Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Belmont's Rose (Park)

The HOT issue at last evening’s council meeting was the deal between Belmont University and Metro regarding the use of Rose Park. In deference to the large crowd the Council moved that bill toward the front of the agenda, bringing groans from those of us who had business that had been scheduled before what we knew was going to be a long debate. We had hoped to get out before it but had to hang in there until about 11:00 as a result.

Sadly, the Rose Park crowd regularly made their presence and displeasure known in council chambers which was distracting and rude. So much so that Vice-mayor Gentry had to call them to order a couple of times and eventually threatened to clear the room if they couldn’t be quiet. At one point he specifically called out a man with a hat telling him that if he continued to move about and shake his head he was going to be removed. The fellow eventually left before the final vote. Before the vote was revealed Gentry acknowledged the emotion in the room but reminded everyone that they needed to take it outside and they did manage to contained their disappointment and displeasure. I know that it's tough to remain quiet during such times but it has to be done. It was pretty obvious by the stickers they wore they were against the proposal. I believe the inability by many to remain quiet hurt their cause more than helped.

Probably the funniest moment of the entire discussion came after CM Evans called the Metro partnership with Belmont ‘prostituting the park’. CM White felt the need to rise in defense of his alma mater asserting that there was no prostitution going on in the park and Belmont wasn’t encouraging it. And so by this misunderstanding of a valid description of the proposal White demonstrated why he didn’t get a second term.

I was amazed at the list of concessions CM Pepper read off in the latest effort to appease the neighbors which included $50,000 donations for 40 years to the PTO/PTAs of nearby schools to specific accountability measures that could prove a break in the lease by Belmont to more than eight full scholarships. Surprisingly, there seemed to be some objection to the minimal scholarship requirements of financial need and academic standing.

CM Shulman seemed to be thinking outside the box in asking about the availability of Greer Stadium for the university. It had been considered, though, and CM Pepper stated that neither mayoral candidates (Clement or Dean) would object to working on that if the Sounds leave. She also stated that Mayor Purcell’s plans for Greer if the Sounds leave was to tear it down and provide a welcome center for Fort Negley. Of course, that's on the next mayor's to do plate at this late date.

Along the 'prostituting the park' line of debate CM Summers asked where it would stop. Would Vanderbilt be next wanting a chunk of Centennial Park?

Outgoing CM Ludye Wallace (a 28 year veteran of the Council) got very emotional at one point while recounting some of his own history and how an improved facility like what Belmont could provide would be a huge help to the neighborhood children. It was at this moment of vulnerability that the Rose Park crowd was most disruptive and VM Gentry threatened their removal. Wallace even went so far as to say that CM Summers didn't really care about Edgehill which brought groans from the crowd. No one wanted to go there.

Someone brought up the ‘chicken and the egg’ point of view. Did the lack of park use create the lack of maintenance or did the lack of maintenance bring about lack of use? If Metro had been diligent about maintaining the park would Belmont have even come along offering to fix it up? No one had an answer but it became clear that choosing to spend money on other more sophisticated projects meant there wasn't money for the basics like maintaining neighborhood parks. CM Crafton had a great riff about the financial choices the council had made. I wished I'd taken better notes.

It came down to a vote and at that moment Ludye Wallace as out of the room, as were several other councilmen. VM Gentry wondered allowed where he was and a councilman rose to ask again how many votes were needed. VM Gentry suggested they ask and answer slowly to give those councilmembers a change to return telling the crowd that he wanted a fair vote.

So at 9:30 p.m. the vote was 26 Ayes, 10 Noes, 2 Abstentions. Belmont's got room to expand and hopefully, the community will reap all the benefits promised.

And I couldn't let this last photographic opportunity pass. It's one of those family shots that had to be done because you don't know if you'll get the chance ever again.

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