Alley removal pits west Nashville neighbors against councilman

Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 11:45pm

Alley abandonments aren’t normally contentious, but one proposed for the The Nations neighborhood in west Nashville has pitted a group of fuming residents against their Metro Council representative.

At a community meeting Thursday night that turned heated, nearly every west Nashville resident in attendance called for the withdrawal of an ordinance sponsored by Councilman Buddy Baker that would abandon an alley that connects 43rd and 44th avenues near George Avenue. The bill would also clear a small portion of 43rd Avenue that dead-ends into a railroad track.

The ordinance is up for third and final reading on July 20 after it was deferred at a previous meeting.

Opponents allege its removal would signal the first step in an overarching plan to convert adjacent property, which is currently zoned for residential construction, into industrial uses.

“Mr. Baker, are you not supposed to represent the majority?” a woman in attendance asked. “We’ve been crying out to you for weeks, for months to stop this abandonment.”

But Baker, who represents the area, said he has no plans to withdrawal the bill, arguing the abandonment is a way to get rid of an alley that has become a dumping ground for tires and other debris.

“I’m doing what I think is best for the neighborhood,” Baker said

At issue is an alley that currently splits land that belongs to property owner Ron Hunter. On the northern side of the alley is property he owns that is already zoned and used for industrial purposes. On the southern side of the alley are six parcels he owns that are zoned for residential.

Originally, the alley-abandonment bill was proposed alongside another ordinance that sought to change the southern property from residential to industrial. The second bill was later pulled, but opponents say the fact it was ever proposed shows the long-term intent.

Baker insists there are no current plans for future industrial development, maintaining the issue is purely about eliminating an alley that is consistently littered.

“This is not a rezoning issue,” Baker said. “The rezoning bill has been withdrawn. As far I know, it will not come back up. In just the last six months, I’ve had to pick up 85 tires and 12 tons of debris [at the alley]. That’s just in the last six months, not counting since I’ve been in office.”

But many residents are suspicious. They fear abandoning the alley would give Hunter an unfettered consolidation of property, which could pave the way for the rezoning plan to be revived. Bringing more industrial business to the area, they say, would violate the area’s community plan and serve as a bad precedent in a neighborhood where more and more young families are buying homes.

Backing their claims, opponents contend, the planning commission on June 10 disapproved the ordinance to abandon the alley by a 7-2 vote.

Opponents also point out that in 2002 a waste transfer station was proposed for the residential plots, a plan that was later foiled. Some skeptics are also wary of the ties between Baker and Hunter, whom they say has been a campaign contributor to Baker in the past.

“The neighborhood doesn’t trust what is going on,” said Rick Bradley, who launched a website to try to defeat the alley abandonment. “That’s the bottom line here.”

17 Comments on this post:

By: bnakat on 7/2/10 at 12:15

While I do not live in Councilman Baker's district, I can certainly empathize with the folks who do. Overbearing council members who seem to think that they "rule" their districts are a terror to representative government. Mr. Baker's statement, "I’m doing what I think is best for the neighborhood,” is noteworthy. What do your constituents THINK is best, Mr. Baker?

Councilman Holleman, ruler of the district to the south of Mr. Baker's would likely make a strong ally. Zoning is his forte, and he knows how to ruthlessly use his skill.

By: idgaf on 7/2/10 at 1:09

This story reads like some money has exchanged hands and/or promises were made.

Pretty unbalance when it favors one over the group and that one has a lot to gain from the eventual rezoning.

One thing I learned about this town is they do a lot of long term planning to accomplish there goals incrementally. (like getting rid of the garbage burner for the Sounds which was a bad move financially for this city. (a lose/lose situation))

By: richgoose on 7/2/10 at 3:39

I thought Ron Hunter was in the peneteniary for income tax evasion?

By: yazoo on 7/2/10 at 4:53

Gosh! Think of the children! Lets redline every single industrial area right outta here! And when you are done, where do you go for/to work? These folks have some sort of delusional Utopian fantasy where miles and miles of unfettered pink cottages are all meticulously maintained by feel good well meaning elves or something.

Truthfully, that whole areas best maintained property is the Harley Davidson dealership.

By: govskeptic on 7/2/10 at 6:35

It's amazing how closed alleys quickly become the improvement needed to enrich the ajoining owners.
Just saying-----it happens often in our fair city!

