Tuesday, November 01, 2016

On the Council Agenda 11/1/2016: Killing an affordable housing PUD, trampling property rights, standards of conduct for Barnes Fund tenants, and annexation.

The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, November 1,  at 6:30 PM in the Council chamber at the Metro Courthouse. 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. You can catch the meeting the next day (or the day after the next) 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 those segments. 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. You will have a better understanding of what is going on. Follow the highlighted link to view the agenda.  Here is my commentary and analysis.

There are eight people up for confirmation to Boards and Commissions. These are people appointed by the mayor subject to approval by the Council. They will be approved as always.

There is one insignificant resolution and 26 bills on Public Hearing. Most of the bills are zoning bills, of interest only to nearby neighbors of the proposed rezoning. I don't even attempt to understand the pros and cons of each rezoning bill. Opposition to rezoning bills usually falls into one of these four categories: increased traffic, increased water runoff problems, increased strain on infrastructure and services such as schools, and detriment to the character of the neighborhood. Almost everyone who speaks against a rezoning will offer some variation of one of these reasons. These are the only bills on public hearing that I find of interest.

BILL NO. BL2016-265 makes changes to  the determination of inactivity of a planned unit development. This was on the agenda of July 5th and deferred to this meeting.  If no action has been taken on developing a PUD in six years, then the Planning Commission can declare it inactive and the PUD is voided. One thing currently the Planning Commission can consider in making that determination is "aggregate of actions." This bill would remove that consideration. I think "aggregate of actions" is a legitimate reason to extend a PUD.  For instance, due to economic conditions or whatever, it may have taken a while to put together the financial package for a proposed development. If the developer now has his ducks in a row, it would be wrong to pull the PUD. If the development community opposes this bill, I would hope the Council would disapprove it.

BILL NO. BL2016-411 would change from R20 to RS20 about 23 acres of property in the Bowling Avenue-Lynnwood Drive neighborhood. "R" zoning permits duplexes; RS does not.  One tool to promote affordable housing and mass transit and combat urban sprawl is greater density, yet these bills to ban duplexes in established neighborhoods where they are currently permitted are approved by the Council all the time. I think the Planning Commission should recognize the disadvantage to rezoning for lesser density and as a policy matter disapprove all bills of this nature. Advocating for affordable housing, mass transit and opposing urban sprawl and also advocating lesser density for your neighborhood seems hypocritical.

BILL NO. BL2016-455  would annex into the urban serviced district properties located in Council Districts 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, and 31.  While Nashville has a single government instead of a city and a county as do most places, we still have two tax districts.  The rural parts of the county are in the General Services District and the more developed parts of the county are in the Urban Services District. The only thing the people in the USD get that those in the GSD do not, is garbage collection and street lights. They have the same street cleaning, fire, police, schools, libraries, parks, etc. The 2014 tax rate for Urban Services District is $4.516, and the rate for General Services District is $3.924 per hundred dollars of assessment. If these areas are annexed then the city would be responsible for garbage collection and would provide street lights. I expect a lot of people to speak out against this proposed annexation. 

One impact of increasing these taxes that I hope someone takes notice of is that this will likely increase rents in multifamily apartments in these areas to be annexed. While renters do not directly pay property taxes, they pay indirectly it in the rent they are charged. Residential property is assessed at 25% of appraised value, yet commercial and multi-family property is assessed at 40% of value. At a time when there is much concern about affordable housing, affordable housing advocates should advocate against this tax which will hit renters harder than property owners. I doubt they will.

There are 23 resolutions on the consent agenda. Resolutions on "consent" are passed by a single vote of the council instead of being voted on individually. 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.  None of  the resolutions appear controversial but below are ones of interest. Several other resolutions provide grant money to the Oasis Center. 
RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-382  urges Live Nation to take action to combat scalping of tickets to events at Ascent Amphitheater. 

RESOLUTION NO. RS2016-406  would expand from one year old to three years old the vehicles that are exempt from being required to be tested for auto emissions. This makes sense. Vehicles not over three years old almost never fail the emissions test. This was deferred from last meeting.
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 usually pass by a single vote. Only rarely is a bill on First Reading considered separately.

Bills on Second Reading.
These are only 7 bills on Second reading and these are the one's of interest. 
SUBSTITUTE BILL NO. BL2016-381 is another anti Short Term Rental Property bill. It would make it more cumbersome to get a STRP permit and further restrict the number of permits allowed in any census track. I oppose this bill. I expect this will be deferred.  The mayor has hired a consultant to study Metro's Short Term Rental Property issues. Also, in a decision in a law suit brought by the Beacon Center contesting the constitutionality of Metro's STRP ordinance, on October 21, 2016 the Eighth Circuit Court for the 20th Judicial District declared the STRP regulations to be unconstitutional. Therefore, I would expect the Council to delay this bill and come back with a comprehensive bill that addresses STRP.

BILL NO. BL2016-454   amends  the Metropolitan Code to remove the requirement that only restaurants that possess a license liquor license can obtain an exemption to the minimum distance requirements for beer sales. Currently if an establishment wants a beer license, they have to be a certain distance from away from a home, or a school, or church or park. Liquor license are issued by the State and beer license by Metro, so some establishments have liquor license but not beer license. For those establishments, the city can now make an exception to the distance requirement.  The city can not, however, grant an exception for any other establishments. This bill would require a pubic hearing on the proposed exemption. This proposed change makes sense. I support it.

