Tuesday, July 14, 2009

As Cleveland Street Turns

As we anticipate community meeting #12 on the illegal quadplex at 837 Cleveland Street Thursday night at the East Branch Library (5:30 p.m.) I offer my overview of last Tuesday's Metro Council meeting where CM Pam Murray (District 5-East Nashville) introduced for second reading and public comment her BL2009-429 which would retroactively spot zone that illegal quadplex for her campaign contributor Charles R. (Friday) Blackwood.

I happened to get in line in the middle of a lot of green t-shirted folks while waiting to go through security at the courthouse. Standing next to me was former Metro Councilman Ronnie Grier. He asked the green group what they were here for. There being no response he pushed a bit and said that it was obvious they were all here for something...what was it? "Some building" was the only response he got. So I filled him in. His comment, born from years on the council and dealing with zoning issues was "It should have never gotten to the Council." I couldn't agree more. This whole effort should have been shut down long ago. It's as if the Metro Council is now the Planning Commission.

This first video is CM Murray introducing the bill for second reading and calling for public comments. Blackwood is first to speak for the bill. He admits again that he created this mess and he intends to clean it up. He promises if the Council will grant him this zoning change he'll be a good neighbor. Seems to me my children have tried this same tack several times. His line that no one at a community meeting had "any positive suggestions about what to do with [the property]" makes me think the real truth is no one wanted his quadplex.

Then comes Mary Copeland representing the Greenwood Neighborhood Association to dress down her 'new' neighbors telling them "Don't try to fix it." "Go along a while and see what you can do to help". She doesn't indicate how long "a while" is. People who testified after her said they'd lived there 5, 6, 8 and 29 years. Surely all of that is long enough. It's a little sad to hear her talk about how long she's dealt with the bad conditions in her neighborhood and know that the efforts of her new neighbors are intended to ensure that the forward progress that's been made continues.

The second video is testimony from neighbors against this rezoning. I've cut off a couple of 'me too' comments at the end to keep it within the YouTube limit.

Jamie Hollin, President of the West Eastland Neighborhood Association is first up. He had with him 151 petitions against this spot rezoning. 77 from Greenwood neighbors, 56 from Maxwell neighbors and 15 from other District 5 neighbors. "This is about the life and safety of the tenants, neighbors helping neighbors and the rule of law." He testified that Blackwood said "If I don't get zoning, I'll rent to MDHA."

Amy Bryson said she'd moved to Greenwood six years ago. She reminded the Council that the detailed neighborhood plan for this property was intended to be commercial on the bottom and residential on the top. She said there had been 7 meetings since January regarding this property. At them neighbors were forbidden to speak, ignored and marginalized. She attributed the success in the neighborhood to people who 'followed the rules, regulations and ordinances."

In this third installment Brian Huffine said he'd been in Greenwood since 2001 and had been on the Board of the Greenwood Neighborhood Association. He charged that lack of regular election of board members and their agenda kept Greenwood NA from be a real voice of the neighborhood.

Also speaking were Larry Eaton a 29 year resident and President of the Maxwell Heights Neighborhood Association and Marty Lang of the Dickerson Road Merchants Association both stating their organizations stand against this rezoning.

Sam McCullough of the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Association reminds the Council that this rezoning goes against the neighborhood plan and that this building was formerly a junk shop and auto repair shop. That seems to emphasize the unsuitability of this building for actual living space. Something Blackwood seemed to understand when he said that without the rezoning the property reverts back to single family and it's a four bath, 5 bedroom building which would likely only be attractive to a large family with children. However, being so close to the busy street the children would be in danger.

This fourth video is the Council discussion after the closing of the public comment period. In this 9 minutes CM Murray repeats that the property is "technically in compliance" according to Metro Codes' Bill Penn 4 times and repeats that there is "a lot of support for this bill" 8 times. She repeats the compliance line, one assumes, because Blackwood has spent so many years out of compliance. To her credit she does mention that it's in compliance because the tenants have been evicted and the place is boarded up.

CM Karen Bennett (District 8) rises "as a property owner in the district" to say that this rezoning is "not in the best interest of the community or the residents who would want to live there". She further testifies that she's attended 4 out of 7 community meetings and has not seen one resident for this rezoning. She sums up by saying this effort is "taking unfair advantage of folks who cannot afford much".

CM Erik Cole (District 7) agrees with CM Bennett and seems to suggest that deferral pending the case against Blackwood in Environmental Court might be the thing to do.

It appears to me that CM Murray knew that despite "the support" in the room for her bill it was going down and she happily latched on to the the idea of deferring the vote one more time even thought it's not what Cole was really suggesting be done as he clarifies later.

CM Michael Craddock (District 4) states adamantly that this needs to be over tonight and says Murray moved to approve this change and then she changed her mind. "We're yanking these people's chains" by making them come back yet again on this same matter.

The fifth has CM-at-large Megan Barry asking the best question. "What additional information will we have next time?" Murray provides no real answer but does say that this has been going on for more than two years. There is a request for more information about the pending court case but no real details are available...or offered by Murray. CM Langster speaks to support Murray. "They seem like they're close together."

Finally, CM Harrison and Gilmore also rise in support of deferral and another community meeting CM Bennett opines this would be beating a dead horse and requests a roll call vote on the vote to defer as well as the bill itself if necessary. Murray takes umbrage with Bennett's comments and reminds us all that there have been "more than 11 meetings" in "over two years" on this issue. Which reminds us of CM Evan's questions above.

CM Jim Gotto (who is also head of the Planning Commission) straddles the fence and suggests that the vote be deferred so his Council Planning Committee can review this before the vote on second reading. He also suggests that SP zoning might be the answer.

The bill is finally voted on and is deferred one meeting.

As I was leaving I caught sight of the bus used to cart in the group of green shirted people. Considering their inability to articulate why they were at the meeting, the fact that none of them spoke (at Murray's request she tells us), and the testimony of neighbors saying they'd never seen the vast majority them before one has got to wonder what chits were called in.

The next act in this nearly unbelievable political play can only be titled 'Dueling meetings'. The next day Hollin schedules a meeting for Thursday, July 16 at the East Precinct, a smart idea considering the police were called after the last one, the space is large, in Murray's district and well appointed. But no. On Friday CM Murray objected and informs him that she's scheduled the meeting at the smaller, older, and not in her district East Library for half an hour earlier on the same night. Copies of the email exchange at the City Paper. Remember to read from the bottom up. Mr. "Holland" agrees to have the meeting THIS Thursday, July 16, at the East Branch Library, 5:30 p.m. CM-at-Large Tim Garrett has agreed to attend and assures neighbors that everyone wishing to speak will be heard.

Stay tuned for next week's episode. [Cue tension building organ music.]

See previous posts:
Guidelines or rules?
Firetrap shuttered
She Needs to Resign and Stay in Detroit
Pam's Loss Neighborhood's Gain

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