News analysis: Bells Bend battle may set public policy for development

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 at 2:46am

The battle of Bells Bend has a Civil War feel to it.

But in the conflict that likely will be waged for months over developing a portion of 1,300 acres of the bend, there won’t be any bloodshed except for maybe a paper cut or two. It won’t be the North versus the South either.

This could come down to whether or not it’s good public policy to develop greenfields when the urban core still has room.

The Bells Bend developer has made the case for generating taxes and jobs along with the idea of creating space within the county to compete with Cool Springs. On the other side, the heavy hitters helping the opposition likely will present the argument that Nashville should continue to focus on reviving and redeveloping brownfields or the urban areas instead of shifting to greenfields to build the tax base.

Essentially, vetting the proposal to develop a portion of Bells Bend into a mixed-use, dense town center has the potential of rising to one of those public policy discussions of how Nashville should develop open acreage for the future.

The discussion, or debate, could influence how future battles are handled, even down to development of a half-acre neighborhood tract.

How serious could the discussion get? Jane Alvis, a former Purcell official and lobbyist, is working for free. Keel Hunt, who counts the Ingrams and their companies among his clients, is doing the same. Former Deputy Gov. Dave Cooley is in the battle and Bo Johnson, a long-time state lobbyist, is helping out as well.

The Plan of Nashville focused on what should be done with urban Nashville. But there has been little discussion on developing greenfields within Nashville versus focusing strictly on redeveloping brownfields.

Such discussion on a grand scale rarely comes up.

For years, a lot of focus has been put on reviving “the core.” The thinking goes that a strong core is good for the whole.

But it is a layered focus. Within Nashville, that has meant the urban core, primarily downtown. In terms of regionalism, however, that has meant Nashville/Davidson County as a whole.

The county obviously is the most urbanized and the largest of the surrounding counties. Nashville mayors and supporters of regionalism have often stated that a healthy Nashville has been and is essential to having a healthy region.

Jack May, the lead for the May family, has made the pitch that the project is about jobs and taxes. Of course, the family wants to profit along the way, a point he acknowledges.

With the way the city’s finances are looking right now, that may draw a favorable look from city hall.

The opponents likely will counter with the argument that shifting to greenfields diverts focus from the urban core. And what they likely will question is whether it’s a good idea to basically create a new dense, urban area that would have nearly the same acreage as downtown and nearly rival downtown in day-time population.

After all, May Town Center’s developers are being pitched as a “town within a park, within a city.”

Chances are the opponents will argue that there is still plenty of room for redevelopment in downtown Nashville, with the metal scrapping site being a prime example. Then there’s the 20-year waterfront redevelopment plan, one aim of which is to spur private development around the green space and parks that are planned.

May and his consultant developer Tony Giarratana are making the case for a new bridge across the Cumberland River, requiring federal dollars.

But there are also federal dollars for brownfields, too. How easy those dollars are to get is debatable.

Developers typically like a blank canvas of greenfields. It tends to be less expensive and not as cumbersome to develop as an urban area. Land is cheaper and easer to assemble.

There are tax incentives for redeveloping portions of downtown to help mitigate the cost. But that’s part of what will get weighed in the discussion.

Tax-increment financing, the chief incentive downtown, freezes property taxes at the existing level, which means redevelopment doesn’t necessarily add directly to the property tax base. It brings ancillary taxes such as sales taxes. Smaller development spurred by a large project brings the additional property tax.

So that will be factored into the debate as well.

No matter what, May said the property will get developed. It’s just a matter of whether it will be a bunch of single-family homes spread out over the land or a dense project surrounded by green space.

The discussion could become quite a conundrum.

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

...ooohhhh i am not quite into my morning coffee to yet explain the horrors of this Development. My husband says it's just the slums for rich folks. I believe that until the May family gets finished with some of the other projects they have their fingers in; and Tony G and is big shiney steam shovel prove finish filling in some of the holes that are dug and not only get use and occupancy permits = also show impact on traffic, schools, fire, police, water, etc.; the Mays nor he should get a chance at developing in the Bells Bend area of the Scottsboro Community! We 30 - Native Nashvillians have long fought the Atlantaization of our city and for good reason. Think people THINK!.... oh thank the stars my coffee is ready

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The time has not come for the development of Bells Bend. However with the taxes imposed on the citizens of Davidson County to subsidize ice hockey we may need a another tax base.