By: AmyLiorate on 7/2/10 at 7:38

yahzoo, it is improper to expand industrial zoning next to residential.
I'm all for people being able to do what they want with their property, but not if it has such a negative impact on neighbors rights to their property and it's value.

The Harley shop is commercial and a small shop, not industrial where one can store large numbers of things you don't want next to your house.

"Baker insists there are no current plans for future industrial development..."
As the saying goes, Put your money where your mouth is.

I'll bet there is a method where he could put that in a binding legal document. Either by placing some sort of restrictions or a bond on the residential lots he owns or another means of showing that in the next 15 years he will not be able to profit should the lots go from residential to industrial.

Baker always has the option of not cleaning up the 85 tires/month and other trash, just let the neighborhood deal with the eyesore if that's what they want.

By: pch13 on 7/2/10 at 8:17

Spot on Yazoo! Lets remove industrial uses from Davidson County alltogether, because its all about the kids! Ignore the fact that the adjacent residential lots in question are unimproved, the other neighboring properties on the east side of 44th include two contractor lots, a machine shop, an 80 year old warehouse and an old truck terminal. A closed ally and the potential of another acre of industrial use (oh the horrors!!!) will undoubedly scare away all the young familes flocking to the east side of The Nations.

By: localboy on 7/2/10 at 10:08

bnakat: "Overbearing council members who seem to think that they "rule" their districts are a terror to representative government. Mr. Baker's statement, "I’m doing what I think is best for the neighborhood,” is noteworthy. What do your constituents THINK is best, Mr. Baker?"
That's a good point; however when you elect someone to the Council, you've given that person the power to vote as they see fit - after all, they were elected as a representative of their district, without the requirement to poll their constituents. If enough people don't agree with what they see as fit, then remember it at the next election.

By: slzy on 7/2/10 at 10:28

don't wait till the next election,recall like they did out east.

By: freedan on 7/2/10 at 11:00

How much was paid to Mr. Baker by Mr. Hunter to push this project?

By: fishingbud on 7/2/10 at 11:50

If the neighbors were truly interested in the neighborhood, they would be concerned about ridding the neighborhood of the dumping, prostitution and drug dealing. But instead, they just want the alley and street to remain so the activities will remain where they are. How can this be attractive to neighborhood development? And Mr. Bradley who professes to be concerned about the neighborhood and “doesn’t trust what is going on” has businesses running out of a residence on Indiana Avenue which is in direct violation of codes as well as well as being in direct promotion of commercial development in a residential home. His activities advocate one position while his words advocate another position. In what other areas are Mr. Bradley being misleading and not being trustworthy?

By: nashtnman on 7/2/10 at 12:45

"That's a good point; however when you elect someone to the Council, you've given that person the power to vote as they see fit - after all, they were elected as a representative of their district, without the requirement to poll their constituents. If enough people don't agree with what they see as fit, then remember it at the next election."

BULLSHIT: Council members are elected to represent the desires of their districts and are to be held accountable to the people living in the district they represent.

I too would like to know what Hunter is giving Baker, this is typical "good 'ol Boy" politics and Baker should be voted out next round along with many others on the council.

By: watchdog55 on 7/2/10 at 5:40

Promises are always made during campaigns; however, they are not always kept. When any elected official is not representing his constituents in their best interests, but in the interests of a few friends or contributors, the people must raise their voices and let everyone know the untruths being spoken by that elected official. Your article quotes Mr. Baker stating in the last six months he had the sheriff’s office remove 85 tires and 12 tons of debris. According to a statement from the sheriff’s office today, the only records they have are from July 15, 2009 to February 11, 2010 which show they picked up debris 7 times. They picked up 85 tires, and 8 tons of debris; they stated that information was given to Mr. Baker yesterday (Jul 1). In April Mr. Baker told the Planning Commission he planned to hold a community meeting; that meeting has yet to be held. The meeting last night was organized by The Nations; yet, Mr. Baker informed everyone he still plans to hold a community meeting before July 20 – let’s all hold our breath. He continually refers to high crime in that alley and on those vacant lots, yet the West Precinct records do not back that statement up; he also states the murder of an MBA custodian occurred there, yet the Tennessean and the police report the location as 42nd and Indiana (quite a distance from the alley and 43rd). By the way, the vacant lots were created by Mr. Hunter when he purchased the properties and tore the houses down; funny how vacant lots attract dumping. And for Yazoo and pch13 – you both seem to be advocates for bringing industrial sites into residential neighborhoods, so I assume you would welcome industry next door to you; give us your address and we will be happy to sign petitions urging Metro Council to pass rezoning to allow that. By the way pch13, perhaps the reason young families are not flocking to the east side of 44th is because Mr. Hunter has purchased most of those parcels, torn the existing houses down and vowed to never develop residentially. Long term planning in the works to extend his ugly industrial property.

