Monday, July 4, 2016

What's on the Council agenda July 5th: Killing an Affordable Housing Development and trampling property rights, getting in bed with the teachers union, more.

The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, July 5th at 6:30 PM. To watch the Council meeting, you can go to the courthouse and watch the meeting in person, if you are so inclined, but unless you are trying to influence a Council member and think your presence in the audience will exert an influence, I don't know why you would want to.  The chamber will probably be packed  There are 40 bills on public hearing.  Most bills on public hearing are request to rezone property and some of them are bound to be controversial, so a lot of people will show up to voice their opinion.

Meetings are broadcast live at Metro Nashville Network's Government TV on Nashville's Comcast Channel 3 and AT&T's U-verse 99 and are streamed live at the Metro Nashville Network's livestream site. You can catch them the next day on the Metro YouTube channel. If you will wait, I will watch it for you and post the video and point out the good parts so you can go to that point in the video and watch just that segment. Also, I will tell you what I think about what happened.  Council meetings are really boring and I watch them so you don't have to.  If you are going to watch a council meeting, you really need the agenda and  the Council staff analysis or you won't even have a clue about what is going on. 

Here is my commentary and analysis of the agenda. I am only listing what I think is interesting or important, so if you are really interested in the details of what the Council does, you may want to  read the agenda for yourself.  Also, be advised that I don't even try to understand all zoning issues.  Most zoning bills only concern a few nearby neighbors.  If I think a zoning issue has wider implications than just one neighborhood, I will try to report on it or if I think it is particularly contentious, but otherwise you are on your own when it comes to zoning issues.   

Confirmation of appointments to Boards and Commissions: There are six positions on the agenda and I expect the Council to rubber stamp them all as they always do.

Bills on Public Hearing. These are the ones I am watching.

