Monday, January 1, 2018

Update, What's on the Council Agenda for Jan.2, 2018: Trampling property rights and stopping affordable housing, new regs for home sharing, electing a judge, a Citizen Review Board of the Police Dept., the mass transit bill, ..

The Ridge Apartments
The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, January 2, 2017 at 6:30 PM in the Council chamber at the Metro Courthouse. This will probably be a long meeting. There is a lot of important items on the agenda.

The most important item on the agenda is BILL NO. BL2016-219 which tramples a person's private property rights and kills an affordable housing development. This is a bill disapproved by the Planning Commission and is on third and final reading. Most zone changes allow people to do something with their property they were previously not allowed to do; this bill is a "down zoning," taking away a right someone now enjoys.  The developer is already vested in the project having designed the development and arranged financing.  If this passes it is an outrage. There will likely be lawsuit and the state has threatened to withhold low income housing tax credits, an essential financing tool for most affordable housing developments.  For more on this issue, see Contact your Council member. Stop the trampling of property rights and the killing of an affordable housing development.

The other important item on the agenda is  Substitute Bill BL2017-937 which is on Public Hearing. It will change the regulations governing home sharing or "Short term rentals."  In my view, short term rentals should be treated like long term rentals and the government should only minimally regulate them. This bill has been in the works for over a year and a lot of work has gone into it. A special committee has been working on this trying to find a solution that would satisfy those who want them banned and those who engage in home sharing. This bill would not take away the right to engage in home sharing for anyone who currently has a permit, but lower caps would be placed on the number of permits. If someone allowed their permit to lapse, at a later time one could not get the permit reissued if the cap for that area had been reached. Permits could not be transferred so if one was providing home sharing and sold their home, the new owners could not continue the home sharing. There is much else this bill does. Read the bill and see the staff analysis for a deeper understanding. While I do not like this bill, if I were serving in the Council, I would probably vote for it.  This is one of those cases of voting for something that is not very good to keep something that is terrible from passing. If this fails to pass, then a ban is likely to be proposed. The organization representing those engaged in home sharing is supportive and AirBnB is supportive of this bill.  A lot of neighborhood activist are opposing this bill.

Also Bill BL2017-981  is on Pubic Hearing dealing with Short term Rental. It is worse than the above bill. It would allow “STRP–Owner-Occupied” as an accessory use in specified zoning districts and allow “STRP–Not Owner Occupied” as a use permitted with conditions in specified districts. So,  as I understand it, what the practical effect of this would be is short term rental could exist in residential areas where the owner lives in the property on the same lot as the short term rental unit.  A person would not be allowed, however, to own the house next door and rent it as short term rental. Those already existing however could continue to exist. Bill BL2017-982 also deals with short term rental but seems less significant than the others.  If adopted in conjunction with BL2017 608 or  BL2017 937 or  BL2017-981 its impact would be limited to allowing duplexes to be considered for owner-occupied permits under certain circumstances. Bill BL2017-608 is on the agenda on third reading and also concerns Short Term Rental and it is to be deferred to be on the agenda with the other bills.

If you are going to watch the Council meeting, you need a copy of the Council Agenda and the staff analysis  or you really will not know what is going on. You can get the agenda and analysis at the highlighted links.