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

...edit.. We 30+year residents all the way to Native nashvillians have long fought... I think there is another one in there...Frank - have you ever tried to bring an athletic event that d-esnt have a ball or a puck associated with it to Nashville? The research on the costs alone will cause you to throw up your hands and walk away!

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

As I recall, weren't they trying to put a landfill out there back in the early 90's???? Seems like Gary Odom was in on that one. Wouldn't a "new urbanism" idea be more desirable than our next proposed landfill?

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

Actually if we're talking about the same project either way, just which location, I'd definitely agree to keep it closer to downtown. If it could be built on the metal scrapping site instead of in the "greenfield" of Bell's Bend, that would be much better overall, imo.I think Karl Dean was campaigning on building up already developed areas instead of expanding urban sprawl, wasn't he? Let's see if he sticks to his guns in this "urban core" vs "more sprawl" debate.

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

The blind idea that things will and can always remain 'status quo' is unreasonable. Fighting against living next to the "dump" was an easy decision to make. Farming this area doesn't seem to be a reasonable idea either since farming in the Bend has steadily declined the last twenty years. The possible doubling of 'protected' green space is a huge benefit. Allowing the development of five acre plots does not do this. AS one who has lived in small rural communities unable to offer facilities to children to match competing communities and school systems I would like to see something that we could be proud of and offer a better way for our community and this region. If that means to give a little to get this, I, a Bells Bend resident, am for this or some compromise.

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

Welcome Grapa. Nice to see you have added the City Paper to your comment list. Urban Planet Forum is just one of many places to discuss such development.I have both old and new friends that are land owners in the Bend. I am proud to stand with them against this "too big for its britches" project. If someone wants to drive out briley and Ashland City high(hwy12)way to OHB and meander down to a winding country road and build a get home on 5 acres; so be it. Natural Development at the HWY12/OHB junction is even expected by the residents, and they have worked towards a good plan for their community. But to reach down into the middle of the bend and take some 900 acres, will take at least one and probably 2 interstate spurs that will not benefit the west sector and are over the Cumberland, that MIGHT bring 35000 residents/workers over 15 or more years well is just silly. And it will be a budget/bond breaking problem for years to come. The stresses on roads, emergency services, schools ...Dont even get us started about the Harpeth Utility District and the massive money it costs metro... well Nashville needs to learn to take pride and develop what they have before they let the likes of Tony G's steam shovel eat any more land. Lets see what happens @ 5th and church, or near Kenner and Harding Road (the old bellemeade theater project) before Tony and the Mays start a new song. (Tony and the Mays... if this was MoTown!)Planning Commission meets at the Scottsboro Community Center @ 6:00 p.m. tonight. I'll be there!

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This isn't 'New Urabanism', it is Condomania. Developers stick buildings really close together, throw in a little park in the middle and call it 'new urbanism'. There's more to it than that. Look at successful projects like Seaside FL (even it has flaws, wasn't made for all the giant SUV's its residents drive).This thing shouldn't get TIF mney as it is sprawl. And the developers should pay for the bridge, at the very least what the Feds don't pick up. Taxpayers should not subsidize private development as they will also be on the hook forever for the social costs-schools, police, fire, maintaining infrastructure- that come with 'greenfield development' ie sprawl.

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

MFO, have you been to Nashville West? It is slowly but surely catching up with the sort of businesses Cool Springs has boasted. Much much closer to town, it seems to fit in with the existing residential areas and infrastructure. Why create yet another such place a stones throw away on what is basically a peninsula. Who'd want to live there with such limited access? The same has happened outside Charlotte and the traffic is a nightmare.

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

It is nice to be acknowledged, thanks. It is and has been my intention that there be dialogue on this matter, because I do believe some middle ground can be reached.We discuss the problem with access to "the Bend" and do not talk about the present road that "meanders" down OHB. We, the drivers, dodge over-sized vehicles every day, city workers and inexperienced trailer 'pullers' loaded with boats. My point is that while scenic this same road is deadly! Why can't we have "safe" roads and "easy access" to what others have in West Nashville. If this can come from MTC then I want it. Everyone should also understand that Briley Parkway has opened up the outlieing areas of the county, have you seen the Ashland City Exit? Any parkway will draw expansion. Also, have you seen the building going on along just off of Ashland City Highway. The opposite of MTC will open the possibility of cluster building, we now see Mr. 'Z' re-entering the picture or someone like him. Why shouldn't we shoot for the best and be a partner in the decision making process?

