The Metro Council’s failure to approve a massive zoning overhaul for Midtown Tuesday hampered the city’s ability to land federal funds over the next year for a new bus rapid transit line along Broadway-West End, Metro planning officials say.
“I think it reduces our chances of getting the federal grant approved,” Doug Sloan, assistant executive director of the Metro Planning Department, told reporters Tuesday, referring to a crucial U.S. Federal Transit Administration grant that could cover up to $75 million of the BRT project’s $174 million price tag.
Metro transit and planning officials are eyeing a Sept. 1 deadline to submit a federal grant application in hopes of landing a chunk of money essential to Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed BRT east-west connector, which would stretch eight miles through the heart of Nashville.
Officials drafting the grant request had hoped to show that Metro had re-zoned more than 455 acres of property between Interstate-40 and I-440 to allow denser future development to accommodate the BRT line. Zoning guidelines would be consistent with the recently adopted Midtown Community Plan, they contend.
Instead, the council Tuesday voted to defer an ordinance that outlines those changes for one month, meaning the Midtown’s rezoning won’t head to a final vote until the grant application’s deadline has already passed.
“I’m not saying that the federal grant won’t get approved now without that, but that would have given us additional points on our application, showing that we were creating a more dense environment around the BRT route,” Sloan said.
The council’s deferral came after a handful of West Nashville residents raised objections to the Midtown rezoning plan during a brief public hearing, with one calling it “tacit support” for Dean’s BRT project. “All we’re asking you is to slow down,” one woman said.
Councilwoman Burkley Allen, lead sponsor of the bill whose district includes much of the proposed BRT line, made the motion to defer the rezoning ordinance for 30 days. “I don’t want to mess up what our city’s trying to do in moving forward, but I do feel like we need to have our citizens comfortable with what we’re doing,” Allen said.
“This is a huge move,” she said.
Councilman Jason Holleman, whose district also touches the planned BRT route, said he’s concerned about the implications of some of the Midtown zone-changes if federal BRT funding were not approved. He also suggested the proposed rezoning does nothing to protect historic structures in an area that has lost several in recent years.
“I understand the need to move forward with the request to the federal government for transit dollars, but I don’t want to do it at the expense of the long-term growth and improvement of one of the hearts of our city,” Holleman said.
Sloan, from the planning department, said Metro officials had sought to “move the timeline up” for Midtown’s rezoning solely to assist with the BRT federal funding application. He said federal transit officials would be reviewing Nashville’s growth projections along the Broadway-West-End corridor as they consider whether to deliver Metro funds.
“The more dense development we allow in the area, the higher the likelihood that we increase the ridership for that line,” Sloan said.
Holleman said he’s a “tremendous” supporter of mass transit investment, but questioned why the rezoning component wasn’t introduced earlier. “I think if this rezoning was an integral part of our BRT application then we should have began the process for working out that rezoning plan sooner,” he said.
Metro transit officials last month conducted a series of community forums to introduce Dean’s BRT proposal to the public. A next round of meetings is set for this month in advance of the Sept. 1 application deadline.