After nearly seven hours of public comments and intense deliberation, the Metro Planning Commission on Thursday night rejected the controversial May Town Center zone-change proposal for rural Bells Bend.
The vote to disapprove the zone-change was 9-0 with commissioner Jim Gotto abstaining.
“We’re a big enough county to have one rural enclave where agriculture can happen and where there really can be eagles, and gulls and cranes,” commissioner Stewart Clifton said after the vote, adding that the uncertain nature of the proposal made it both bold and dangerous.
The commissioners’ decision has serious ramifications for the proposal, because it now needs 27 out of 40 votes on Council. (Approval would have meant the bill could carry with just 21 Council votes.)
The zone change proposal will be on second reading at the July 7 Metro Council meeting.
In reality, the Planning Commission was evenly divided on the $4 billion May Town Center proposal, which would encompass 520 acres of rolling hills in Bells Bend.
In order to pass the zone change Thursday, the Planning Commission first had to approve an amendment to the Scottsboro/Bells Bend detailed design plan. The amendment required six votes, but it finished 5-5 with the deciding vote coming from commissioner Victor Tyler.
Four hours into the public hearing, the Planning Commission considered a motion by commissioner Andree LeQuire to disapprove the amendment to the detailed design plan. LeQuire’s motion failed, with Tyler voting against.
But Tyler flipped when it came time to finally vote on the amendment to the land use plan, leaving proponents wondering if there was procedural confusion.
In order for a proposed zone change to pass it must be consistent with the detailed design plan, according to Planning Director Rick Bernhardt. Because the commissioners did not approve the amendment to the design plan they could not pass the proposed zone change, Bernhardt said.
“There was a lot of confusion there at the end,” May Town Center developer Tony Giarratana said. “There was a motion in the negative which I'm not sure was appropriate. There was a motion to not do something, and that's something I need to do some research on before commenting any further.
“But obviously I’m very disappointing how the vote came out because I feel the will of the commission was to approve this [alternate development area].”
Tyler declined comment after the meeting.
An overflow crowd packed the Metro Southeast Building on Murfreesboro Pike and about 70 spoke at the hearing.
Supporting commissioners said Davidson County lacked undeveloped land needed to build massive corporate headquarters like the ones May Town Center seeks to lure.
“There’s not another place or parcel of that kind of acreage that this kind of plan can be put in Davidson County,” commissioner Tonya Jones said.
At the meeting’s onset, eight Metro Council members stood up in opposition, claiming the proposal would bring heavy traffic through West Nashville, would steal business from downtown and would have a negative environmental impact on a city looking to become one of the greenest in the country.
In support, however, was Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr., whose district includes Bells Bend. Matthews touted the project’s economic development potential and the partnership with Tennessee State University.
May Town Center developers agreed to donate 250 acres and provide a $400,000 endowment for TSU to build an agricultural research complex. Commissioners suggested such a facility still made sense for Bells Bend.
How they voted
For May Town Center: Chairman James McLean, commissioners Gotto, Judy Cummings, Phil Ponder and Jones
Against: Hunter Gee, Tyler, Clifton, Derrick Dalton and LeQuire.