Friday, July 17, 2009

It was uggglyyyy II

It was a very contentious meeting last night at the East Branch Library. This was not what the relationship between a councilman and their constituents should be and everyone was frustrated that this zoning fight had gone on so long. Few people felt like there was mutual respect or that the other side was listening or actually trying to compromise.

I knew parking was at a premium so I got to the library about 5:15 p.m. I thought I was the first attendee but Juvenile Court Clerk Vic Lineweaver was already there. He laid pens on the tables, got the scoop on what was going on from me and Larry Eaton and then had to leave for another event.

Nine Metro Councilmen were in attendance. I saw Bennett, Claiborne, Coleman (later), Craddock, Duvall, Garrett (and Mrs.), Jameson, Maynard (later) and Tygard. They should all be thanked for going above and beyond to ensure that previous conduct at meetings was kept to a minimum. It's at times like this (and long public hearings) that I think these folks don't get paid enough. There were about 70 people cramped into this space at the height of the meeting and not enough seating. Murray should have gone along with the original meeting place of the East Precinct for everyone's comfort. Anything to diminish frustration would have been a good idea.

CM Pam Murray (District 5-East Nashville) opened the meeting by asking everyone to sign in and write down their questions on sheets she provided. Having experienced this control tactic before one of the neighbors objected right from the start and Murray never really got the meeting back from that point on. Folks did raise their hands for recognition but it wasn't always given, there was plenty of cross talk and speaking out of turn.

The initial announcements included a late email from Bill Penn of Codes saying the court case against offending property owner Charles R. (Friday) Blackwood had been dismissed with the owner paying the court fees. Since the building was shuttered and vacant Codes determined he was in compliance and no further action was needed. Also there was a letter from the Historical Commission indicating that based on what they'd been told about proposed changes to the property no preservation permit was needed.

Blackwood provided a basic history of the property. This cement block building was 2 apartments, a salvage store and a wrecker service (yes all at once) when he purchased it. Back in 2006 after speaking to 'an inspector' he had the salvage store part removed from the property zoning which left it at being zoned for a single family. He admitted again that he'd failed to get permits for the quadplex he created but kept insisting that the group move on from that.

Blackwood was facing a pretty angry group of folks who had been frustrated by his illegal activity and lack of responsiveness from Murray. It quickly got heated and Blackwood's back was up almost from the beginning.

He brought the following proposed rendering of what he'd like to do with the property to try and make it more palatable for the neighbors. When asked he told the group gathered that it would take about $35,000 to make this change. 45 days for the exterior and 60 days for the interior. It was clear from nearly the beginning that he was not going to budge from his plan. It was going to be this quadplex or a single family building. Just those two options. I heard it as a threat when he said if he didn't get the quadplex he'd make it a single family home per the zoning and put up a big ole chain link fence to protect the children that would live there.

At this point a woman asked for a show of hands for those that approved and then disapproved of this plan. The overwhelming majority of hands were for disapproval. Murray said "I have a problem with that." The people that objected didn't show up at this meeting she explained. Why not? was asked. Someone joked that "They musta missed the bus." referring to the green shirted folks bussed in for the public hearing in front of the Council on 7/7/09. Laughter all around. If it wasn't clear before this, it was clear now, Murray was not going to get much respect from this group.

Someone pointed out that this current rendering was not the one Blackwood had provided before.

Considering his history of lack of compliance with current codes how could the neighborhood trust him to follow through with this new design? Blackwood responded that codes was all over him now and they'd make sure. Not very reassuring to residents when Codes has its own trust issues.

Someone asked where these residents were supposed to park. Blackwood responded that he'd "never had a person who owned a car live there."

Another neighbor wanted to know what Blackwood's plan for the corner was. It was obvious he'd bought up that entire corner (not just the offending property). There was a specific neighborhood plan to create a gathering place of mixed use on that corner that Blackwood's quadplex didn't fit. What was his plan for all this property? He insisted it wasn't going to be anything else. He didn't have the money for it. Mrs. Blackwood spoke up and was obviously upset and threw out that 'you should buy it'. Blackwood angrily threw out a $1 million price for all the property on that corner he owns.

Would Murray be willing, in the face of so much obvious opposition, to withdraw the bill? "No. No." was her response. She clarified by saying "If you were in his shoes I would fight for you." That wasn't received very well. Mr. Blackwood isn't a resident of the neighborhood and I got the impression that this group strongly believed that their residency should override his ownership of about a dozen District 5 properties and his campaign contributions to Murray.

