Monday, July 20, 2015

What is on the July 21th Council agenda? Home price fixing know as "inclusionary zoning," lots more spendiing, DADU, TIF financing, and more.

The most important item on the agenda is the bill to advance rent control and home price control. Last Council meeting it passed on Second reading by a vote of 27 in favor and ll opposed. Disappointingly, several of the "yes" votes were people who I normally think of as conservative, people like Larry Hager and Josh Stites.  I hope those "good" councilmen, have seen the light and will vote against the bill this time. This is one of the worst bills, one of the most liberal bills, ever advanced in the Council.  I have had one member tell me he voted for it because it only authorized a study.  That is not correct. The bill tells the Planning Commission what should be in the bill they bring back to the Council.  Another council member said he was going to vote for it because it was simply "feel good" legislation and the State legislature would never permit such a bill to become law.  I don't know that that is true and in any event we should not pass a bad bill in hopes that the state legislature prohibits it from being enacted.

If you don't know what the Metro Council is voting on and you watch a council meeting, you will find it really, really boring. If you have your own copy of the Council agenda and staff analysis I am not saying the meeting will exactly be exciting but it will be less boring. To get your own copies, follow the highlighted links.

There are six appointees to Boards and Commissions on the agenda for Council confirmation. This a pro forma exercise as the council seldom takes it's confirmation duties seriously and rubber stamps whomever the Mayor appoints rather than using the confirmation of mayoral appointees as an opportunity to influence policy.

There is one resolution and 36 bills on public hearing.  Most bills on pubic hearing are zoning bill and would usually concern no one but nearby neighbors.  I make no attempt to learn the pros and cons of every rezoning proposal.  However, occasionally there is a bill on public hearing that is so controversial as to merit attention, has wider impact than just the effected property, or changes the text to the code so that I do pay attention. These are the bills on public hearing that I find interesting:

  • BILL NO. BL2015-1153 amends the metro zoning code to provide for more alternative zoning districts. The purpose of this is so that neighborhoods can be rezoned to allow a more pedestrian friendly environment and a more urban feel without requiring a SP zoning overlay. Some of the new zoning districts address things such as smaller lots, alley access, and setbacks.

  • BILL NO. BL2015-1167  by Councilman Scott Davis changes from SP to RS5 zoning on about 238 acres. I am not even going to try to understand this and explain it or form an opinion on it. I am simply pointing it out because it involves so many properties. “Specific Plan District,” generally known as “SP,” zoning refers to a type of base zoning district which is not subject to traditional zoning districts’ development standards. Under an SP zoning, design standards are established for that specific development and are written into the zone change ordinance. RS5 is a medium density residential zone requiring a minimum 5,000 square foot lot and intended for single-family dwellings, prohibiting duplexes. I generally think it is a bad idea to change zoning to a zone that permits less density, but not knowing the details of the current SP, I do not know if this does that or not.
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1168 also by Councilman Scott Davis effects about 636 acres and would change the current zoning by making applicable the provisions of the DADU overlay. DADU allows for accessory dwelling units, such as garage apartments, on a property and provides a way to create affordable housing options while also maintaining the character of the existing street-facing homes.  In general, I think this is good zoning and is a way to increase the stock of affordable housing without mandating developers build affordable units or engaging in price-fixing or rent control.
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1273 creates the Bordeaux Redevelopment Plan which would cover an area of 525 acres and would allow Tax Increment financing to be available in the area covered by this plan. Under TIF the increased property tax revenue generated by a development is used to pay the debt service on loans for the construction of improvements related to the project. Redevelopment plans must be approved by the council under state law for the purpose of redeveloping blighted areas.
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1274  approves the Cayce Place Redevelopment Plan. Casey Homes is one of the cities oldest and worst public housing projects, just off of Shelby Avenue. This plan would demolish that housing and replace it with a mixed income housing development. As explained above this would make TIF available for this development.
There are 12 resolution on the agenda all lumped together and put on the "consent agenda."  If a resolution does not pass the committee to which it was assigned unanimously then it is not left on consent but is considered separately. Any council member may, from the floor, ask for a resolution to be pulled off of consent and then the resolution will be considered separately.  Here are the ones of interest.

  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1572 appropriates $1.86 million from the undesignated fund balance to fund some items not included in the recently passed annual operating budget. This is unusual. Somebody screwed up and left this money out of the budget.  The bulk of it is to fund pay plan improvements, but $375K is an additional subsidy for the show Nashville.

  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1573 appropriates $2,150,000 from four accounts of the General Fund to fund 30 different non-profit organizations. To receive funding a non-profit had to apply and their application was scored. Most to the funds go to fund after school programs that serve disadvantaged children but also lots of other causes get funding such as Second Harvest, Fifty Forward, and ARC. There is no funding for the liberal political advocacy  "charities" such as the Neighborhood Resource Center or any organization of that kind and there is no funding for Planned Parenthood. I assume the process of selecting which charities get the money is a fair process and see no reason to appose this appropriations. 
  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1574  gives $875,000 to subsidize season 4 of the TV show Nashville. This is in addition to $340,000 from the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation and $335,000 from the Events and Marketing Fund and the $375,000 included in Resolution RS2015-1572 above.

