The original $4 billion mega development proposal known as May Town Center has officially been scratched, but a new downsized version could come back to the Metro Council by next month.
The council Tuesday withdrew the zoning change required to build the controversial mixed-use project on 500 acres in the rural Bells Bend community, a move that came at the request of bill sponsor Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr., who said he would work with developer Jack May and others to “make drastic changes” to the project, which could include cutting it in half.
An overflow crowd of both May Town backers and opponents had packed the council chambers thinking they would have the chance to weigh in on one of the most contentious matters in Nashville history. Over the weekend, Matthews had told The City Paper he was considering altering the scale of the project but still hoped last night’s public hearing could go on.
However, according to council attorney Jon Cooper, state law stipulates that substantial amendments to zoning bills must first go before the Metro Planning Commission — where the proposal was already defeated on its first go-around — before a public hearing can take place. Cooper said a new bill could be filed in time for an April 1 reading, with a public hearing in May.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, May said he plans to take “a day or two” to look over the project but declined to elaborate.
“The ball is in Jack’s court at this point,” Matthews said afterward. “If he’s willing and ready to move forward, and amend the bill and work with the community, then I’m willing to sit down at the table.”
The original May Town proposal contained a mix of commercial, retail and residential districts designed to appeal to companies looking to relocate or expand to corporate campuses. Part of the plan included an agreement to transfer 250 adjacent acres to Tennessee State University, with 50 acres to be used by the institution as a research lab. May and TSU have reached the agreement regardless of the project’s approval.
Asked what an altered May Town proposal would look like, Matthews said May discussed reducing the square footage of the proposal by half, which could require just one bridge crossing the Cumberland River to the area as opposed to three.
“How that would be done, I’m not sure,” Matthews said. “I’m not sure which components would remain in the project or which components would be eliminated.”
Nashvillians opposed to the plan took the bill’s withdrawal as a victory, indicating they would fight just as vigorously to stop a revamped proposal.
“They didn’t have the support in the council chambers for the full-sized plan,” said Bells Bend resident and May Town opponent Sumter Camp. “[May] is going to cut it down until he can get it down to one bridge, but that doesn’t eliminate the problems as far as we’re concerned. It’s still contrary to the community plan.”
Attorney David Briley, also a May Town critic, said reducing the size of May Town so that it would only require one bridge would undermine the rationale of economic development attached to the project by its backers from the outset.
“It actually makes it less of a viable project,” Briley said. “It’s probably even more objectionable in some sense because you’re giving up more in exchange for less. I don’t think it’s something I can support, even if they reduce the scope radically.”
Previous May Town Center stories are available here.