There are two establishment that sell beer near Centennial Park. One is a Korean Steak House on the east side of the park, the other is Spring Water Super Club, a real dive bar, on the west side.  Kobe's has a liquor license. I assume Spring Water is grandfathered in.  Spring Water has been a bar forever, previously under other names.  I don't think either of these establishments distract from the park. While you may not want to live next door to a rowdy beer joint, there are situations were it would be appropriate to make exceptions from the current rigid distance rule. 

Bills on Third Reading.  There are 13  bills on Third Reading.  These are the bills of interest.
BILL NO. BL2016-219  is a bill that would trample an owners property rights and kill an
The Ridge at Antioch
affordable housing development. It cancels a Planned Unit Development against the wishes of the owner. It is disapproved by the Planning Commission, meaning it must have 26 votes to pass. Below is what I wrote about this bill when it passed Second Reading on July 6, 2016. 
Tuesday night's Council meeting proved a victory for property rights in the case of the proposed affordable housing development in Antioch ....  The effort to kill the Antioch affordable housing project was delayed, and probably killed (BILL NO. BL2016-219 ). This development is all set to go and Karen Johnson, the district council member, had a bill on the agenda to take away from the property owner what he currently has the right to do.  Karen Johnson however moved to defer the bill indefinitely last night after concluding the pubic hearing and passing it on second reading.  While the bill can be brought back up, Council members have to be given a week's notice. She says she plans to bring it back and have it placed on the October 18th agenda.

The hearing on the bill had both proponents and opponents with neighbors arguing it would "ghettoize" their community and several speakers arguing in favor of property rights. Apparently many Council members had concern about the bill.  Should her bill pass, mostly likely the owner could win a law suit suing the city for taking his property. To take away a permitted use is a "taking."  Property rights are more than just holding legal title.  When property is taken it should only be for a public purpose and owners should be compensated for their loss. While Johnson says she will bring the bill back up, I do not see that the facts will change. I know we now have a very liberal Metro Council now, but I suspect even many liberals are not comfortable trampling property rights.  If they are unconcerned about trampling property rights, they are probably concerned about exposing the city to a law suit the city is most likely going to lose and the loss of future State assistance in the form of tax credits the state has threatened to withhold  should Johnson's bill pass.

In an article that appears in the Tennessean, Johnson says while her proposed ordinance is considered still active the indefinite deferral will prevent the developer from getting permits needed to begin construction on the project. I do not see the logic of her reasoning since the owner already has all of the rights he needs to proceed.  Metro Planning Director Doug Sloan apparently also does not see Johnson's logic and told The Tennessean that because the owner's  rights are vested, the developer should be able to move forward with getting permits approved.

To see the discussion of this bill see timestamp 16:47- 1:00:45 (see video at this link).  Here is the Tennessean report on what transpired:

by Joey Garrison, The Tennessean, July 6, 2016 - In a surprise move Tuesday, Councilwoman Karen Johnson led the indefinite deferral of her legislation that would down-zone property in order to block a project for low-income residents called The Ridge at Antioch, a 96-unit apartment complex that Arkansas-based RichSmith Development has planned for Forest View Drive near Murfreesboro Pike. .... “I’m not giving up on it, but there are a lot of questions because it’s a complex issue,” Johnson said. “Many council members have not had low-income tax credit properties in their districts. .... Johnson said she plans to bring the bill back up to be placed on the council's Oct. 18 agenda. (link)
Since writing the above, I do not know why the developer has not gone ahead and pulled permits. Following this action in July, I spoke with Councilman Johnson about this bill and she had a justification for her action. I personally like Karen Johnson but her justifications are not convincing. As a courtesy, I will allow her to use this blog to make her case if is she wishes.  

BILL NO. BL2016-308  requires tenants of housing funded by the Barnes Trust Fund to comply with certain maintenance and standards of conduct and to refrain from any illegal activity on the premises of the dwelling being rented. Something so simply has proven very controversial. Opponents claim that this stigmatizes those who will be residents of Barnes Fund housing and is racist and will deny some people a place to live. To me, I think opposing this bill stigmatizes the Barnes Fund and will make people not want Barnes Fund housing in their community.

This was on Third Reading on 10/18/16 and deferred to this meeting. At that meeting, Councilman Hastings, an African-American member of the Council made a spirited defense of the bill. . He explained this is not an attempt to deny low income people a place to live but an attempt to make sure landlords are managing their property correctly. From his comments, Hastings had apparently been called a racist for his sponsorship of this bill and some have questioned his authenticity as a member of the Black community. He defended the bill and said he grew up in public housing. He said we cannot sit around and pretend there are no issues. Apparently there was a lot of lobbying against the bill. The Reverent Bill Barnes, for whom the Barnes Fund is named, has written a letter opposing this bill. Councilman Sharon Hunt spoke against it saying it stigmatizes and marginalized people. To read The Tenenssean's coverage of this issue see, Should affordable housing have 'conduct' rules for tenants?  To views the discussion see timestamp 39:51-49:10 at this link.

The bill was also discussed when it was on Second Reading. It was amended at that meeting to say landlords "may" instead of "shall" enforce standards of conduct. That still did not satisfy some members of the Council. It passed Second on a voice vote with some audible "no's." To see the second reading discussion follow this link and view the video and see timestamp 2:27:02- 2:43:11.

BILL NO. BL2016-417  would prohibit one from putting a "for sale" on their vehicle parked on residential property. I wonder how often this occurs and if this is really a problem. I don't know.

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