Thursday, June 18, 2009

May Town Center: Alarming Notes from the Planning Commission

Posted By on Thu, Jun 18, 2009 at 5:10 AM

click to enlarge How many bridges will we build? And who will pick up the cost?
  • How many bridges will we build? And who will pick up the cost?
From ace correspondent Brenda Butka: Now there are THREE bridges! Even the planning staff is realizing that one--or two--routes in, however large, do not connectivity make. Bridge number three is now slated for the western side, somewhere much closer to Bells Bend Park and the whooping crane refuge. Not that anyone has had a chance to look at this proposition. Not only are there three bridges, the whole project is now cut in half! Or so it looks at first reading--but those dramatically decreased numbers are actually a confusing but interesting set of minimums--you can't build more that x feet of office space until you build y number of condos. There are a number of other details--bus lanes, buying development rights, an archaeological survey. But didn't the developer insist that had already been done? There's some nice language about "protecting the rural character" of a country road when the plan actually would send thirty years' worth of dump trucks down that way, and some even nicer language about that third bridge: "If this third bridge is needed in the future, the presence of Bells Bend Park, the intent of conserving the rural character of Old Hickory Boulevard in Bells Bend, and the presence of environmentally sensitive natural features placed in natural conservation special policy need to be factored into its design..." Of course the first concrete poured for the first bridge will make all these issues moot anyway... The contentious issue of impact on West Nashville is simply tabled--basically the staff thinks there is no point in talking about it until this project is approved. Uh--I don't think that's going to lower the temperature in Hillwood and Charlotte Park much! And we read (p. 13) that "The larger issue, however, is that Metro Nashville/Davidson County does not have a history of assembling land and preparing it, with master plans, for redevelopment. Rather the County has historically awaited proposals by individual property owners..." So because this county has not planned in the past, it will eagerly grasp this opportunity to not plan again? And our main argument for why May Town is so suddenly urgently required is that everyone else has sprawl, so we want some too? (See pages 5-10 of the report.) Except if it's ours, we don't have to call it sprawl? And the planning department obviously agrees that the speculators' one-and-only bridge idea is bunkum--never mind that they were gung ho to approve that very idea just a year ago. Why are we trying so hard to make this work? It's bigger, it's smaller, it has one bridge--no, two--no, three, a grade school--no, make that a high school, just add rules that'll keep them from building again if it doesn't work out, add a million here and there for easements, call it green. Let the neighbors think they can sell for development, but let the planners promise there won't be any more. Fix the streetscape, don't build any hotels taller than mountains. And on and on. The planning staff enthusiastically wants both the cow pasture and the city in the middle. They want to carefully preserve farmland by building office buildings on it, and a rural landscape by opening the floodgates of sprawl. They want to be really, really green by doing the least green thing possible--building in a pristine environment. They want to be conservationists by supporting easements when there is nothing left to conserve. In their eagerness to have everything, they are promoting a development that is doomed to failure--even with three bridges it's still a dead end. Connectivity is a web--look at Reston, Cool Springs, and downtown--not two bridges, or even three. (I'm maintaining the official fiction that Old Hickory will remain a country road.) In their eagerness to have it all, the staff is leading the city down a path where it has nothing: a failed development, infrastructure debt, sprawl, gridlock, and no green space, no cool factor, no Leiper's Fork-type Bells Bend, no farms, no whooping cranes, and not much of a downtown. Two guys paid too much for a cow pasture. Big deal. Let's just get back to Nashville's business--the plans that thoughtful people--including the planning staff--have outlined over the last 30 years: enlivening downtown, thinking about efficient transit, boosting quality of life for our citizens, improving health and education. Tending to business. It'd be wonderful--nirvana--to be tending to Nashville's own business for a change, instead of Tony, Frank, and Jack's. --Brenda Butka

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