13 07 2008

On July 24, at 6 PM, in the Green Hills Room at the Metro Southeast Building at 1417 Murfreesboro Pike, there will be a public hearing for the “Detailed Design Plan for Scottsboro-Bell’s Bend,” which you can bet your boots will mostly be about the Maytown Center proposal.  Opponents of the plan are working on massive citizen turnout, even going so far as to be selling “Bell’s Bend–Keep It Country” T-shirts for people to wear at the meeting. They plan to sell them at the Southeast Building, just before the hearing.  There will be only limited time for statements at the meeting, so please send your written comments on this to Metro’s planning commissioners and city council members.

The last Bell’s Bend Community meeting, in June, provided the information that the Planning Commission had decided to let the office and condo towers go to 18 stories instead of the original fifteen, because they would “be in harmony with the rural theme of the area.”  Nobody got sarcastic with the planning commission representatives about this, but it was cause for speculation–will they be designed to look like giant silos?  Or sheathed in something that resembles tree bark?  My dentist, a rowdy kind of guy, thought of highrises designed to resemble giant outhouses.

It’s hard to say what the planning commission will decide.  I sat at a metro solid waste meeting a few years ago and watched them approve a dump on the banks of the Harpeth River that was clearly illegal, and they knew it.  It took a little citizen activism, but we stopped it.  This time, the stakes are much higher.

The developers are waving the promise of big bucks in tax revenues for Metro, which is currently in tight financial straits, but even they admit that possibility is years in the future, and unless they have signed contracts from companies willing to move in on completion, that’s so much hot air, and I would like to think that Mayor Dean is smart enough to see that.  Rumor has it that both he and Jim Cooper don’t like the plan, and if that’s really true, then Maytown Center is most likely dead in the water.  Like Tony Giarratana’s previous hype-and-dump, the Signature Tower, this plan is a delusion dreamed up by people who think the American Gravy Train is just gonna roll on forever.  Meanwhile, that ol’ train has left the tracks and the cars are about to start tumbling, to the great discomfort of all us passengers.  Metro would be much better served by consolidating the infrastructure it has already than by chasing pie-in-the-sky plans that depend on unfettered eternal economic growth, and the state highway fund will serve taxpayers better by spending its limited money maintaining the roads and bridges that are already built than by throwing a big chunk of its capital at a brand new bridge to nowhere.

Development opponents, on the other  hand, don’t have the greatest case either.  The study they are doing to contest the developer’s economic assertions will be easy to dismiss as biased.  It is bizarre that the city is not doing their own study and taking the developer’s assertions at face value, but that’s what’s happening.   Maytown Center is the kind of thing that has worked in the past, so a lot of people are willing to believe it will work now.  The May family already owns the land, which they paid an inflated price for, so they are going to want to get their money back out of it somehow.  Practically speaking, the smartest thing the preservationists could do is come up with a counterproposal, such as an institute for the promotion of local agriculture, that would be more of a turnon for the May family than all those phallic towers.  Unfortunately, teaching people to grow their own food is not nearly as glamorous, financially rewarding, or taxable as high-end highrises, at least in theory.  The reality of launching such a massive development in the face of this country’s ongoing collapse may be something else again entirely.

Then again, Maytown Center may be aimed at the Belle Meade crowd, the one percent of Americans who are still doing well in the middle of this mess.  In that case, they may find Maytown’s isolation and easily controllable access very secure. If the proposal is approved, and if the uberwealthy are the target demographic, then Maytown Center could “succeed,” and would also succeed in transforming the rest of the Bend into a checkerboard of high-end “executive estates,” as desperate residents, having a hard time paying their escalating taxes (somebody’s gonna have to pay for all that infrastructure!), cave in and sell land to the only people who still have money.

Barring a road-to-Damascus moment for Jack May, he is likely to create something environmentally destructive in southern Bell’s Bend, even if he only bulldozes it up to create a housing development that never sells a home.  Maybe the collapsing economy will curb his enthusiasm, but he is in that one percent of the population who are well-heeled enough that they are not living in the same reality as the rest of us.  Well, tract homes will compost quicker than highrises.  Let’s stop Maytown Center and then figure out what, in this rapidly shifting American landscape, we need to do next.

Don’t forget–July 24th, 6PM, Green Hills Room at Metro Southeast, 1417 Murfreesboro Pike!  See you there!

music:  Terry Allen, The Doll



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