BILL NO. BL2016-199 applies a Contextual Overlay District to 231.8 acres in Council member Hurt's District. A Contextual Overlay is a zoning tool that can be applied to residential neighborhoods. It applies design standards in order to maintain and reinforce established form or character of residential development in a particular area.  It does not affect the base zoning of a property.  It essentially keeps property owners from building something on their lot that is terribly our of character with the neighborhood.  It addresses such things as Setback, Height, Lot Coverage, and Access, Garages, and Parking. There are several neighborhoods that have this designation.
BILL NO. BL2016-218 would allow Council members to initiate three zone changes a year without paying the required fee to the Planning Department usually associated with considering a zone change. Currently council members can do one. Most zone change request come from the owner of the property and the zone change is requested as part of a plan to develop the property, but there are occasions when a group of property owners may want a rezoning or a community may want a rezoning, that is not part of a planned development. Those instances should be rare and I don't know if this change to allow a council member to have three free rezonngs is justified or not, but it is not being opposed by the Planning Department.
 BILL NO. BL2016-219 is the attempt to kill an affordable housing project and trample a person's private property rights by cancelling an approved Planned Unit Development and down zoning a persons property without their consent. This has been disapproved by the Planning Commission.  If it passes the State of Tennessee has threatened to withhold future tax credits used to help finance affordable housing developments. For more on this story see this link and this and this.
BILL NO. BL2016-265 and  BILL NO. BL2016-266 both make modest changes to the process for canceling a Planned Unit Development, making it easier to do so.  These changes appear modest but I hope developers are paying attention. If I were serving on the Council, I would not opposed these bills unless I heard a good argument that they should be opposed. I hope developers are alerted.
BILL NO. BL2016-266  would amend the Mansion at Fontanel Specific Plan District. I am not going to try to explain or form an opinion on this, I just tagging it as potentially controversial. It is disapproved by the Planning Commission.
BILL NO. BL2016-293 in Scott Davis's district would rezone 54 acres, comprised of many parcels, from various current zonings to R6-A which is a medium density residential district.  I oppose taking away a persons property rights and would not support this unless it had the approval of those whose properties are being rezoned. This is disapproved by the planning commission.
BILL NO. BL2016-298 also in Scott Davis's district would rezone 46 acres consisting of a bunch of properties from various current zonings to RM40-A which is a high density residential zoning allowing 40 units per acre. This has not been to the Planning Commission yet. I have the same concern as on the above bill. Is this away taking property rights? 
Resolutions. There are 30 resolutions on the agenda, all on the Consent Agenda at this time. Most of them are routine things such as approving acceptance of grants or approving allowing sings to overhang the public sidewalk. If a resolution has any negative votes in committee it is taken off of consent.  Also any council member may ask to have an item taken off of consent or to have his abstention or dissenting vote recorded. All items on consent are passed by a single vote instead of being voted on individually. Below are the Resolutions of interest.
SUBSTITUTE RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-270 request the civil service commission establish paid maternity and paternity leave for metro employees.  I oppose this resolution.  Metro employees are paid well and have generous benefits.  They should not have benefits substantially better than the private sector or State government.
RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-277  request that the Tennessee General Assembly and Gov. Bill Haslam communicate with Nashville’s business groups and community before passing legislation that could be detrimental to Nashville & Davidson County commerce. This is meaningless and if I were in the Council I would not bother voting against it.  Since it is on consent, the sponsor will not be able to explain his bill and blast the Governor or State legislature for bills such as that that addressed freedom of conscience for metal health counselors or the bill that prohibited rental price fixing or the bill prohibited Metro from requiring contractors to discriminate against out of county residents in hiring on Metro projects.  It is better to let this meaningless bill slide through rather than give the sponsor a platform.
RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-286 would approve an application for a Paid Leave Analysis Grant in the amount of $217,632 from the U.S.Department of Labor. If approved, the proceeds would be used to conduct a paid leave analysis study across the Metropolitan Nashville area. In my view we should not do this, however it is only approve an application for a grant for a study, so I am not sure it worth opposing. I think we should support families, but we should not expand benefits for metro employees who already have very generous benefits and never have to fear losing their job.  Also, if we should have a paid maternity leave program, which I do not think we should, it should not apply to single mothers.  We should not be encouraging illegitimate births.
RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-306 request that the Council approve the location of the Sheriff's new administrative offices before any funding is dispersed for the project. The location of the new jail has been a concern of the Council. Council members from Antioch fear it will be build in their community and do not want that to happen. 
Bills on First Reading. There are 22 bills on First Reading but I usually don't review bills on First Reading. First reading is a formality that gets bills on the agenda. They are not evaluated by committee until they are on Second Reading. All bills on First Reading are lumped together and pass by a single vote. It is almost considered bad manners to vote against a bill on First Reading. The following bill on First Reading, I would oppose.
BILL NO. BL2016-133  would establish an inclusionary zoning ordinance which incentivize Inclusionary Housing with any residential development that seeks additional development entitlements beyond that permitted by the current base zoning district.  This is not as bad as an earlier version but is still price-fixing and still a bad bill and may violate state law. A better affordable housing bill is going to be introduced by Council member Sheri Weiner. I do not think the council should try to force developers to build affordable housing and any effort to encourage it should be a grant program. The Weiner proposal is better than this bill.  To learn more, read the Tennessean's Competing affordable housing plans to face off before Metro Council.

Bills on Second Reading. There are only seven and this is the only one of interest. 

BILL NO. BL2016-257 would allow Codes to issue stop-work orders against illegal, non-permitted short-term rentals and increase the ban on an STR permit at such a property to three years. Now, if one is caught operating a short-term rental without a permit, the ban on getting a permit is one year. The Tennessean explains this at this link: Nashville may ramp up penalty for Airbnb permit violators

Bills on Third Reading. There are 11 bills on Third Reading 
SUBSTITUTE BILL NO. BL2016-234 would add “natural gas compressor stations” to a list of facilities regulated as a “major source” of air pollutants which require a local permit and would do some other things. This is part of an attempt to stop proposed natural gas compression stations planned for Joelton and Antioch.  Federal law says that local government can not stop these developments and the Federal government has the right to permit them. However, there is a process whereby a local government may gain permitting authority and this is part of that process to gain that authority. It is differed to the first meeting in July. 
BILL NO. BL2016-240  would establish new rules and fees for developers who close streets or sidewalks during construction. This is more complex than it sounds.This would attempt to fix what is a real problem.
 BILL NO. BL2016-258  is what appears to be a sweetheart deal that would put Metro in bed with the state teachers union. It would sell the old Ben West library to the TEA and they would allow Metro to use the property rent-free for up to 12 days a year.  The TEA would pay $2 million dollars for the property but Metro wold let them take ten years to pay it and they would not have to pay interest. The city put out a Request for Proposals which included a requirement that the building be preserved
BILL NO. BL2016-259 require that the Metropolitan Transit Authority, in conjunction with any other related entities, provide to the Metropolitan Council, no later than December 31, 2016, a comprehensive mass transit plan for Nashville and Davidson County. The plan is to identify a source of funding also.

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