Election of a General Court Judge
After the prayer and pledge the first order of business is the election of someone to fill a General Sessions Court judge vacancy.  The public or members of the Council could make nominations, then the nominees were reviewed by the rules committee. The committee will not make a recommendation of a person but, as usually happens, report that each of the nominees are qualified to serve. After the committee report there will likely be a very short nominating speech for each candidate and then a very short speech by the candidate. The nominees are Ana Escobar; Newton S. Holliday, III; and Dominic J. Leonardo. Nick Leonardo should have the inside track. Usually these vacancies get filled by a sitting councilman. Once elected, General Court judges seldom face serious challenges for reelection so getting the seat is almost like a lifetime appointment. When these vacancies arise, members of the Council find it hard not to vote for a colleague they have been serving with. This time however, Ana Escobar may be a serious contender for the seat.  The last time the Council had a vacancy to fill, Ana Escobar was nominated but the Council elected Councilman Sam Coleman to fill the seat. Escobar had the recommendation of the Nashville bar association then and she does now. She has served as the domestic violence team leader for the Davidson County District Attorney's Office and those active in the fight against domestic violence are pushing her candidacy. Her fight against domestic violence, the fact that she is Hispanic and female and the esteem in which she is held by other lawyers may cause the Council to break with tradition of selecting one of their own. I don't have any specific knowledge but would assume the Council has been subject to some heavy lobbying on her behalf.

There are four mayoral appointees to Boards and Commission on the agenda for confirmation and as always they will be affirmed.

Public Hearing
There is one resolution and 30  bills on Public hearing. Items on public hearings are all rezoning bills or related to planning and zoning policy.  Rezoning hearings bore me and I don't even try to form an opinion on the merits each rezoning bill before the Council.  Rezoning bills usually are of interest only to people who live near the proposed rezoning. People who don't care one way or the other do not show up and with rare exceptions the only people who speak in favor of rezoning bills are those who will benefit from the rezoning such as the property owner or the developer.  Opponents always make the same argument which boils down to one of these: 1) the change will result in stressing the infrastructure such as too much traffic on the roadway or overcrowd the schools, 2) will cause flooding, and 3) will change for the worse the character of the community. If you are interested in knowing what is permitted in different zoning districts, follow this link. I call attention to only those bills on public hearing that for some reason I expect to be controversial or to bills which have been disapproved by the Planning Commission. A bill disapproved by the Planning Commission requires 27 votes to be approved on third and final reading and sometimes that can be difficult to obtain. None of the bills on Public Hearing have been disapproved by the Planning Commission but some bills on public hearing have not yet been to the Planning Commission and most are approved contingent upon the sponsor making changes recommended by the Commission. Below are the only bills on public hearing I find of interest.
Substitute Bill BL2017-937  is the home sharing or Short Term Rental bill discussed above. Expect a lot of people pro and con to speak on this bill.
Bill BL2017-938  would exempt religious institutions from current sidewalk requirements, provided the religious institution is within the General Services District and does not abut an existing or planned sidewalk. Currently if a developer does an infill development even on a street without sidewalks they must build sidewalk even if there are no other sidewalks on the street. This can greatly increase the cost of development and can result in less affordable housing. In my view the whole requirement that developers build sidewalks should be scraped except where sidewalks already exist. It is going to lead to a lot of sidewalks to nowhere in the middle of nowhere. This bill has been disapproved by the Planning Commission.

Bill BL2017-981 and Bill BL2017-982  deal with Short Term Rental and are discussed above.

Bill BL2017-1005 would allow Hotel/Motel use within the Urban Zoning Overlay (UZO) district on no more than three percent of the residentially zoned properties within each census tract. This bill is disapproved by the Planning Commission. A UZO is essentially the old part of the city and it generally calls for pedestrian friendly construction with parking behind a business rather than in front of it and it imposes other restrictions.

Bill BL2017-1029 would require contributions paid in lieu of the construction of sidewalks to stay within council districts.   

Bill BL2017-1030 by Councilman Glover would  require an annual study be conducted by the Department of Public Works to determine the cost of sidewalks within Davidson County and to preclude in lieu payments absent such study. Back in October it was revealed that Nashville has allocated $60 million for sidewalks and got only 3.5 miles of new sidewalks!! For the most part the Council has seemed unconcerned. This is a positive step but I think there should be hearings and investigations. I would like to know who the consultants are getting all of that money and to whom they have made political contributions. I don't think it is possible to waste that kind of money accidentally.

