Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What's on the Council agenda for September 17th with commentary

The Metro Council agenda and staff analysis for September 17 is available at these links: Agenda, Analysis. If you know what the Council is voting on it is still boring but not quite as boring.

The Council will be elected two of their members to serve an the city's audit committee.  I don't know who is seeking the post, but if I was nominating, one of the people I would nominate would be Emily Evans who has a background in municipal bond finance and I would hope the Council would nominate someone with an accounting background. I also think Tim Garrett or Charlie Tygard  would be good for this post. They have both served the city a long time, are smart and ask good probing questions in committee.

There is one bill on public hearing to allow a restaurant to have a beer permit. The West End restaurant is within 100 feet of either a house, church, day care center or other entity which would disqualify it from getting a beer permit, except that it already has a liquor license. In that case, the council can exempt it from the 100 foot requirement after a public hearing. How screwed up are our liquor, wine and beer laws?  The State issues liquor license and Metro issues beer license, so there are some places where you can order a shot of whiskey but not a beer. All of our alcoholic beverage laws need to be reviewed and modernized in my view.  I doubt anyone will speak in opposition.

There are fifteen resolutions all of which are on the consent agenda.
A resolution is put on the consent agenda if it is likely to be non-controversial and it stays on the consent agenda if it passes the committees to which it was assigned unanimously. Bills on the consent agenda are usually not controversial and tend to be routine matters, such as accepting grants from the Federal or State Government or authorizing the Department of Law to settle claims against the city or appropriating money from the 4% fund. Resolutions on the consent agenda are passed by a single vote of the Council rather than being considered individually. However, any member of the body may have a bill pulled off of the consent agenda. Below are a couple resolutions that concern me but I doubt they will be pulled off of Consent.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2013-845 is one of those "incentive" grants where we bribe companies to come to Nashville or not leave Nashville.
RESOLUTION NO. RS2013-846 gives the same company a sweetheart deal, (I assume it is a sweetheart deal) by leasing them 125 parking spaces in the Pubic Square parking garage for $100 a month. I don't know what they are worth, but I would bet considerably more than that.
Bills on First reading almost always pass. They are considered as a group and are seldom discussed. First reading is a formality that allows the bill to be considered. Bills are not assigned to committee or analyzed by council staff until after they have passed first reading.  I have not carefully reviewed the bills on first reading, but will before second reading. There are six bills on first reading.

Bills on Second Reading: It is on Second reading, after bills have been to committee, that discussion usually takes place. I see nothing on second reading that is very controversial. The following items are interesting:
BILL NO. BL2013-526 and Bill NO. BL2013-527 establish a Metro  Injury-on-duty clinic and approve an entity to operate it.  It looks like it has been a deliberative process to reach this point and it appears this will save the city money. Apparently this mode of operation is successfully used by major corporations.  Read the staff analysis to learn more. I hope Budget and Finance asks lots of probing questions.  
SUBSTITUTE BILL NO. BL2013-543 would allow business  sponsorship within Metro Parks. Current law prohibits advertising in Metro Parks and this has been interpreted to prohibit sponsorships. I assume this would apply to sports teams as well as events such as concerts. This looks like a good bill.
Bills on  Third Reading: Third reading is the final reading and when a bill passes final reading it becomes law unless vetoed by the mayor and that almost never happens. The bill below is the only bill on third reading I find of interest.

ORDINANCE NO. BL2013-516 is a zoning text change that would allow for a large area to have a "specific plan" put in place. This zoning would not have to be initiated by the property owner but could be initiated by the district councilman or the planning department. The SP could dictate that all buildings be up to the sidewalk with no set back or that all parking be to the rear or virtually anything planners wanted that the Council would be willing to approve. This bill does not rezone any property but was precipitated by the Tennessee Court of Appeals striking down a SP plan that put design standards in place for Gallatin Rd from Main St. to Briley Parkway. With this text change in place, the Council could again put those SP regulation in place and they would be then be legal.

While I personally like "smart growth" or "new urbanism" or "urban design," or whatever the terminology is that indicates development is on a human scale and is pedestrian friendly, I do not think that can be efficiently mandated. If it is mandated then development may not occur for a very long time. All of the good planning in the world will not come to fruition unless investors are willing to invest. I do not think massive zoning such as was in place for Gallatin Pike is wise.

I also have reservation about the infringement on property rights. I am not opposed to zoning or planing and accept that any zoning is an infringement on property rights.  However, zoning and planing should not go beyond zoning for a public purpose such as planning infrastructure needs, or protecting the investment of neighboring property owners. I know this is not a clear distinction between what is a legitimate infringement on property rights and what is not.  However, like many things, zoning is a judgement call without clear guidelines on which to pass one's judgement. I think in a historic neighborhood, a historic overlay is appropriate. I do not think requiring all building along seven miles of Gallatin Road be build at the sidewalk property line is appropriate but realize that is a judgement call and good people may disagree. I know ideologues may not have any trouble with this. Some think any restrictions on property rights, even taking a persons property to sell it to a developer is appropriate, and those on the other end of the spectrum think any use restriction are wrong and the market should determine use. They would permit hog farms next to a schools or homes. Everyone in between has to exercise judgement.

I suspect this bill will pass; the planning commission approved it and no one spoke against it when it was on public hearing. I then suspect the Gallatin Road plan to be passed by the Council at a later date but am not sure of the status of the actual SP zoning bill for Gallatin.  To read more on this issue, read the council staff analysis, here, and here.

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