By: fishingbud on 7/2/10 at 6:11

Regardless of the rhetoric and speculative accusations - there still remains the publicly stated desire by the closest resident and others that they want the alley to remain open so that illicit activities STAY in Mr. Hunter’s area. Mr. Hunter wants to close the alley to eliminate the activities which would work to make the neighborhood safer and cleaner. And I’m still looking for evidence that anyone besides Mr. Hunter is interested in STOPPING the illicit activities. All I have heard is: “Keep the prostitution and drug dealing and dumping where it is now!” The issue at point here is an alley closure which is a standalone issue and any other issue is not pertinent. And if closing the alley works to remove unsavory activities, the neighborhood should be delighted.

By: slzy on 7/3/10 at 8:03

if all these criminal vices are so thick in this alley,it should'nt take sgt. friday to bag the whole lot in one fell swoope.

By: nash615 on 7/5/10 at 12:12

One might ask why @fishingbud (aka Mr. Hunter, or at least another one of his paid flacks) and his company RCG Group have hired expensive, high-profile attorneys to do all their public speaking for them. One might also ask why those particular attorneys are so well-connected with Metro Government, have expertise in zoning law, and experience in getting properties rezoned by non-Metro Council channels... What use are those expensive skills when all we're talking about is an alley with a dumping problem?

His neighbors in the Nations came out in solid numbers, on their own time, at the July 1st community meeting (that they called after months of waiting for Buddy to make good on his own stated desire to hold community meetings as far back as early April), spoke out in opposition to the changes that are being proposed, took Councilman Baker, Vice Councilman Audrey Baker, and the table of cronies and paid lawyers to task for pushing the interests of one rich ex-con property owner over the interests of immediate neighbors, the Nations as a whole, and West Nashville as a whole.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hunter and RCG Group's *two* expensive hired-gun attorneys were there, on the clock, with a full clip of "I don't know his intent", "As far as we can tell that won't happen", and "This is just a simple road abandonment" bullets to shoot.

The community meeting included a brainstorming session where a chalk board was *filled* with ideas from the community about how to deter crime, work better to clean up the property in question and alleys all over West Nashville, and take the burden off Councilman Baker *and* the property owner(s). After all was said and done, the community showed they are working for the betterment of their neighborhood, while their councilman and this property owner refused to slow down on their plan to "clean up" their lots and push on to a situation where their desired industrial land grab is made that much easier.

If this is just a crime & rubbish issue, and Mr. Hunter is such a MARTYR, suffering and working tirelessly for his dear neighbors, why is it that:

- He's paying HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS AND HOUR to have lawyers do all his speaking for him?
- He's fighting the entire community even when they are coming up with idea after idea on how to make his street cleaner and safer?
- He's fighting the people working to actually fix the problems he's complaining about while pretending noone is offering to help.

The bigger questions for people living in the Nations have started to be heard more and more frequently though -- "Why do we have to put up with this nonsense from our elected Council rep?" and "What's it going to take to run him out of office?"

By: bringingbackcom... on 7/5/10 at 6:58

"While I do not live in this district, I feel for the people that this proposal affects directly, and that would tend to be the people living within a five block radius of this unfortunate situation that has manifested itself there, and that is not to say that it doesnt affect the whole district, but again there are solutions to that problem within that five block radius.!"

" I can make a promise that there is a day coming in our 4th district where all constituents will be included at the table of change if they want to be, and I will make sure that everyone has a voice and not just special interest and select groups.!"

"I can make that promise, because I will never vote on a single issue that adversely effects our 4th district without sitting with those constituents first and knowing the precise impact that decision will have on them.!"

"I will utilize the common sense approach, for issues and concerns arising in the 4th district in order to effecuate a positive, caring, and meaningful resolution to any problem we face.!"

I Am Stephen Downs and I have approved this message.