Sunday, January 5, 2020

What's on the Council agenda for 1-7-20: Taxing your water bill, regulating scooters, requiring permit to build a fence and relaxing the ban on home-based business.

by Rod Williams - The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, January 7th at 6:30 PM in the Council chamber at the Metro Courthouse. Here is a link to the Council agenda and the Council staff analysis. For those who want to watch the Council meeting and follow along, the meeting are more interesting if you know what the heck is going on.

You don't have to watch it and yet you can still be informed, because I will watch it for you and then a couple days later post a summary of the most important Council actions and I will post a video of the meeting and highlight the most interesting parts. Below is a summary of the agenda, highlighting what I deem to be the most important items.

Public Hearing: There are three resolutions and 16 bills on public hearings. The resolution are exempting businesses from the distance requirements for obtaining a beer permit.  The bill are rezoning bills or related items. I don't try to form an opinion on ever zoning bill. Quite frankly they bore me and usually only concern nearby neighbors.  I call attention to bills which have been disapproved by the Planning Commission, bills I think are likely to create a lot of opposition, or bills which have a greater policy impact beyond that particular rezoning.

Bill BL2019-8 would amend a portion of the code concerning the program that, under certain circumstances, allows developers to pay money into a sidewalk fund rather than build sidewalks in front of his development. Currently, that money is to stay in the "pedestrian benefit zone" from where the payment was made. This ordinance would instead require funds to stay within the Council district of the new development. The Planning Commission recommended indefinite deferral and the sponsor is expected to do so.  There is a special committee of the Council appointed by the Vice mayor to study the issues surrounding the building of sidewalks and this issue may be addressed  by that committee.
Bill BL2019-48 is a relaxation of the ban on home-based businesses. Home businesses now are allowed only if no customers are served by the business on the premises and the business employs no more than one employee who is not a resident. That neighbor who gives local kids piano lessons is operating illegally. That lady with one a one-chair beauty shop who does hair by appointment-only is illegal. This would allow home-based businesses if no more than three vehicle trips are generated each day related to the business, customer visits are by appointment-only and operating hours are between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.  I support this. 
Resolution RS2020-154 directs the Metropolitan Department of Water and Sewerage Services to make payments in lieu of ad valorem taxes. The amount is $10 million. I don't oppose this because we are broke and need the money, but this is a con shell game and I don't like it.  The water department operates off of its own revenues but it is still a part of metro government.  This is like charging the schools a tax since they don't pay property taxes except the schools don't generate money. The money the Water Department generates is from the water bills we pay.  This is liking paying taxes with money that is in your left pocket rather than paying with money in your right pocket.   If the water department did not pay an "in lieu" payment our water bills would be lower.
Resolution RS2020-160 puts the Council on record asking the mayor to restore the $4.5 million he cut the Barnes Fund for affordable housing. The mayor cut that fund to balance the budget which he was required to do.  If he had not taken it from the Barnes Fund he would have had to take if from somewhere else.  He has done a remarkable job of fixing the financial mess he inherited.  I am not going to second guess him on this.  If I were serving in the Council, I would oppose this resolution. 
Bills on Second Reading:
Bill BL2019-109 makes changes in the city policy toward scooters or what is termed
"shared urban mobility devices (SUMDs)." Back in July 2019 the Council passed a bill cancelling all scooter permits and allowing existing scooter companies to operate with half the number of scooters they currently had on the streets while the Traffic and Parking came up with a RFP (request for proposal) system to replace the current system. This bill extends the time the Traffic and Parking Commission has to develop its RFP system and changes the guidelines for what would be in the RFP.  Some of the guidelines are more specific and this also authorizes the Traffic and Parking Commission to set fees to charge to the scooter companies to carry out the enforcement of the agreements. The Commission would not have to come back before the Council to have their fee amount approved. This is better than the previous bill in my view in that it does not limit the number of providers of scooters to only three, however it restrict each provider to only 500 scooters.  I don't support that restriction because there may be some economy of scale. This requires the RFP to have a commitment to safety including helmets.  I don't like requiring helmets.  There is a lot in this I don't like, but I fear if this does not pass a complete ban may pass and I do not want to see scooters banned.  So if I had a vote, I would reluctantly voted for this bill. 
Bills on Third Reading:
Bill BL2019-30 (as amended) bans barbed wire and razor wire fencing in the Urban Zoning Overlay District along arterial and collector roadways. They are already banned along sidewalks in the Urban Services District. While I sympathize with those property owners who are trying to protect their property, this type fencing creates a feeling of living in a war zone. It makes a street ugly and devalues enjoyment of public spaces. An Urban Design Overlay (UDO) is a zoning tool that requires specific design standards for development in a designated area.  This looks like a minor expansion of where this type fencing is banned. If I had a vote, I would vote for it.
Bill BL2019-31 (as amended) would require a permit for all new fencing except for property zoned AR, AG, R80, or RS80. We have never had this requirement before and I am unsure what problem calls for more burdensome regulation. I oppose this. For the sponsor's explanation see time stamp 1:08:40 at this link where it was discussed on second reading. It passes on a roll call vote of 27 to 9 and one abstention at that meeting. 
To watch the Council meeting, 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. It is also available live on Roku. 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 and provide commentary.

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