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The taxpayers are on the hook to be partners in paying for the thing but not to reap financial benefits, which all go to landowners and developers. Not that there is anything wrong with the latter part, just that it is a myth that so-called 'growth', especially sprawl growth, is financially advantageous to the taxpayer. A few dollars of sales tax money is more than offset by the recurring social costs not to mention declining quality of life.

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

Nashville West will not have access to the proposed Maytown Center. It will not help the overall growth and redevelopoment one iota of the West Sector. Now, I do think that the type of development has merit. I think that touting it as LEEDS compliant is week especially in light of all of the above and beyond work done at Nissan off of 65 opposite Cool Springs. Karl Dean ran on a platform of making what we have work better before we go to far afield. I agree that watching to see if he is strong enough to stick to his guns!.... Where do you all weigh in on the poor overall development of Bellevue? Or the redevelopment of areas that are already rich in concrete and asphalt aka brownfields? Are the developers in those cases still here to help and take part in the messes they made? And otherMFO than condos across from the Library... what successes in NASHVILLE has Tony G put his name on

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

MFO, I also believe that a connection between BB and WN can be made. I don't see that the new business along Charlottte will be duplicated in the MTC, and that the two can compliment each other. I also question whether the same shops in the Cool Springs area will ever be built in the Charlotte Road area. The community make-up between the areas is different. BB has clearly been stated to have the priority of gaining corporate participation and this population will require specialty shops nearby where they work and live. I can not see where that will not add to city coffers! They may receive tax breaks and incentives to come but you are talking about "decades" to come. I presently have little access to the business shops along Charlotte and Bellvue and still I shop in both areas several times weekly. I am sure many are in this same situation.

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

MFO, you also bring out some facts that I recall Mr. Dean mentioning in his early remarks after taking office. He mentions the importance of regional success that helps Davidson county and his desire to look forward in the future of Nashvilles' economic development. He states that just maintaining where we are today only translates into a stagnant economic situation. The city needs to be proactive to meet the needs of tomorrow. I hope his own words translate into being open to new ideas.

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

WHAT! Grapa are you saying that West Nashville isn't as savvy as Brentwood? MFO - funding isn't solid for Signature Tower, Premier Parking is EXPENSIVE ( I hate corporate parking - hate it with a civic duty passion ). I have just been to Charlotte NC - after a rough start and some early bad decision - downtown charlotte - well for that matter downtown Memphis's nightlife both make Nashville look like a ghost town. As for Birmingham, its been a few years. I have heard from a friend recently that it looks nice but the jobs didnt follow. I don't discount The Cumberland or Viridian. Planned Growth, revitalization ... both are good things We are down to that. Look I live on the 440 loop - I have a 10 mile drive to Walmart too; frankly I don't go unless it is a last resort thing. I wish Lowes were closer. I have access to Kroger, and Harris Teeter neither their prices or Customer Service impress me in the least. Locally owned gets my dollar first - like the Belmont Market, Our Farmers Market, The Growers that come in from Portland and Red Boiling Springs get my money as often as possible. They have prices, excellent products and, better customer service etc. Big Pretty Shiny new toys generally don't impress for very long... FRANKLY the teen dollar in cool springs that demands high dollar pajama bottoms to go to class in! (FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE) I don't really think that is a life style choice... O#HS%&*LEO*45GHeoi!!! OH I GET SO MAD! The best part of Nashville is that inside 15 miles-ish you can find any thing a consumer would ever want. Take care of what you have before you go take on something else. Its just good stewardship. "barely spell and obviously can only see one corner of the issue knock down a perfectly reasonable and well backed case that I am making." - that was just RUDE

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

“No matter what, May said the property will get developed. It’s just a matter of whether it will be a bunch of single-family homes spread out over the land or a dense project surrounded by green space.”Many people forget that the May family owns this property and has the option to spread development across Bells Bend. In contrast, the plan as it stands now creates an extremely concentrated, conservation-focused 453-acre development. Two-thirds of the 1434-acre land will remain green.Also, there’s no denying that Nashville needs fiscal help. Mayor Dean’s proposed budget saw cuts in almost every area. Without the ability to raise property taxes sans a vote from the people, Nashville must find other ways to build its tax base. With a projected $63 million - $99 million in new tax revenues, May Town will certainly do that.