News analysis: When both sides want to call the shots

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 2:22am

The battle over church property on Charlotte Avenue is the latest one between developer and neighborhood to wrap up.

This time the developer backed down in building a Rite-Aid on the corner of 46th Avenue and Charlotte.

For the neighborhood, it may have been a Pyrrhic victory in squashing a deal for Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ to sell to developer Newton Oldacre McDonald.

Developers who have been observing the proceedings believe it sends a bad message to Corporate America. The message: “We don’t want you.” By extension, the message also says, “We don’t want the tax dollars you will generate.”

Regardless of the zoning interpretation of whether the Rite-Aid must be built to the street, developers note the willingness of neighborhoods and supportive politicians to try changing the existing rules midstream to thwart development.

To delay the church plans, Councilman Jason Holleman rushed out with legislation, one seeking to make the church a National Historic Landmark. Usually, the property owner initiates that process.

It tells developer and property owner that it doesn’t matter how the property is currently zoned. If the neighborhood doesn’t like it, they can try changing the rules. Now, the church property won’t generate any tax revenue in the near future nor generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in sale taxes that a drugstore would have.

These battles can get epic.

Metro lost every legal battle in the fight with Harding Academy when the city sided with the surrounding neighborhood in trying to prevent the school from tearing down houses to build an athletic field. The Tennessee Supreme Court finally ruled on that issue, siding with the school.

After a war — or even battles during it — military leaders go through a lessons-learned process to figure out what they did or didn’t do well so they can devise new strategies. That doesn’t necessarily happen after neighborhood and developers do battle. But perhaps such analysis should happen.

One of the biggest lessons that comes out of those battles is that neighborhood people want to be able to tell developers what can be done with their property regardless of the rules in place. Turn the tables and many of those same neighborhood people don’t want anyone telling them what they can or can’t do with their own property. There are stories aplenty of neighborhoods fighting conservation overlays.

Anyone who is or has been a member of a homeowners association understands there is a governing body willing to tell others what can and can’t be done.

Over the past couple of years, the Sylvan Park neighborhood has beaten back attempts for conservation overlays. If someone came in and said all houses had to be painted blue, neighbors who don’t like blue or don’t like being told what to do would protest.

Generally, meetings developers hold to inform neighbors of development details start from a basis of mutual disrespect.

Neighborhoods tend to think developers are the evil, they are there to destroy the neighborhood not enhance it. Developers view neighborhood leaders with trepidation and like holding meetings as much as they like getting teeth pulled.

It’s not that some developers don’t want to work with the neighborhoods. But they say you would think that the neighbors own the property themselves.

Several years ago, a developer nixed plans for a development near Hillsboro Village before even getting started because of what he would have to go through with the neighborhood.

He asked the area’s Metro councilwoman at the time to arrange a meeting with the neighbors and she told him she’d show them the plans and would get back to him on what they wanted. Unless they were investing their money in the project, he said the input would be limited, not that they would have absolute control over the project.

Sylvan Park wants to dictate development in the Charlotte Avenue corridor, a commercial strip with deep roots. Remnants of its past still exist and as expected the neighborhood wants to preserve that and keep out suburban looking development.

The problem is there’s already a bunch of existing suburban-styled development.

A question developers increasingly ask is “where’s the balance?” There’s design and density and such. Then, there’s creating new sources of tax revenue.

For the Church of Christ property, that would mean putting a property onto the tax roles and creating a new source of sales tax.

If its use is limited, the property tax won’t be as high or the sales tax as lucrative.

But the church could be sitting off the tax rolls longer as another developer is sought. There may be some looking at that corner and like the location but have second thoughts about jumping into a hornet’s next.

If one can be scared up, whatever is done there may not generate the taxes.

Filed under: City Business
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By: dnewton on 12/31/69 at 6:00

When people are allowed to do with as they please with other people's property it is sometimes called vandalism or shoplifting. The only difference between common shoplifting and what is going on here is that the government seems to be aiding the shoplifters. That church was there long before most of the neighbors was there. The limitations they demand are new to the situation. If they want to save the church or redesign the replacement structure, they should pay for it or just be glad they are not in the same position. No church or building should have value because of its ability to generate tax revenue. This only perpetuates the assumption that everything that the government does with the money is good and well worth the sacrifice.

By: imdyinhere on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The people the church was selling to don't have to live in that neighborhood. The people who do live there moved in nearby a church, not a piece of corporate-branded architecture that leaves their neighborhood looking like Anywhere in CVStown, USA.

