Bell sounds for Bells Bend fight

Monday, February 18, 2008 at 2:07am

Ding! The announcement of a $4 billion development at Bells Bend has sounded the bell for yet another round of neighborhoods fighting a developer.

The May Town Center has reignited the passions of nearby neighborhoods that fought previous plans for residential development and, earlier, a landfill. And they will hash it out at the Scottsboro neighborhood meeting tomorrow night.

On the surface, it has the typical markings of debating construction versus destruction. Developers pitch progress while neighborhoods pitch status quo and preservation of some sort.

But this fight has the potential for becoming extraordinarily interesting because of the different twists and turns the debate could take as issues and objections are raised. The Mays are pitching new urbanism and the opponents are asking about new ruralism.

Developer Tony Giarratana, who is working with May family for a fee, has made the pitch that this project next to the Scottsboro community eventually could throw off more than $50 million in tax revenue. That sounds attractive when Metro is talking about budget shortfalls that could mean scrapping a few capital expenditures.

So this pits what’s good for the city’s welfare as a whole against the concerns of opponents in neighborhoods who may be a vocal minority claiming to represent a majority. It could be a majority. It’s difficult to determine sometimes when a few are so vocal.

Sumter Camp is one of the voices leading the charge against the project. For those who don’t know who he is, Camp is a federal public defender. His list of clients includes that stellar former Nashville citizen Perry March, although a state-court conviction spared Camp of having to defend March in federal court.

“The Scottsboro community has worked for the last two and a half years to try to see to it that the community remain as rural as possible, and that any development be consistent with the rural character of the community,” Camp, who owns 40 acres preserved through the Land Trust of Tennessee, wrote in an e-mail.

That means no dense commercial and residential development on property and no new bridge across the Cumberland River and Interstate 40 interchange. Members of the community previously opposed a 1,450-home suburban home development.

They want rural-estate development that means one home per five acres. Camp said they group has made suggestions to the Mays and even considered figuring a way to buy the property before the Mays. With a price of up to $22 million, Camp said that wasn’t doable.

There’s also the environmental issue. The area is one of the last remaining rural areas in the county.

“In an age when food security, sustainability and availability are all issues of the moment and concern, trashing the last bit of farmable land in the county would seem to be as backward thinking as making a few more dollars off of anything hydrocarbon-producing while we burn up the planet,” Camp wrote.

Camp wrote further that members of the community suggest to the Mays that a better legacy for them would be the first ever “Institute of Organic Farming.”

“Apparently, that suggestion was not looked on favorably,” he wrote. “The plan of the residents of Scottsboro for our community is much more interesting, forward-thinking and exciting than anything that mentioned by Mr. Giarratana, though perhaps not as glamorous.”

Proponents point out that apparently the community isn’t pleased with 3,000 acres dedicated for park and open space. The concept is to concentrate the density in one location and surrounded with green space. Brentwood allowed a similar and much smaller version there with residential development.

An issue likely to arise is development scaring off the rare whooping cranes calling Bells Bend home. Those birds are a lot more obvious than the last minute discovery of some rare crawfish to stop development.

The Charlotte Park and Beacon Square Neighborhoods likely will oppose the bridge and interchange because it will cut through them or pass over them.

A recreational pilot offhandedly asked what the Federal Aviation Administration might do with respect to the project.


John C. Tune Airport is readying itself to handle some of the largest private jets on the market. The pilot said on calm days, jets take off over Bells Bend. Noise and parts falling off the planes or the planes themselves falling might be something to consider.

Giarratana has some experience with the FAA so perhaps that’s not an insurmountable issue.

The biggest hurdle of all, however, may be the Mays. Local real estate folks have pointed out that the family has limited experience in real estate beyond owning property.

Not to have Chapstick moment, but Giarratana has the stomach and smoothness to face the opposition and attempt to work out something. The big question is whether the Mays have the stomach for it.

The Chatter Class appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to

Filed under: City Business
By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The concept drawings I have seen of this project can hardly be described as 'New Urbanism'. 'Condo Complex' would be closer. But developers trot the term 'new urbanism' out every time they want to build small lot housing or multifamily in an area where it isn't appropriate.There are valid arguments on both sides. Developers always try to sell cities on sales tax revenue, leaving out the costs of schools, infrastructure, and city services (police and fire protection, etc). The big question here should be 'who pays for the bridge?'. If it's the taxpayers, this should be a loud 'NO'.

By: RIchardLawson on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The bridge and interchange like all others would be paid for by state and federal dollars. It's the same as those new interchanges in Williamson, Rutherford, Wilson etc. that have fostered new development, good or bad. In this case, which I'm not 100% sure is unusual, the developer is offering to pay for the studies etc. needed to build the bridge and interchange.

By: cheri_t on 12/31/69 at 6:00

"Sumter Camp is one of the voices leading the charge against the project. For those who don’t know who he is, Camp is a federal public defender. His list of clients includes that stellar former Nashville citizen Perry March"Wow, that is impeaching him by association that he has little control over. Every person accused of a crime is entitled to defense, and public defenders are the people who do the job for those who cannot afford their own attorney. They don't go out and solicit clients whose ethics line up with their own. They are assigned cases.Sumter Camp ought to be called out on the merits (or lack thereof) of his position on this issue, not on fakey guilt by association.

By: WrdBrn on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Mr. Lawson - Do you really think the Metro Planning Commission or the citizens of Davidson county don't know a pig in a poke when they see one. We may get blind sided from time to time, but a STUDY bought and paid for by the DEVLOPER? Please. If Tony G springs for it then Metro Council should cough up money to districts 1, 20 and 35 all that will be effected by this monstrosity to create a voter driven STUDY... out in the clear light of day. New Ruralism is a much more viable option for this precious piece of land... AND it is very rude of the writer to characterize Mr. Camp as anything other than a land owner and attorney. They should openly apologize!

By: RIchardLawson on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Cheri, I guess it's all in how you read it. There was the clause after what you quote. Another way of reading it is if Camp can defend March and deal with that guy, think about the opposition he can present. The guy is very intelligent. And WrdBrn, just relaying info as to what is planned re bridge.

By: WrdBrn on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The information regarding the bridge is a pretty picture by a developer. To convey the bridge as "planned" gives an impression that the city or otherwise has given a go, which is very much NOT the case. It is the responsibility of the press to present clear and unbiased facts be they about bridges or people -- IMHO. In the spirit of Presidents Day:"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."Thomas Jefferson, 1787

By: RIchardLawson on 12/31/69 at 6:00

There are certainly semantics on planned versus proposed. It's on the developer's plan, therefore, planned. Without the bridge, the proposed development won't happen. The developer plans to propose paying for the studies and all for a bridge. The bridge isn't a lock.