Christine Kreyling, our fearless correspondent who penned our recent cover story on the the plan to build a virtual second downtown in the heart of pristine Bells Bend, breaks the news that the area's council member, Lonell Matthews, is no longer in favor of the massive development:
In a surprising position reversal, Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr. now says he’s opposed to the land-use change for May Town Center. Matthews represents the district in northwest Davidson County that includes Bells Bend, where the site for MTC lies. Matthews had previously indicated at least tacit support for the project, which is hugely unpopular with the majority of his Scottsboro constituents.
Matthews voiced his opposition in a letter to Planning Commission members, citing community opposition and the many “uncertainties” about the development. He acknowledges the diligence of Metro’s planning staff, who are recommending the land-use change, but says “the people of Bells Bend, Scottsboro, and District 1 deserve to have their voice reflected in the decisions that will affect their community.”
The timing of Matthews’ letter is dramatic, to say the least. This Thursday the Planning Commission is set to vote on the change in land-use policy that would enable May Town to happen. While councilmanic courtesy—i.e., what a council member wants for his/her district, the council member gets—isn’t the ironclad tradition of councils past, a district representative’s stance is clearly an important consideration for commission members. Commissioners risk the appearance of cramming a project down unwilling citizens’ throats if they vote against councilmanic wishes. Several council members representing districts adjacent to Matthews’ are also rumored to be planning to voice their concerns about the land-use change to the commissioners.
Matthews had previously stated that he didn’t plan to speak at the commission meeting, a highly unusual move. Most council members relish the opportunity to exert their influence on district issues, especially ones of this magnitude. Many interpreted Matthews’ unwillingness to take a public stance as implicit support for the development.
In an interview with the Scene
at the end of June, Matthews called the project “intriguing” because of its “potential to have a significant impact on our tax base. 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.” The Scene also reported that Matthews had received considerable campaign contributions from May Town principals during last year’s election.
Matthews’ sudden opposition is obviously unwelcome news to Giarratana and the May family, which owns the land on which May Town would be built. Matthews’ reversal could erode the groundswell the developers have been trying to build for MTC. For the last week or so Giarratana has been sending out daily—sometimes twice daily—press releases and position papers touting MTC and soliciting letters of support to the commission.
Even if the commission doesn’t approve the land-use change, MTC developers are still free to pursue the zoning change necessary for May Town through the Planning Commission and Metro Council. If the commissioners vote “No” on the zone change, the developers must get 27 votes, rather than a simple majority of 21, to pass through Council.