It was the landfill that almost passed.
After tiptoeing its way through the underbelly of Metro Nashville’s government, a proposed landfill in Bellevue found itself in front of Metro’s Board of Zoning Appeals — the last hurdle to full Metro approval — on June 26.
A project that once appeared to have public support was met with venom and green T-shirts. Word had spread in Bellevue, particularly around the Thousand Oaks Estates neighborhood, with which the landfill shared a border. Landfill opposers packed the meeting, even bringing children with hand-drawn posters.
Developer Mickey Mitchell and his attorney Tom White told the zoning board that their project met all the standards required.
“Everything that has to make it a much safer site, it will be done,” Mitchell said. “If we could have had these people at these other meetings, I don’t think that there would be 10 percent of the people here. ... We didn’t start this with the fight in mind.”
Attorney Jamie Hollin, who represented neighbors in opposition of the landfill, fired back with strong accusations. According to his research, he said, numerous officials and the public had been misled about the project. Specifically, Hollin contended that the developers had misrepresented a recycling center they offered to the city.
The argument raised questions about Mitchell’s claims regarding expansive support from the city, so the BZA asked to defer a decision on the matter until July 19, pending input from Metro Public Works and a traffic study.
Five days later, Public Works rescinded its support of the project. Mitchell withdrew the landfill proposal — and the project was declared dead.
But beyond the minutiae of zoning codes, the landfill was mostly stopped the old-fashioned way: public outcry.
When Mitchell was developing a new Walmart on Charlotte Pike in the late 1990s, he needed a place to dump natural materials from the construction site. So he contacted the owner of a former dump location called Scott’s Hollow. The owner of the land sold it to Mitchell in 1999 for $350,000, according to property records.
Mitchell snatched up additional parcels of land, and in the latter half of 2010 he started the process of rezoning the land from residential (R40) to agricultural-residential (AR2a). At an Oct. 28, 2010, Planning Commission hearing, Sheri Weiner spoke up against the rezoning. Weiner, who was later elected as a Metro councilwoman, expressed concern over potential mobile homes that would be allowed on the lot under AR2a, according to the meeting minutes.
The minutes also show that Planning Commission member Tonya Jones addressed the possibility of a private landfill, saying she was opposed to one being so close to a residential neighborhood. At the time, David Lowry, who applied for the rezoning, said he was unsure of the future use of the land.
The commission voted to defer the rezoning for two meetings and approved it on Dec. 9, 2010. The next step was approval by the Metro Council. And it just so happened that the third and final reading of the rezoning was scheduled on Jan. 18, 2011.
The color of choice that night was red — for supporters who packed the council chambers in opposition of a different measure, the controversial proposal to demolish the fairgrounds. After hours of public comment on the fairgrounds issue, then-Councilman Eric Crafton supported the land rezoning and motioned to pass it. Thirty-seven were in favor; none opposed.
More than a year later, before the landfill was officially brought before Metro’s Solid Waste Region Board, Councilwoman Sheri Weiner and Councilman Bo Mitchell held a joint community meeting with the developers at Gower Elementary School. Notices were sent out to all landowners within 600 feet of the property, according to White.
Weiner, Bo Mitchell and the developers all agreed that the meeting was well-attended. But surprisingly, there wasn’t any resistance to the landfill.
“We had the meeting in early March , and I was kind of shocked. When I came to that meeting, I thought there would be torches and pitchforks, and there was not. I can assure you the meetings I had a few years before, it wasn’t quite as civil,” Bo Mitchell said, referencing a previous failed attempt to put a landfill on McCrory Lane.
So with the lack of public opposition, Mitchell and White officially moved the landfill proposal forward at a SWRB meeting in March 2012. That’s when then-Public Works Director Billy Lynch threw his support behind the project.
“[Councilman Charlie Tygard] said, ‘Billy why can’t you get something out in the southwest part of Nashville for recycling?’ ” Lynch said. “Every time I turned around, I ran into obstacles, whether it would be getting a site permit or whatever. You just could never get it to fit. Tonight you have an opportunity to build, to help Metro build a convenience center on the southwest part of Nashville at no cost to the taxpayers of Davidson County.”
All parties agreed that Bellevue could use a recycling convenience center, also known as a recycling processing center. There are only three other convenience centers in the county.
Lynch referenced a similar deal with Allied Waste to allow a landfill in exchange for a convenience center on Omohundro Drive. “They built it. We run it. It’s successful,” Lynch said.
Sharon Smith from Public Works noted that the Bellevue construction and demolition landfill proposal was the first time someone had attempted to make “an honest effort at starting with recycling first and landfilling second.”
Weiner entered a letter into the public record in support of the project. The SWRB signed off on the landfill proposal.
But then things quickly changed. While no one can put a finger on how or why it happened, public opinion suddenly swayed toward the end of May.
“I walked into Gower School [in March] having no idea what kind of meeting we’d have or not have. But then you got the report from everybody that attended. ... There was basically no opposition when we left. How it went from that to this storm of green shirts ... I don’t know,” White said. “I’ve done land-use work for 40 years. I’ve never seen anything quite as enigmatic as this.”
One of the last hurdles for the landfill was up next — approval by the BZA at their meeting on June 21. The green shirts came out in full force. Council members Weiner and Mitchell flipped their support of the project.
Hollin brought up the perceived misrepresentations by the developers. The zoning they requested allowed only for a “drop-off” recycling site, which is not as urgently needed as the “convenience center” previously discussed.
White disagreed with the notion that his client attempted to misrepresent the project.
“There are different uses that were discussed on taking place on the property, a lot of which are very similar in phraseology,” White said. “At the end of the story, a [construction and demolition] landfill and 3 acres to Metro government is what was always considered by my client.”
The BZA decided they wanted to hear further from Metro Public Works and receive a completed traffic study before going ahead with a decision. They deferred until a July 19 meeting. But the landfill never got to that point.
Metro Public Works backed out of their support of the project, citing the swift change in public opinion. On June 27, White sent a letter to the SWRB officially withdrawing the plans for a landfill.
White told The City Paper his client never wanted to upset neighbors.
“It’s one where frankly, we were legally right. I think the Board of Zoning Appeals was legally obligated to approve it,” White said. “There was a predicate that we would have no significant neighborhood opposition. So as far as I’m concerned, the matter is closed.”
The SWRB rescinded their action on the plan in a specially called meeting June 28. Neither governmental entity responded to Hollin’s claims of misrepresentation.
It will never be known whether the project would have been approved completely. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation would have done an extensive review of the environmental factors if the BZA approved the landfill plan.
But for now, many Bellevue residents are resting easier. They stopped a landfill.