people who build bridges and roads say a minimum figure of $50 million for the bridge and a total of over $100 million for all the infrastructure—including a revamped interchange at Briley Parkway—would be a conservative estimate.

Money talksThere are legal hurdles May and Giarratana must negotiate before they can unpack the groundbreaking spades. First off, the Planning Commission must vote to incorporate the detailed design plan, including the “Alternate Development,” into the Bordeaux-Whites Creek general community plan. That vote is scheduled for July 24.

Then the developers must get a change from the current zoning, which permits single-family housing and some duplexes on two-acre lots. The zone change must be presented to the Planning Commission and approved by the Metro Council. If the commission doesn’t approve the zone change, the developers must get 27 votes, rather than a simple majority of 21, to pass through council.

Giarratana says that he and May will request a zone change hearing at the Sept. 11 meeting of the Planning Commission. “We would like to be heard on second [public] reading at the Nov. 4 Metro Council meeting.”

Helping May and Giarratana grease the skids through commission and council are high-powered lobbyist James Weaver—who delivered a high-rise hotel to Lower Broad over the objections of historic preservationists—and Tom Jurkovich, former Mayor Purcell’s director of economic development. Both are with the politically wired law firm of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis. The opponents have also fielded a formidable team, working for little or no pay: Dave Cooley, former deputy to Gov. Phil Bredesen; Jane Alvis, Purcell’s former council liaison; and David Briley, former council member and mayoral candidate.

Given that councilmanic courtesy—what the council member wants for his/her district, the council member gets—traditionally governs zone changes, the position of Scottsboro’s representative, Lonnell Matthews Jr., could be a harbinger of how votes will roll. Surprisingly, given that most council members relish the chance to show they’re on top of district issues, Matthews’ position won’t be articulated at the July 24 meeting.

“I don’t expect to speak at the Planning Commission because that meeting is about land use policy and not the May Town proposal,” Matthews says. This is disingenuous, given that if you open the door to a policy that allows for MTC, MTC is soon to follow. Matthews calls the proposed development “intriguing” and notes that “Jack May has made considerable attempts to respond to citizen concerns. I realize that [MTC] is a 180 degree turn from what the residents would like to see in Bells Bend. But I believe it could work because [May] is willing to help fund conservation easements to preserve the rest of the Bend.”

And Scottsboro households represent such a small percentage of his constituency that Matthews can probably win reelection without them. What you can’t win elections without is money. And Matthews got some from the proponents of MTC during his campaigns in last year’s general election and runoff. Jeff Zeitlin gave the maximum $1,000 to each, as did Bells Landing LLC. Remember, this was the name of Zeitlin’s proposal for Bells Bend. Zeitlin is rumored to be involved in the residential segment of the MTC project. And Bells Landing Partners is also the name listed as “owners” on the MTC website as standing for the May family.

The May family was no less generous. Their personal contributions to Matthews came during the runoff. Father Leon, brothers Jack and Frank, and Frank’s wife Diane each gave $1,000. So did Elizabeth Courtney, whose Seigenthaler Public Relations is flacking MTC.

Matthews claims, however, that campaign contributions “are not influencing my decision” on MTC. “My decision is based on what’s best for my district and the county. Those of us running the government have to find ways to provide services for the citizens of Davidson County, and that means increase property taxes or the tax base.” MTC “has potential to have a significant impact on our tax base.”

The bridge to somewhereIn the promo video of MTC included in press kits, a camera pans back from downtown to Bells Bend. A helicopter swoops down to reveal the development in all its glorious built-out state. What’s striking about the footage is what’s not in it: people and cars. The preternatural calm is eerily reminiscent of San Francisco after a nuclear catastrophe in On the Beach. In this film the buildings stand, but streets are empty because inhabitants have all crawled inside to die of radiation poisoning.

The reality of MTC, however, will include plenty of live bodies and their vehicles. To handle most of this new traffic, MTC developers propose a new six-lane bridge across the Cumberland. The original concept for the bridge was a southern river crossing and a link to I-40 via a new interchange. This is the most direct route to the upscale housing of Hillwood and Belle Meade that relocating executives desire. But residents of Charlotte Park, which flanks where the bridge would land, protested mightily. So a new configuration was designed for an eastern river crossing, into Cockrill Bend, and a link to Briley Parkway.

Old Hickory Boulevard would provide the only other access to MTC. Scottsboro residents have repeatedly expressed concern that widening the road would destroy the rural character of the Bend. In response, Brooks states: “Although we are still conducting our analyses, the existing two-lane road is expected to adequately accommodate the projected traffic volumes.”

Interestingly, the plan for MTC only calls for a total of eight lanes to provide access. Note that downtown Nashville has a lot more lanes in and out to serve a workforce comparable to MTC. According to Metro Public Works, there are 16 interstate lanes that feed the interstate loop and 50 lanes of surface roadways that cross it inbound. Note also that Tennessee Department of Transportation maps show 34 lanes going into and out of Cool Springs.

