Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What Happened at the Council Meeting of July 7th? Housing and Rent control advances, Council members keep life-time health insurance, more tax giveaways.

The big news of the night is that the Council voted to advance the form of housing price and rent control that goes by the good sounding name of "inclusionary zoning."  It passed, but eleven members voted against it.

To read my analysis of this meeting and to get your own copy of the agenda follow this link. At the time I did my analysis, the Council staff analysis had not been published and I did not have benefit of reading the staff analysis prior to the council meeting. To get your copy of the council staff analysis follow this link.

At over four hours long, this is a long meeting.  If there is anything I think worth watching, I will note the timestamp and you can go to that point in the video to watch the action.  If you want to watch the meeting however, and not devote four hours, you may want to watch it in double time and then slow it down when you hear something interesting. I can usually watch a meeting in double time and not lose much content. To do that click on the video, then click on the "YouTube" logo and you will be asked it you want to watch the video on YouTube. Do that. Then click on the gear. If given the opportunity to watch it in time and half or double time, you will see that option. If not, follow this link and click on "HTML5" unless you get a message saying "the HTML5 player is currently used when possible." Go back to the video and you should now be able to watch it at faster speeds.

There are 33 bills on public hearings and I do not even attempt to understand them all. I only report on bills that have wider implications than one neighborhood or for some other reason I consider important. Below are the meeting highlights:

BILL NO. BL2015-1098  on public hearing which concerns '“Community Education' siting" and would allow schools to locate in zoned districts where they are not now permitted and would relax the lot size requirements for a school is deferred indefinitely.  I think this is a good bill and is one to watch. Included in this is a provision that schools could now be established in IWD districts (Industrial Warehousing/Distribution, intended for a wide range of warehousing, wholesaling, and bulk distribution uses). The bill also provides for "adaptive reuse," meaning a school could be located in an existing building, regardless of lot size, that was not originally intended for a school. On the face of it this seems like a good thing to do. Why not allow a school to locate in a relocated church building or an empty mall? Some people in the Greenhills area are opposed to any relaxation of the current school siting requirements because they are concerned that Hillsboro High will relocate and the valuable land which is now Hillsboro High will be redeveloped. They want to make it very difficult for Hillsboro high to relocate simply because they oppose new commercial and multifamily development in Greenhills. Council member Evans, the bill sponsor ask the bill be deferred to the first meeting in August. Councilman Bedne ask instead to have the bill deferred infinitely. The sponsor says she is Ok with that. She can still bring it back up. The motion to defer indefinitely passes.

SUBSTITUTE BILL NO. BL2015-1120  on public hearing is a bill that would expand where one may build secondary dwelling units. It passes. This would amend the zoning code to create a Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit (DADU) Overlay District. I think this is a positive development and it is one way to increase density and increase the stock of affordable housing. While I oppose price fixing to increase affordable housing, I do think increasing the stock of affordable housing is a worthwhile goal. Also, if Nashville is to grow and avoid massive urban sprawl and if Nashville is going to ever have adequate mass transit, and if we are to afford the services we want and need, without massive tax increases, we need greater population density. Some, however, raise the issue of parking, road capacity, sewer capacity and maintaining the character of existing neighborhoods as reasons to oppose greater density.

One of my favorite public figures and a Council member at-large member candidate, Ken Jakes argues against it, saying it could change the character of neighborhoods across Davidson County. The sponsor explains that this is only a tool and this overlay would have to be applied to a neighborhood and passed by the Council.

BILL NO. BL2015-1121 which would permit "Artisan manufacturing" in a whole bunch of zoning districts that now permit manufacturing passes. No one speaks in favor or opposition.  It would allow people to live and work in this districts and sets standards such as parking requirements and screening requirement for loading docks when such would adjoin residential areas. To me, this seems like a positive development.

BILL NO. BL2015-1139 is one of the bill that advances housing price control known as "inclusionary zoning." This directs the Planning Department to create rules and regulation that implement "inclusionary zoning" and directs that such rules set a goal that 14% of the units in any new development or renovation of existing developments or conversion of existing rental developments to for-purchase units, be set aside as "affordable."  It define "affordable" as affordable to someone making 60% or less of the area median income. "Affordable" means that one's house payment for rent does not take more than 30% of one's income.  The effect of this is that the cost all new developments would increase and development of new residential property would be slowed and prices of all new development would increase. The final rules established by the Planning Commission would have to go back to the Council for approval. It is my understanding that State law would have to be changed before Metro could do this, however that is not certain.

Several people speak in favor and in opposition. Those in support include representatives of NOAH and VOICE, Kay Bowers who is with a non-profit housing group, Dinah Gregory, Director of Planning and Coordination with Metro Social Service and Rev. Bill Barnes a long time activist for progressive causes for whom the Barnes Fund is named. Several speakers mention that this implements a goal of NashvilleNext.

Among those speaking in opposition is Council member at-large candidate Ken Jakes (see time stamp 53:26), He says no government should ever tell one the price for which they must rent or sell their home. Other opponents include a spokesman for the Greater Nashville Apartment Association and the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors. Marty Heflin a teacher of Real Estate Finance at the Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University gives examples of how inclusionary zoning has failed to achieve its goals in other locations where it has been adopted and actually led to higher home prices(time stamp 59:27). He point out that with inclusionary zoning total housing developments go down and it pushed all housing prices up and acts as a tax on development and leads developers to build outside the county instead of in the county.