By: WrdBrn on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Nashville is not exactly noted for attempting to preserve any sense of architectural heritage. I think the structure that held the church could be refit to house a myriad of commercial interest. Perhaps, just perhaps, having access to 3 pharmacies in 1.5 miles might have had some impact. I have actually called corporate real estate departments. As a rule they have a formula of where they build and rarely see the spot or get to know the area. I wonder if a site visit or perhaps an appearance or 2 at a community meeting could be a requirement for the tax and fee waivers that many businesses enjoy.

By: jfreb on 12/31/69 at 6:00

While it's true the neighbors are trying to change the rules in the middle of the game, isn't that how it is constantly played by the other side? Zoning variances and changes occur with regularity to suit developers' interests. That's exactly how the Wal-Mart came to be further out Charlotte, starting a tidal wave of intensive commercial development and traffic lights along what used to be a fairly green and easy drive.

By: Fundit on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Wonder how the pro-yet-another-drug-store crowd would feel if it had been plasma donation center, methadone clinic or gay bar? A business is a business, right? I for one am glad Holleman and not Crapton is my councilperson!

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

A neighborhood actually wins one against a developer and client wanting to build 'our way'. This is cause for Mr. Lawson to whine and make petulant commentary. 'News Analysis' my @$$.

By: justthinking on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Closest house in Sylvan Park is where? 25,000 car traffic daily is just passing through - short-cut to avoid I-40 West. It is CHARLOTTE PIKE - not Green Hills or Hillsboro Village. Up-scale wanna-bes. The "community" meetings consist of 60 church members and 10 residents. Attend one and see for yourself. It is Holleman, Summers, and 8 others. WOW - big following from neighborhood! And agree - overlay received lots of opposition when applied to Sylvan Park homes. They are next. Holleman has 3 more years to re-start Summers plans. McDonalds, Mapco, Shell, Thrift Shop, Robert Orr, Salvation Army - yes, very historic and urbanized. Dream on. These are property owners - like their exteriors or not. Too many 'transplants' coming to town trying to turn Nashville into something it is not.

By: RIchardLawson on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Time for truth... you're funny. I love the irony of your screen name. The point was balance, not who won or lost. Also the point was how the neighborhood won. A lot of times neighborhoods try winning by changing the rules as they please. Let's say you wanted to paint your house because that will improve the value. You pick yellow. The existing rules say you can paint your house yellow. But when you announce that you are going to paint it yellow, your neighbors object. They don't like yellow. They don't think it will fit with the rest of the neighborhood. So they try to change the rules to say you can only paint your house blue. They think that color fits better with the neighborhood. So what do you do?

By: RIchardLawson on 12/31/69 at 6:00

jfreb... true there are zoning variances all the time. But the rules allow it. If city didn't allow variances, they wouldn't happen. What is arguable is whether too many variances are made. So are small changes. Others are big. But again, it's about balance. That Wal-Mart, like it or not, generates a lot of sales tax. Davidson County now has to focus on such development because what politician wants to go through a property tax referendum?

By: HokeyPokey on 12/31/69 at 6:00

You are kinda stuck on the house color issue, aren't you, Richard?

By: RIchardLawson on 12/31/69 at 6:00

What do mean? I'm waiting for someone else to answer.

By: smartgrowth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

That church is built, as were other churches in the area, on property that was conveyed to it with a deed restriction requiring that it always be used as a church. The church is trying to ignore or possibly violate its deed restriction. Any viable community contains a balance of social and commercial institutions. There is no shortage of commercial establishments in the corridor. The community has supported extensive commercial development. What balance of social institutions has commercial development supported? Do you not believe in honoring legally mandated deed restrictions? Citizens have every legal right to participate in public discourse related to the planning and development of their communities. I thought the customer was king in traditional business lingo. The customers are voicing their regal perogative. Regardless of the arrogance or greed of comercial interests we are still a democracy and the citizenry has, not only a right, but a responsibility to publicly encourage viable, balanced, community development. Uncontrolled sprawl ultimately devalues both residential and commercial property values. It's about building communities with long-trem viability and not just quick buck opportunities for business interests whose involvement evaporates with the first shift in economic demographics. That land was deeded and deed restricted to be and remain a church. Commercial development of the property violates the sacred trust legally deed restricted to that site and to the community.

By: RIchardLawson on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The deed restriction was something that never came out publicly. Jason actually just told me, interestingly as you added this. That is an interesting twist to it all. The Buntin (sp?) family certainly might like that property. It goes with the broader point of balance in it all. Too much more in thoughts to go into here.

By: dnewton on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Deed restrictions can be set aside by the courts if they are seen as out of the current context. The older the restriction, the easier it is to get rid of. It is not practical to try and return the property to the hundreds of people that must be heirs to the original deed holder.