Opponents to May Town Center may have a tough time winning.
They persist in fighting the massive proposal in Bells Bend as if it were a bare-knuckled cage match instead of world championship chess match.
It’s not that the opponents haven’t tried to elevate the discussions to a broader one about the city’s future. They have argued that Bells Bend is the largest remaining rural area in Davidson County.
As part of their argument, they have made the point that the city should focus on urban growth while creating a rural conservation district.
Opponents are trying to raise $150,000 to battle the clearly well-funded May family. Resident Ellen Jacobson has made a pitch with help from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in that effort.
In that pitch, one purpose for the funds is an “independent economic analysis of the proposed development to disprove the developer’s claims and estimate the true tax-payer costs.”
If such an analysis were done, that would not be defined as “independent.”
A truly independent analysis wouldn’t have the primary objective of disproving the developer’s own analysis. They need an analysis of the economic impact of both converting the property to a conservation district as well as developing all of the available urban property in the city.
Additionally, this isn’t a political race where one side tries to bring down the other by discrediting them with whisper campaigns about potential failures or past problems. From the very start, the Mays along with their consultant, developer Tony Giarratana, have made the top-level pitch that the project would help the city with jobs and tax revenues.
And now, the developer has a new brochure that outlines the benefits of doing the proposed project. The developer already has made one concession, moving the bridge over the Cumberland River.
In that brochure, the developer deals with one point of the opponents, that the property is the last green space in the county. Calling that a myth, the developer points out that there are more than 100,000 acres zoned for agriculture.
The Mays’ property on Bells Bend is about 1 percent of that, with 900 acres preserved for a park. According to the brochure, the park would be the third largest in the county.
But a bigger point is the taxes that their development would generate. Currently, the property generates $28,763 annually. If built out under existing zoning, the taxes would go to roughly $800,000 per year.
With the development, the developer estimated that the tax bill would rise to $50 million to $100 million annually.
Since the city is strapped right now, that’s a pretty strong point and one that could be tough for opponents to overcome without offering a viable solution.
One problem is they think they’ve already offered a solution. But arguing for a conservation district and urging the city to focus on urban growth is only half an answer. They haven’t presented an option that would be as financially appealing to the city as the proposed development.
This is not to say that protecting agricultural land is a bad idea. There has been plenty of former farmland chewed up by development. Look at the outlying counties. Homes, warehouses and retail centers sit on a lot of former farmland.
But there are economic ramifications for limiting growth by protecting farmland. There are environmental and economic ramifications for sprawl.
It’s a matter of understanding all of the issues and attempting to achieve some sort of balance.
With the May Town Center proposal, the Mays have the upper hand in a certain respect. They own the property for their proposed development, unlike with many proposed developments where the developer can walk away from an option on the land.
The family wants to rezone it so mixed-used density can be built on a portion of the acreage. Basically, they want to increase the zoning.
With what the opponents want, the city would have to down zone property owned by the Mays. The Mays aren’t likely to agree to that.
As it stands now, just keeping the zoning already in place, the Mays could build about 665 single-family homes.
If the Mays can’t do what they have proposed, they will sell the land to someone else. The next developer may just build the homes with little consultation with the neighborhood people. There would be little that opponents could do.
Metro paid $12 million for the land that now makes up Bells Bend Park, and the city is not in the financial situation to buy the land from the Mays.
The May Town Center opponents would need a buyer to step up and buy the property from the Mays, then perhaps put it in a land trust so that it could never be developed.
The opponents could try convincing the Mays that putting the property into a land trust themselves would be substantial tax benefit for them. That probably won’t work either.
Otherwise, the opponents could try raising a lot more than $150,000 and buy the property themselves.