Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bonfire of the Vanities: The May Town Center Proposal is Sheer Lunacy

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2008 at 3:34 PM

click to enlarge bonfire_of_the_vanities.jpg
Not since a Metro Council member wanted the city to build an alien landing pad has Nashville confronted an idea as utterly bizarre and surreal as the proposal to build a second downtown on over 500 acres of the most beautiful land in the county. This is lunacy. The planned May Town Center, which would feature 18-story buildings in the middle of rolling fields and working farms, isn’t just an environmental headache and an archaic planning decision. It's something out of a Tom Wolfe novel. How could anyone have first introduced it without the audience doubling over in hysterics? Planning Commissioners should have all sorts of legitimate concerns when they vote Thursday on whether to allow developers Jack May and Tony Giarantana to proceed. Here are just a few: 1)It will obliterate the rural Scottsboro Community, and quite possibly the Nations neighborhood on the other side of the Cumberland. Certainly parts of West Meade. Those 40,000 office workers won’t be taking Wonder Woman’s invisible jet to the May Town Center (unless I missed that part of Giarantana’s proposal). They’ll be driving across narrow rural roads through peaceful, sleepy neighborhoods over a towering bridge (that we’ll be paying for in all likelihood) to a massive development that could end up looking as if Cool Springs hopped over to Northwest Davidson County. Let’s eat at Genghis Grill for lunch! 2)It will undo years of smart planning decisions to grow downtown, SoBro and the Gulch. Unlike a lot of southern cities, Nashville can actually boast of a vibrant downtown. And with a recent trend toward urban living — given a healthy push by skyrocketing gas prices — our collection of stylish new buildings, tasty restaurants and fun bars and honky tonks can only grow. But building a competing downtown will only draw away downtown tenants, throwing a thick blanket on our recent hot streak. In any case, don’t tell me the May Town Center will dramatically boast the tax rolls when we have no idea how much taxpayers will be asked to spend on roads, bridges, sewers, police, firefighters, and schools. And it's foolish to think all of these new businesses will suddenly materialize from outside the Metro area. The vast majority will simply be sucked away from nearby communities. 4) The proposed May Town Center will also increase run-off into the Cumberland, polluting our prized watershed. You can’t build a second downtown a couple hundred yards from a newly cleansed river without all sorts of nasty things flowing into it. Sorry about that. 5) Nobody can begin to predict the impact of the May Town Center. As mentioned in Christine Kreyling’s story this week, we don’t know how much it will cost to provide police protection and schools to a new community. Or the price tag of expanding sewer capacity. We don’t even know how much traffic the development will create. These are pretty fundamental questions, and the city needs to have rock-solid answers before the commission votes to proceed. So tomorrow the Planning Commission will vote on the proposal. Surely the future of our city doesn’t depend on devouring our farmland. Besides, if developing every parcel in your city is the key to a healthy local economy, then how come none of us are moving to Miami, which has no almost no green space until you hit the Everglades? I spent nearly three years in Dallas, where developers have built office towers and McMansions on just about every swath of land that’s not in a flood plain. Nobody in city government ever turns off a bulldozer. Yet the roads there have potholes the size of small lakes and the school system is in a perpetual state of crisis, while the murder rate is among the highest in the country. There are ways to grow a city through smart, sustainable development. But plopping a second downtown in an outlying field is neither smart nor sustainable. It’s silly and stupid — a bad idea out of the 1980s. The Planning Commission needs to soundly reject the proposal tomorrow.

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