As to who will pay the $100 million or more for the road infrastructure, Jack May says that given the current budget crises faced by government at the state and local level, “We’re assuming all will be internally funded.” But many are doubtful that a developer can get that kind of funding up front. This skepticism has led to the attitude among some Metro Council members—all of whom insist on anonymity—that the bridge will never be built. So MTC will never happen. So it doesn’t matter if you vote for the zone change. And why piss off the biz types—potential campaign contributors—with a negative vote?

This also seems to be the viewpoint of Mayor Karl Dean, who’s taken what he describes as a “wait and see” attitude. The danger with “wait and see” is that once the zoning is changed and land values in the Bend rise, the chance is slim that Dean or anyone else will see a rural landscape.

Value addedIf the Planning Commission votes for the detailed plan that includes MTC, and the council for the zone change, the most immediate economic impact will be on the value of the May family’s land. Right now the Mays have the legal right to build 613 residential units on their property, according to the Planning Department. If the zoning is changed and the planners approve the specific plan for MTC, however, the Mays will be entitled to develop at a much greater intensity. And the legal right to build at this intensity stays with the land even if the Mays sell it, as long as the new owners stick with the approved site plan.

That legal right is worth a lot of money. Land is generally 10 to 20 percent of the total investment in a development. The developers project that their total investment in MTC will be over $4 billion. Applying the standard percentage makes the land portion $400 million to $800 million. That’s a big escalation from the $22 million the Mays paid for their acreage in Bells Bend.

Such an escalation in land value could have negative consequences for preserving the rest of Scottsboro. As president of the Land Trust for Tennessee, Jeanie Nelson is an expert in helping people place conservation easements on their land that restrict future development in exchange for tax breaks. “There are three reasons people protect their land with a conservation easement: They love their land, they love their land, they love their land,” Nelson says. “They don’t do it because of the tax deduction. That will never be worth as much as the sale price they could get from a developer.”

And what property owners in Scottsboro could get from developers would increase if the May land is rezoned. Some developers would surely notice that the MTC plan projects 40,000 workers and only 5,000 dwellings. And they’d undoubtedly be perfectly happy to build homes for the other 35,000 nearby. As land thus becomes more valuable, and the gap between the tax deduction for an easement and the sale price grows, it’s more difficult psychologically for owners to protect their property when the alternative is making a killing.

Bottom lineThe economic impact study prepared at the behest of May and Giarratana projects that MTC will deliver to Davidson County, in property and sales taxes, $578 million through 2026. And if you allow for the ripple effect of all the wages going into the pockets of those who build the place and those who work and live there, the figure is $897 million through 2026. Not exactly chump change.

There are assumptions in the study, however, that some developers not affiliated with MTC question. One is that MTC is “assumed to attract new businesses and employees,” the study states. Economist William Wade, who prepared the study, explains that this means the corporations who go to MTC will come from outside the Nashville region. The Chamber’s Janet Miller says, however, that in the last five years, only 20 percent of job growth, which correlates with the occupation of business space, has come from outside the region, while 80 percent is the result of expansion within the region. A study by the Planning Department confirms that one of the “challenges” posed by MTC is “potential competition with downtown/midtown—not the corporate campuses but the corporate mid-rise” buildings.

Another economic consideration is that development like MTC would require a lot more government services than do the 355 households currently living in Scottsboro. There’s a school to be built and staffed, fire and police protection, garbage service. And even if the developers build the bridge, it will have to be maintained.

No figures for any of these costs appear in the economic impact study produced by MTC developers.

In some other lucky parts of the country, government policy makers use a regional perspective to proactively plan for growth. Planner Peter Calthorpe, in books such as The Next American Metropolis and The Regional City, shows how governments have looked at their maps and decided where development should happen and where it shouldn’t, and then laid plans for infrastructure accordingly. MTA’s Paul Ballard points to North Carolina’s Charlotte/Mecklenberg County, which levies a sales tax yielding $70 million a year strictly dedicated to funding transit. With the proceeds, Ballard says, “they’re building light rail, not where density is but where they want density to develop.”

This makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is what Middle Tennessee does: county competing against county for corporate relocations and expansions, with speculators driving the direction our growth will take, and infrastructure playing catch up. This is May Town.

The lion and the mouseScottsboro residents have worked hard to document the resources contained in their area. And they continue to work hard—studying models such as the Appalachian Trail and New York’s Adirondacks—to develop ways to preserve and enhance those resources and make them available to the rest of the region and beyond. They deserve the chance, and the time, to see if they can make the Third Vision work.

At the final Scottsboro meeting, Jane Coble told the planners her vision of the “alternative”: “You’re putting a lion in a cage with a mouse and saying, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ But you know the lion is going to eat the mouse. And if May Town happens it’s going to destroy everything in our vision.”

Metro’s planners are betting that the lion and the mouse can coexist, that the lion won’t roar and disturb the mouse’s tranquility.

On this one, I’m with Woody Allen, who once wrote about the potential for coexistence between the lion and another non-predatory species: “The lion and the calf shall lie down together but the calf won’t get much sleep.”


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