Letters To The Editor

Monday, May 19, 2003 at 1:00am

Links residents for zoning overlay


As a resident of the Belle Meade Links Triangle neighborhood (the Links) and president of its neighborhood association, I would like to clarify some of the inaccuracies emanating from the Harding Academy administration and reported in The City Paper related to the school's proposed demolition of historic homes within the Links.

First, the school's acquisitions of property have not all been in the name of Harding Academy, as asserted by Bill DeLoache, president of the Harding Board of Trustees. The first several acquisitions were made in the name of a trustee on the school's behalf, a technique that is typically used when a buyer of real property does not want to disclose its identity.

It has also been reported that all of Harding's acquisitions have been made on the open market. This assertion is blatantly false, as the two most recent acquisitions (one for over $1 million) completed in 2003 came after intense pressure was exerted by Harding officials on the property owners, one of whom was quite elderly and has since passed away, and both of whom initially resisted Harding's offers. These two homes were never listed for sale on the open market.

Harding has insisted it made its plans for athletic facilities on the residential lots known as early as November 1997 at a "neighborhood meeting" organized by the school. This meeting did take place at the home of a neighborhood resident but was by invitation only and attended by only a few Links residents. The school's plan for the development of the property was not widely known in the neighborhood until February 2002, when surveyor stakes went up on the lots.

The Harding Board of Trustees has characterized the Belle Meade Links Triangle Association and its officers in correspondence to Links residents and Harding parents as intransigent in refusing to consider any compromise proposed by the school and further has asserted that the association put its conservation zoning initiative on a "fast track" solely as an impediment to Harding's development plans. Neither assertion is based in fact. The neighborhood association has been working on the conservation zoning initiative for well over a year, meeting at various times over that period with neighborhood residents and staff from the Metro Historical Commission. It has been a deliberate and at times tedious process.

Further, last week I met with Mr. DeLoache and proposed that the neighborhood would defer its conservation zoning application if Harding would simply agree not to tear down the homes until it had re-applied for and received the required special-use exception from the Board of Zoning Appeals. DeLoache declined the offer, and Harding immediately thereafter pulled demolition permits to take down the houses, despite not having the approvals from Metro necessary for the intended use of the property.

Harding has complained that the neighborhood, through its conservation zoning initiative, is attempting to change the land-use laws solely to prohibit Harding's demolition and development plans. The reality is that Metro's current land-use laws, as set forth in the zoning code, prohibit Harding's intended development.

Conservation zoning for the Links will assist in preserving the historic character of the nearly century-old neighborhood by controlling nonconforming development and encouraging a certain degree of architectural continuity. But most importantly zoning will serve to enhance the unique character and quality of life within the community that its residents have enjoyed over the years. Conservation zoning is supported by an overwhelming majority of Links property owners, and we will continue to work diligently toward final approval in Metro Council.



Approve overlay; exclude Harding


On May 14 the saga of Mayor Bill Purcell, Councilperson Lynn Williams and the Belle Meade Links neighborhood versus Harding Academy continued with predictable results.

At the Metro Historic Zoning Commission, speaker after speaker rose to defend Harding and its long-term goal of building an athletic field. Ultimately the commission decided to consider the matter within the narrowest of parameters: Is the neighborhood historic, and do most residents want the overlay?

Why then even have a public hearing? Most hearings are fashioned to allow parties to explain why or how they would be harmed or helped by policy, and to prevent the arbitrary imposition of authority. The commission could have voted in a backroom if its intent was simply to look at this matter in a purely legalistic way.

Anyone who heard all of the speakers would quickly conclude that an overwhelming number of people at the hearing were opposed to the overlay. So the commission went through the motions, the staff stammered and stumbled whenever a question was asked that might help Harding but embarrass the mayor and Williams, and the vote was a foregone conclusion. The only intelligent remarks about the technical aspects of the overlay came from George Dean, Harding's attorney. Only Historic Zoning Commissioner Mac McDonald had the foresight to question the wisdom of proceeding when a lawsuit was pending and so many spoke out for Harding. But his unimaginative cohorts would not deviate from their script.

The fair solution, which was staring the commission in the face, was to approve the overlay but exclude Harding. Harding's property lies on the extreme corner of the Links, nearest the commercial properties on its boundaries. A park, full of happy elementary children playing and laughing, seems like a great buffer between the homes and busy Harding Place. But to the leaders of the neighborhood and Williams, the destruction of nine homes in a community of over 125 homes would be an historical tragedy.

This all-or-nothing campaign is not what government is supposed to be about. Anyone with vision and experience would quickly recognize this. These qualities are sadly lacking on the Historic Commission and in Metro in general.



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Filed under: City Voices