Thursday, June 25, 2009

May Town: Why is the Planning Commission Voting Now?

Posted By on Thu, Jun 25, 2009 at 11:07 AM

Excuse the dive into political procedure for a second, but here's a question we should have probably asked months ago: Why is the Planning Commission being asked to vote on May Town now? Here's our best guess. Rezoning, like what the Mays are asking for in Bells Bend, is where the Metro Council puts in most of its energy. Normally the process goes like this: A request goes to the Planning Commission, they vote, then it goes to Council. May Town is different, however, because of the actions of one Councilmember... On April 30th, Lonnell Matthews requested a draft of the May Town bill. This action created an accelerated timetable, a pressure-cooker whereby the Planning Commission had 30 days to act despite the fact that this came before the studies were completed, before anyone had heard (official) word about the two, then three, bridges needed to make May Town accessible, before it'd been revealed that a proper archaeological survey had never been conducted, heck, Matthews asked for a bill to be drafted before he'd even come out in support of the project. So why would Matthews do it? Why would he essentially give Metro Nashville 90 days (from April 30th, when he drafted the bill, until July 21st, when Council will vote) to consider the creation of a second city within its borders? Why fast-track something this big, when the same considerations aren't made for smaller projects, like helping a local funeral home get a parking lot rezoned? Matthews says this: "I wanted this to go to the July public hearing. I found no need to hold this out till September. I wanted a decision. There was no need to wait for the studies to be finished to wait for it to be drafted. There's no need to prolong it when you have the information." OK. So leaving aside the obvious -- that, on April 30th, neither Matthews, nor Council, nor the May Family, nor Metro Nashville, had "the information" -- the important thing to consider is the date Matthews is targeting. The July public hearing falls on July 7th. Why is that significant? Let's consult "The Developers' Playbook: A Publication For Developers against the Public Interest," an invaluable (and only slightly cheeky) guide posted by Occasional Muse blogger Carol McCullough:
INCONVENIENT TIMING: Schedule Legislation so that the Public Hearing falls near a Holiday When dealing with a proposed development that you anticipate would face significant community opposition, it is important you get the timing right. Bring your proposals to the Council Member at a time that will allow you to ensure that the Public Hearing takes place at a time that it is inopportune. One of the most popular Council Meeting dates for such an activity is the first one of the year that often falls one or two days after the new year holiday. Other good dates to avoid public scrutiny include those near the 4th of July (emphasis ours), Thanksgiving and Christmas. If possible, create a sense of urgency that would make it seem that this timing is entirely accidental. A contract set to expire shortly after that date is one option.
Really, the entirety of McCullough's playbook applies to May Town. But this section deserves special mention. So we've got Matthews creating this urgency, despite the fact that no reasonable person could suggest all the facts are laid out on the table. We've got a deadline date that offers proponents of the bill the best chance to stack the deck in their favor. And we've got Councilmembers like Jason Holleman and Emily Evans asking to defer, to give more time, not because they want to stall, but because there's still more planning to be done (a deferral which was refused by Matthews, btw). If you're one of those lucky (insane?) few who'll be packing the Planning Commission's meeting today at 4 PM, consider this just one more reason to question: Why are we doing all this now? (H/T to S-Town Mike at Enclave for tracking down the Developer's Playbook)

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