Mrs. Blackwood speaks up again, quite angry, and states "We own it and you don't." She wants to know what the crowd suggests the Blackwoods should put in that building. A man who is working on his own development of property near this corner suggested a store or a coffee shop. Mrs. Blackwood responds by stating there was a store near there that went out of business just recently. A neighbor asked "You mean the numbers market?" which brought laughter. At this point the Blackwoods pick up their stuff, tell Murray to withdraw the bill and leave.

Murray is very reluctant to do that. She's trying desperately to convince folks that deferring is the better plan and that a compromise is possible. She cannot define what a compromise would be and instead defines the word compromise. That was the wrong thing to do and added to the already overflowing frustration. She insists that the quadplex is progress for that corner. She mumbles something about money involved. I assumed that meant money involved in beginning the process all over again. Not everyone makes that same assumption.

It's after the Blackwood's leave that Bob Borzack brings up the only other solution to this problem which is for Blackwood to sell the property to someone who does have the money to develop the property in accordance with the Neighborhood Plan. Bob has investigated what Blackwood paid for the properties. He compared it to what has been sold recently and suggests that a more than reasonable sale price would be in the neighborhood of $330,000. Jamie Hollin tells the group that Blackwood has turned down Hollin's three offers to buy the property.

Murray still wants the Council to vote to approve on Tuesday and then people can talk about what the 'development' will look like. She suggests that a development committee be formed consisting of 5 supporters from the Greenwood Neighborhood Association and 5 opponents, an impartial moderator and a Councilman-at-Large. She barely acknowledges the fact that a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood and specific plan for the corner is already in place after many, many meetings with neighbors. She doesn't recognize that there is no need for a development committee as a result---especially in light of the fact that Blackwood has told her to withdraw the bill.

Blackwood is back (and his wife eventually joins him) to get the rendering he'd left behind. Murray asks him if he's willing to defer the bill while a committee discusses it. He's not. "Go ahead and get through with this. [Let the Council vote it down.] I'm not going to spend a lot of money." He has no intention of doing anything else with the property other than a single family home or a quadplex. He again tells her to withdraw the bill.

Murray asks again "Are you sure you want it withdrawn?"

"Yes." Blackwood responds.

Murray says she'll withdraw it Tuesday. However, I ask Murray outside and after the meeting to confirm that she'll withdraw the bill Tuesday and she told me that she will defer the bill until she receives a formal letter from Blackwood requesting the rezoning bill be withdrawn. She told me this was at the suggestion of CM-at-Large Tim Garrett. I'm suspicious of this since she was the one fighting so strongly for deferral and not withdrawal. We'll just have to keep an eye on this.

I understand the frustration that the Blackwood's and Mr. Roberts from the Greenwood Neighborhood Association (which supports this rezoning) expressed. They own the property and they believe they should have the freedom to do with it as they will. In an ideal world that'd be optimal for property owners. However, not always for near by residents. In the long time they've both been alive the world has changed in this regard. We have many more laws about land use. Notice about proposed laws, regulations and restrictions are provided. It's expected that at that time the landowners participate in the process and make their objections known. If they fail to make their case and win it's expected that those rules be followed for the greater good of the neighborhood. It's not personal at all. No one wanted to see this 73 year old man shouted at and disrespected. At a time when he expected he'd be enjoying the fruits of decades of hard work he's fighting for this income. To Blackwood it's his property to do with as he wills. To the neighbors it's their neighborhood to defend. They see Blackwood's obvious desire to provide housing to a transient population as a threat to the peace and safety of their own backyard.

Hopefully, this bill will actually be withdrawn and after a bit of a breather Blackwood will accept a reasonable offer on the properties. Seems to me that $300K or so should go a long way toward enjoying your golden years with a tidy sum left over for the grandkids.

See previous posts:
It was uggglyyyy
As Cleveland Street Turns
Guidelines or rules?
Firetrap shuttered
She Needs to Resign and Stay in Detroit
Pam's Loss Neighborhood's Gain


Staying Under The Radar said...

"but Juvenile Court Clerk Vic Lineweaver was already there. He laid pens on the tables, got the scoop on what was going on from me and Larry Eaton and then had to leave for another event."

That always what he does. As the Bellevue council rep, that's what he did. He shows up everywhere, does a meet and greet, then leaves. He is incompetent and needs to spend his days just focusing on his private security business.

Kay Brooks said...

Yup. I was surprised and then not surprised at seeing him there. He does have this rep.

In the meantime...we're stocked up on pens for a while. :-)