There are 10 resolution on the agenda and all are on the consent agenda at this time. A resolution stays on the consent agenda if it passes  unanimously the committees to which it was assigned. Resolutions which receive negative votes in committee are pulled off of consent. Also any councilman may have a resolution pulled off of consent. Those remaining on consent are lumped together and passed by a single vote. Resolutions on the consent agenda are usually not controversial and tend to be routine matters, such as accepting grants from the Federal or State Government, entering into inter agency agreements over mundane things, appropriating money from the 4% fund, settling lawsuits, or approving signs overhanging the sidewalk. Unlike a bill which requires three votes of the Council to pass, a resolution only requires one vote of the Council. None of the resolutions on this agenda are of much interest.

Bills on First reading: There are 13 bills on first reading. First reading is a formality that gets bills on the agenda and they are not considered by committee until after they pass first reading.  Normally bills on First Reading are all lumped together and pass by a single vote. It is rare that a bill on First Reading is voted on separately. I normally do not read bills until they get to second reading.

Bills on Second Reading: There are 8 of them. These are the ones of interest.
Bill BL2017-951   would establish a Community Oversight Board  to conduct investigations and provide citizen oversight of officers of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.  It would provide for a ll member board members, seven nominated by citizens groups or by petition confirmed by the Council, two appointed by the Council and two appointed by the mayor subject to Council confirmation. The Board would have the authority to investigate allegations that MNDP officers have committed misconduct in violation of policy or criminal misconduct.The Board would hold regular meetings and have a staff of researchers and lawyers. This would cost about $386,000 a year. The Council staff analysis says there are due process concerns with the way the board would operate. In my view this bill needs to be defeated.

BILL BL2017-1031 is the mayor's $5.2B mass transit bill. It is "an ordinance adopting a transit improvement program for the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, approving a surcharge for the program, and requesting the Davidson County Election Commission to call a county-wide referendum election to be held on May 1, 2018, regarding the levying of the surcharge on certain taxes to fund the program."  I expect this to pass, but if I served in the Council I would vote against it. 
Bills on Third Reading:  There are 15 of them. These are the ones of interest.
Bill BL2016-219 is the bill taking someone's property rights and killing an affordable housing development discussed at the top of this page

Bill BL2017-608 is a Short Term Rental Property bill mentioned at the top of this page.   

SUBSTITUTE BILL BL2017-953  imposes various regulations regarding commercial solicitation  including restricting door-to-door commercial solicitation to daylight hours. The substitute alters the proposed time restrictions by prohibiting door-to-door solicitation after sunset or 7:00 pm, whichever occurs later. With that change, this is not a bad bill.

BILL BL2017-983 would require certain information for the assessment of economic and community development incentives offered in the form of PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreements and Council approval. PILOTS are a form of corporate welfare used most often to entice businesses to locate or expand in Nashville. It is often offered by the Industrial Development Board but has recently been offered by the Metro Development and Housing Agency in order to encourage the development of affordable housing. Under a PILOT agreement, the business is exempt from paying property taxes but instead pays a fee in lieu of those taxes which is considerably less than the company would pay in taxes. Currently companies getting incentive grants have to provide Metro with certain information such as how many jobs they will create and other things and then the Council has to approve the incentive grant.  This bill would apply those same standards to those getting PILOT deals.  This is a good bill.  Currently the PILOTs are awarded without Council oversight.  This is opposed by the Chamber and supported by liberal organizations but I support it. More transparency in how the government picks winners and losers and gives away tax dollars is always a good thing. 
If you want to watch the Council meeting, there are several options. You can go to the courthouse and watch the meeting in person, or you can watch the broadcast live at Metro Nashville Network's Government TV on Nashville's Comcast Channel 3 and AT&;T's U-verse 99 and it is streamed live at the Metro Nashville Network's livestream site. You can catch the meeting the next day (or the day after the next) on the Metro YouTube channel. If can stand the suspense and just wait, I will post the video here the day after or the day after that and provide commentary.

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