Dean’s open space plan seeks to preserve 22,000 acres by 2035

Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 3:32pm

During a five-year stretch from 2002 through 2007, the rapid influx of residential and commercial development in Davidson County came at the expense of losing 45 farms accounting for 9,000 acres.

That’s the background as Mayor Karl Dean begins a bold new open space master plan that aims at preserving 22,000 acres of public and private land over the next 25 years, an initiative the mayor announced Thursday at the Shelby Bottoms Greenway with dozens of environmentalists on hand.

“Open space is a proven way to drive economic development growth in a number of ways,” Dean said.

“People want to be in a place that’s exciting, that has a buzz around it,” he said. “They want to be somewhere that has clean air, greenways and parks where you can walk from place to place. That’s why you do an open space plan.”

Partnering with the non-profit The Land Trust of Tennessee, the hope is to use a combination of public and private tools to begin adding to Nashville’s pool of protected land, which currently sits at 58,000 acres, according to the land trust’s data. The open space plan is born out of a recommendation put forth by Dean’s environmental-driven Green Ribbon Committee.

“This is not going to be a plan that just sits on the shelf,” Dean pledged.

The mayor’s endeavor faces a major headwind: growth. Nashville’s population increased by 10 percent during the past decade, a spike felt most dramatically in southeast Davidson County via land-eating subdivisions.

“Our challenge is to determine what do we have in Davidson County and what we do not have in terms of our abilities and resources,” said Jeanie Nelson, the land trust’s president and executive director.

That 22,000-acre protection goal got off to a good start this week, with Metro finalizing an agreement to purchase the 135-acre Cornelia Fort Airpark to be adjoined to nearby Shelby Bottom in East Nashville. Final approval for the $1.2 million purchase will go before the Metro Council in the coming weeks. Private funds are also helping with its purchase. Metro has appraised the property to be worth $2.6 million

Dean said the airpark acquisition is a “good example of taking advantage of opportunities” to build Metro’s collection of open land. But it appears dedicated public dollars for the plan will come as they’re available.

“You’re going to have to respond to the market, respond to the availability of funds and remember what we’re talking about here is a public-private partnership,” Dean said. “We’re not saying that the Metropolitan government should pay for all the property. There needs to be significant private partnership.”

On the private end, Dean said that’s where the land trust comes into play. According to Nelson, compiling open space often comes in the form of conservation easements on a property owner’s piece of land. Others wish to donate land, she said.

The master plan has set out “four corners and nine bends” as points of emphasis throughout Davidson County, encompassing all the existing Metro parks, with hopes of adding to them.

Of the 22,000 protected acres, 3,000 of those are to be added to Metro’s park system over the next 10 years, with 3,000 more acres added by 2035.

More park space would put Nashville on par with some of its rival cities. Fifteen percent of Austin, Texas, consists of parks, and 5 percent of Charlotte, N.C., is parks. Parks make up only 3 percent of Nashville.

In addition, the hope is to privately conserve 3,000 acres of land within 10 years, and another 3,000 acres by 2035. The plan also seeks to protect 10,000 acres of land located within the county’s floodplain. Another goal is to enhance downtown's tree canopy.

Metro Councilman Erik Cole, whose district includes the newly purchased airpark, said the council and mayor have already set aside $5 million from the current capital spending budget to begin an “acquisition fund.” The key moving forward, he said, is to continue building private funds, the airpark acquisition serving as an example. 

“The more private money we can raise, the more money stays in that acquisition fund, so we can get to other parts of the county,” Cole said. “The difficult thing is, it’s going to be hard to expand that fund any time soon with Metro money. I don’t think we’re going to have a massive capital plan this next year.”

Monette Rebecca, executive director of the Richland Creek Watershed Alliance, said it will take the “sustainable will of the people” to ensure the open space plan becomes a living document.

“The whole vision is wonderful,” Rebecca said. “But the devil is in the details.”