Monday, June 15, 2009

The Planning Commission Still Loves the May Town Center Project

Posted By on Mon, Jun 15, 2009 at 9:35 PM

When last we talked about the May Town Center development, Joe Hall of Hall Strategies was
click to enlarge Barnes Cemetery is in the heart of the proposed May Town Center.
  • Barnes Cemetery is in the heart of the proposed May Town Center.
insisting that, "There is in fact a significant - and serious - plan to deal with the three identified arch sites on the 1,500 MTC property."  You will recall, though, that Mr. Hall both refused to tell me who identified these sites for the MTC developers and that my concern, based on what Michael Moore, the State Archaeologist, told me, was that there were more than three sites on the May Town Center land, which the developers would have known, had they consulted with the State.

In short, I doubted that this "Archaeological Inventory Report" covered the whole 1,500 acre site.

By Friday afternoon, it became clear that I was not the only person concerned about whether the archaeological impact of the May Town Center development had been fully considered.

And today--June 15th--three letters have been sent. The First Letter

The first letter is from E. Patrick McIntyre the Executive Director of the Tennessee Historical Commission to Rick Bernhardt at the Metro Planning Department.  In it, McIntyre apologizes for being out of the office on Friday, and acknowledges Bernhardt's "request for information on the archaeological resources on Bells Bend, as well as an explanation of the regulations and procedures regarding the May Town development's potential impact to such resources."

McIntyre also says, "This office has never received a map location showing the exact footprint of the proposed May Town development and bridge crossing, or a project proposal.  A complete discussion of the project impact on known or potential archaeological and architectural resources is, therefore, not possible at this time without this documentation."

He then goes on to explain all the things Michael Moore was kind enough to explain to Pith readers two weeks ago--about the over sixty recorded archaeological sites, the historic properties, the potential for encountering human remains, and the rich human history of the Bend.

And McIntyre stressed what Moore told us, "I must point out that Bells Bend has not been comprehensively examined, either for archaeological or above ground cultural resources."  He does, however, say that Zada Law did an archaeological report for Bells Landing LLC and Hawkins Partners, Inc. in September 2005 (I have not seen this report, but now that I know it exists, I will attempt to track down a copy.)

McIntyre is also of the opinion that, since the proposed bridge will require a federal permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and that the developers have said that the development is not feasible without the bridge, "it will be the position of this office that the area of potential effects (APE) for the Corps permit should include the entire proposed May Town development footprint as well."

If the Army Corps of Engineers agrees with this position, the whole project will then fall under the federal regulations.

McIntyre then says that his office would strongly recommend a "comprehensive archaeological and architectural resources survey of the proposed footprint of the May Town development and all of its potential bridge crossings to be conducted prior to any earthmoving or construction related activities."  He also recommends that such a survey happen as soon as possible so that there can be enough time "to allow for consideration of the project's possible impact upon significant archaeological and architectural resources."

The Second Letter

The second letter is from W. Tim Walker, the Executive Director of the Metro Historical Commission, to Bernhardt.  It's short and talks about how the Metro Historical Commission staff is concerned that May Town Center might have "an adverse impact on the historical resources along the transportation corridors that access the development."

Walker says that the developer should not just be handed the zoning changes he seeks, he sould "be encouraged to buy down, via Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs), some of the existing zonging rights in the impacted area."

The Third Letter

The third letter is also between Walker and Bernhardt and more directly concerns the archaeological impact of the proposed May Town Center development.

The meat of it is as follows, "Our office strongly recommends that as a part of the approval process of the development there be a condition requiring a comprehensive archaeological survey of the proposed footprint and the potential bridge crossing(s) by a certified archeologist who will work closely with the MHC, SHPO, and the State Archeologist.  This should be conducted prior to the approval of a final site plan by the Planning Department and include a conservaation/mitigation plan for the development."

The Take-Away

There is grave concern at both the state and local level about whether adequate and appropriate plans have been made to protect our cultural heritage in the Bend.

Yet, even with all the letters flying today, the staff recommendation report from the Planning Commission still does not accurately reflect the situation in the Bend.  The recommendation report says, "There are a number of historic features on the site that will be preserved. There is one structure, a farmstead that has been designated Worthy of Conservation, two cemeteries, and three possible prehistoric burial grounds. As required by the ADA [Alternate Development Area], an Archaeological Inventory Report was conducted and additional archaeological surveys will be completed on any area proposed for development prior to final site plan approval."

As we know, the appropriate people at the State know of no archaeological survey having been done of the complete May Town Center site.  We also know that no one from the May Town Center development has been in contact with the state in order to correctly identify known sites, and that the State is deeply concerned that there are more than the sixty or so sites they know about in the Bend.  We know that there are likely more than three prehistoric burial sites on these grounds.  We also know that this language is very similar to the language in the May Town Center zoning application.

Nashville, there are two things that stand out to me.  One, if Zada Law's report was done in 2005, it was obviously not done for the May Town Center project, but for the earlier project in which Jeff Zeitlan tried to put 1,200 homes out there.  And so it was done before Zeitland acquired 490 acres from the Kitchells.  So, if that's the archaeological inventory report that the May Town Center people are trying to claim somehow covers all the MTC property, it does not and cannot because it was done before all of the property was acquired.

You would think that someone in the Planning Commission would be concerned about this sleight of hand--that they've been told a comprehensive Archaeological Inventory Report has been done when it has not--but they are not.  Even with the letters that flew today, the Planning Commission is still supportive of a project in which the basic ability of the developers to be fully truthful about the project has been called into doubt.

But the other thing that troubles me is this--the Planning Commission is supposed to work on behalf of the people of Nashville, to guide the development of Nashville in ways that meet the needs of a growing city while protecting the people who already live here.  If there's nothing the people concerned about the May Town Center development can say to cause the Planning Commission to consider whether you really can build Davidson County's answer to Cool Springs withing a mile of three prisons (one of which you'll have to drive by to get into the Bend) on top of important historical and archaeological sites and have it succeed and seemingly nothing the May Town Center people can do that gives the Planning Commission cause to doubt them, why do we even have a Planning Commission?

Is it just always going to be the case that rich people do what they want while the the rest of us scramble to save what we can from them?

Edited to add  I screwed up and said "Zoning Commission" when I meant "Planning Commission." I think I've got it all fixed now, but if you see a "zoning" where there should be a "planning," let me know and I'll go in and straighten it out.  Gah, how embarrassing. 

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