Residents of Bells Bend wasted little time expressing frustration and anger at a neighborhood meeting last night over a community plan process that integrates a 500-acre corporate office, retail and residential development into their otherwise sparse, rural landscape.
Dubbed May Town Center, the proposed development could bring upwards of 40,000 jobs to the area and is estimated to generate between $63.8 million and $99.5 million in new tax revenue.
However, residents are more concerned that the center would cause traffic congestion and start a “domino effect” of development that permanently alters the rural character of the area.
That was made clear, when many residents at the tense community meeting Tuesday in Scottsboro accused the Metro Planning Department of being on the side of developers.
“We asked you all out here to help us,” said resident Jane Coble. “We’re losing heart that you all are working on our behalf.”
The area, nearly encircled by a bend in the Cumberland River west of Nashville and Interstate 40, has long resisted pushes for development, including a proposed landfill in 1990 and a 2005 housing project.
Residents say they embarked on the community plan process to protect the area from development. Any zoning changes for an area must be compatible with a community plan, once it is adopted.
Planning department staff, as well as developer Tony Giarrantana, were at the community meeting and addressed residents’ concerns.
“Each community plays a role in our larger county and our county plays a role in the larger region, and that’s what we’re trying to balance when we’re thinking about rural preservation and economic development in Davidson County,” said Jennifer Carlat, who manages Metro’s Community Plans Division.
Carlat said that residents have a right to develop a plan for their communities, but all concerns — including those of property owners who want to develop their land — have to be addressed.
However, the residents of Bells Bend, feel sprawl is an issue that needs to be addressed within Davidson County itself. The neighborhood will continue to articulate its views and has hired former at-large council member and former mayoral candidate David Briley as legal counsel.
Giarratana, who is working with the May family, presented a modified plan last night that includes more “green space” to buffer the proposed May Town center from the surrounding area. The location for the bridge over the Cumberland River — needed as the only access point to the development — has been moved northwards to the Cockrill Bend area, after objections from the neighborhoods surrounding Charlotte Park.
Bells Bend residents were not satisfied with the modifications, and during a spirited exchange, told Giarratana they had concerns over construction traffic and the bridge’s capacity.
Giarratana had a question for the residents as well, about why they had not done more to preserve the land north of the proposed development with conservation easements, which permanently protect property from development.
“Why have conservation easements not been placed on the property which would eliminate the risks being articulated here?” asked Giarratana.
Easements cost several thousand dollars and he told residents last night he will talk with the May family about possibly setting up a fund to help property owners to purchase easements.
“It solves a lot of the issues being discussed here,” he said.
Carlat did her best to explain Metro’s reasons for wanting to use Bells Bend for the May Town Center.
According the Metro Planning department, Davidson County cannot compete in a section of the corporate office market — that of corporate campuses without using more undeveloped county land. Carlat said those campus sites need to be about 500 acres in size, which has prompted most of those types of developments go to outlying counties, including Wilson and Williamson.
Planning staff put together a run-down of other commonly mentioned sites to develop such as the state Fairgrounds or Nashville’s East Bank, but each site is still less than 200 acres, leaving Bells Bend the most viable area to attract corporate campuses.
“We can have a debate about where we want to have farmland and where we want to have economic development,” said Carlat, explaining that the department thinks about sprawl on a more macro level.
Carlat said concentrating development in Davidson County has regional benefits as well.
“We need to think regionally,” she said. “[And do] what’s good for us as a region so that we can protect air quality, water quality, we can have shorter commutes and protect quality of life.”