The bill is substituted with a version that is slightly less bad than it was originally. The original said the Planning Commission was to come up with rules and regulations that required a 14% set aside of affordable units; the substitute says they are to develop a plan that has a goal of 14% affordable units.  Council member Sherri Weiner speaks in opposition to the bill and speaks in favor alternative bill 1147 which in my view is also a bad bill, but not as bad as this bill. Bill 1147 does not mandate or set a goal of 14% set aside. Under 1147 instead of requiring developers to build affordable housing, the Planning Commission could incentivize developers to do so. Councilman Tygard and Evan unsuccessfully try to persuade their colleague to remove the goal of 14% from the bill.

The bill passes by a vote of 27 for and 11 opposed. As soon as the information is available, I will post how members of the Council voted. To see the full discussion of the bill see time stamp 16:14-1:37:26.

BILL NO. BL2015-1169  on public hearing, which would apply a "contextual overlay" to about 78 acres in Councilman Westerholm and Anthony Davis's district to allow accessary dwelling units, is disapproved by the planning commission because their had been insufficient community awareness of the proposed change. Several speak in favor and in opposition. Arguments in favor are that it will expand affordable housing. Arguments against are that it will lead to developers tearing down existing homes to build bigger homes so they can then also build bigger accessory units, a general opposition to greater density, a desire to preserve the character of the neighborhood, and that it will lead to destruction of trees.  I favor this type rezoning. Greater density reduces urban sprawl, provides units of affordable housing, and grows the tax base. Change like this however, should not occur without residents of the neighborhood being informed. The bill is approved and referred back to the planning commission.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1515 by Charlie Tygard requests the Davidson County Delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly to introduce and support the necessary legislation to require full-time Davidson County elected officials to submit an annual report to the Comptroller detailing the dates they worked. A recent report in The Tennessean revealed that many elected officials often do not work. This was discovered by an examination of when they used there swipe card to gain access to their office. This is again deferred.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1568 request the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Davidson County Delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly to take the necessary action to plant vegetation or erect a barrier to block the view of the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue from Interstate 65. I think this is a waste of effort. I don't like the statue myself, but do not think we should waste effort trying to hide it. The resolution passes on a voice vote. There are a few audible "no's" but no one ask for a roll call or to be recorded as voting "no."

BILL NO. BL2015-1129  on second reading, which would establish a Codes Offender School much like we have a traffic violations school or a "John's School" for those arrested for solicitation of a prostitute, passes.

BILL NO. BL2015-1211 on second reading ,which would reduce the life time health insurance benefit for members of the Metro council who have served at least two terms in the council, fails. Currently, for any member who has served two terms, the Metro government pays 75% of the health insurance premium for the former council member and his family for the rest of his life. Back when this passed, it applied to few members because without term limits there were simply not that many former member who were eligible for this benefit because their were fewer former council members. There was a lot less turn over in the council. With term limits there are a lot of former Council members who have served two terms. This bill would reverse the ratio; the city would only pay 25% and the council member would pay 75% of the premium. I support this bill. Councilman Claiborne makes an excellent presentation but the bill, on a roll call machine vote, fails. When the record is a available I will post how members of the Council voted.  To see the discussion, see time stamp 3:38:34.

BILL NO. BL2015-1212  on second reading would prohibit the sale of single cans or bottles of beer by off-sale permit holders located within 100 feet of a facility that provides food to homeless persons. I oppose this type of bureaucratic micro-management. The bill is deferred one meeting.

BILL NO. BL2015-1127 on third reading is a tax give-away deal to benefit American General. It passes on a machine vote.

BILL NO. BL2015-1143 is a bill which authorizes The Industrial Development Board  to negotiate and accept payments in lieu of ad valorem taxes with respect to CHS Realty Holdings III, LLC. What this means is that the city, though this board, funds the construction of the building and actually owns it for a certain number of years and as a tax exempt entity they do not pay taxes. However, the company for which they build the building pays something in lieu of taxes but not anywhere near what they would pay if they were paying taxes. This is one of the means by which the city entices companies to locate in Nashville. It provides that the company for whom this building is being build pays nothing during the period of construction and continues to pay nothing until 2019 and then pays only 40% of what they would otherwise pay until 2028, then they pays 75% through 2027, at which time they would began paying 100% of their tax bill. There is more to it than that. The company must hire a certain number of people to keep this deal. There are benchmarks of employment for different periods. It passes on a machine vote. Once available, I will post how members voted.

BILL NO. BL2015-1146   on third reading is a bill which would allow "free-floating car-sharing vehicles to be exempt from the limitations imposed on vehicles lacking a residential parking permit when parking in a residential parking permit area."  There is a new service that allows members of a car sharing enterprise to get a car and drive it where they need to go, which may be on the street near there home where cars that park there are supposed to have a sticker saying they are allowed to park on that street. A member of this car sharing program may, for instance, take the bus to work but need to run an errand on their way home and they find an available car on their smart phone app and drive it home. This is a good innovation which helps make it possible for more people to survive without owning a car. I am pleased to see the city accommodate this innovation. It passes.

BILL NO. BL2015-1147 is another one of the bills to advance rent control and home price fixing called "inclusionary zoning." The planning commission would have six months to come up with a specific proposal to implement this form of housing price control. That proposal would then have to come back to the council for approval.   While this bill is not as bad BILL NO. BL2015-1139 it is still a bad bill. It is deferred two meetings.

To see The Tennessean's coverage of the council meetings see the below link:
Affordable housing bill advances in Metro Council
Metro Council asks state to block view of I-65 Forrest statue

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