There are seven bills on first reading, but I don't look at them until second reading and I doubt many of the members of the Council do either. First reading is a formality to get the bill on the agenda and all bills on first reading are passed at one time in one motion.

There are 26 bills on Second Reading. These are the ones I find interesting:

  • BILL NO. BL2013-569 amends the zoning text as it relates to car sales lots, car washes, auto repair centers and maybe some others. It does a lot of things including dictation the type of fence or wall that is permitted in front of the establishment to requiring at least 1,000 feet between car lots. This bill was disproved by the planning commission. It was first introduced in October 2013 and was deferred several times and then deferred indefinitely on March 4th 2014. It was placed back on the agenda on July 7th and then deferred to this meeting. While a lot of people think that when a bill is deferred indefinitely that means it is defeated, that is not the case. Months later when the interested parties have stopped paying attention a deferred bill can be resurrected and placed back on the agenda. I don't know if this is a good bill or not, but interested parties should know that is back on the agenda.
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1212  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. This should be defeated.

  • BILL NO. BL2015-1277 says that if someone donates art work or a memorial to Nashville, valued at over $5,000 or will have an installation cost or maintenance cost of over $5000, then it must be approved by the Council after having been approved by the Arts Commission. I am not sure how bit of a problem this is, but I see that it could be a problem and this makes a lot of sense.
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1278 would allow the Council to grant a waiver from the distance requirements that apply to beer retailers. Currently places selling beer must be a certain distance from churches, schools, day care centers, parks and homes. The only time the Council can grant a waiver from these requirements is if the establishment already has a State liquor license. This would allow an applicant to appeal for a waiver just as those establishments with  liquor license are now permitted to do.  This makes sense to me.

  • BILL NO. BL2015-1279  by Council member Blalock, says that if a place has a beer permit and a school moves within the 100 feet of the establishment with the beer license then the establishment does not lose its beer license. Makes sense.
There are 38 bills on Third Reading. Most of them are the zoning bills that were on pubic hearing last meeting. Here are the ones of interest.
  • SUBSTITUTE BILL NO. BL2015-1120  would expand where one may build secondary dwelling units. 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. 
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1121 would permit "Artisan manufacturing" in a whole bunch of zoning districts that now permit manufacturing. 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. I think this is a good bill.
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1129  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. I don't feel strongly one way or the other. I am not sure codes violators would benefit from a codes school the same way a traffic violator or solicitor of prostitution benefits from school. Apparently the fee paid by the "student" would cover the cost of the program. 
  • BILL NO. BL2015-1139 is 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 establish 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 between 80% and 100% of the median area 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. This bill needs to be defeated!   
 Here is how they voted when the bill was on 2nd reading: 

Those voting in favor were: Megan Barry, Ronnie Steine, Tim Garrett, Maynard, Matthews, Harrison, Hunt, Banks, Scott Davis, Westerholm, Anthony Davis, Bill  Pridemore, Doug Pardue, Larry Hagar, Josh Stites, Stanley, Moore, Allen, Gilmore, Holleman, McGuire, Harmon, Johnson, Potts, Bedne, Dowell, Carter Todd (27)

Those who voted against were:  Charlie Tygard, Karen Bennett, Phil Claiborne, Tony Tenpenny, Baker, Sheri Weiner, Emily Evans, Davette Blalock, Duane Dominy, Robert Duvall, Bo Mitchell (11).

There are three memorializing resolutions and if they meet the same criteria for inclusion, they will be included in the consent agenda. Memorializing resolutions do not have the force of law and simply express the will of the council and are often used to honor a sports team on a victory or honor a long-time employee on his retirement. There are two significant memorializing resolutions on this agenda:

RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1498 by Charlie Tygard request the  Metropolitan Civil Service Commission to consider and recommend an amendment to the General Pay Plan to partially base the compensation of Members of the Metropolitan Council upon Council and committee meeting attendance.

Recently, Channel 5 did an investigative piece and revealed that some Council members almost never attend committee meetings.  This is just not right! As Tygerd said, "It's not fair for certain council members to do all of the homework and others to get the same rate of pay and do nothing of the work.”

With a large council, the council must have a strong committee system.  It is in committee where the real work of the Council is done. It is in committee where the council can ask hard questions and get answers.  There is no way a councilmember can know all there is to know about the  bills on the agenda. Some of the Councilmen said they had regular jobs and could  not take off work to attend committee meetings. In my view, if a councilmember does not have flexibility in his job to attend to his council duties, he should not run for council.  If he cannot attend Council committee meetings he should resign from the council. The worst offenders were Emily Evans, who missed 83 committee meetings since 2013, Robert Duvall, who's missed 93 committee meetings in that time period, and Sean McGuire, who's missed 132 committee meetings since 2013! Among the top twelve members with the worst attendance records was Council member-at-large and Mayoral candidate Megan Barry. This resolution was on the agenda for two meetings and was deferred both times and is now back on the agenda.
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.

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