Monday, September 28, 2020

Candidate Forum Reveals Views on Mixed-Use Residential Projects and Role of Aldermen

The Candidate Forum last week sponsored by the Leadership Germantown Alumni Association gave  viewers insight into the the aldermen candidates' views on mixed-use residential projects (apartments) and alderman's role. None have previously served in elected office. First, some general observations:  

The candidates agreed on a broad variety of issues: 


no property tax increases

support the needs of GMSD 

no stand-alone apartment buildings 

want single family housing at GCC site

property owners can sell their land to whomever they want, but zoning has to be followed. 

all declare themselves to be independent of any group, and will govern independently.

Unfortunately, there were not any questions about the crumbling drainage ditches or other infrastructure issues.

The moderator, Richard Ransom, did not pretend to be neutral, as he stated that
 the leadership of the City was doing a great job, and he loves the idea of mixed-use residences and living at Thornwood. That was both jarring, and also refreshingly honest. A neutral moderator would have been much preferable, but at least he did make his bias known, several times throughout the debate.   

I am going to focus solely on the differences among the candidates, which are centered on their approach to governing, and their feelings about mixed-use developments that contain a residential component (apartments).  

I like to make small parody videos, and viewing after this debate I was moved to make this gif about the candidates' views on governing style:   


 


If you have time, please view the entire forum video, or, better yet, I added a link below to the specific location in the video for each position. Here are the distilled views of the candidates on the two issues. I link each of their websites-- just click on their names. If they have served on a Commission, I note that in italics directly under the candidates' name, and something about their tenure.


Position 3 click for Forum 



Terri Johnson

Role as Alderman- Listen to the Citizens and Represent their Viewpoints

Development- Citizens Don't Want More Apartments. 
We have apartments and there are vacancies. No to Carrefour

Sherrie Hicks  

Commissions: Ms. Hicks has served on several commissions, and was an early supporter of Smart Growth. She currently is on the Planning Commission. She voted twice for the cell tower at Dogwood School, and recused herself once. She voted for the original outline plan of Carrefour, but her only absence of the year was when the second, revised Carrefour outline plan was considered. She has supported all administration development plans in the last two years.

Role as Alderman- Wants Decorum and Respect at BMA

Development- Won't Support Any  Development that Overcrowds Schools, 
Germantown zoning land area will always be 90% residential, so mixed-use residential not a big deal, since it will be limited to 10% of the land area.



John Paul Miles   

Commissions: Mr. Miles serves on the Great Hall Commission. It has no real role in local governing.

Role as aldermen--represent the citizens. 
Disconnect between current leadership and citizens. 

Development--Germantown is a great place to live, we don't need 6-8 story buildings popping up. "No" to apartments in mixed-use, no to Carrefour.

Brian Ueleke  

Commissions: Mr. Ueleke has served on many commissions, including the all-important Financial Advisory Commission, that passes the budget on to the BMA, including the capital expenditures budget involving infrastructure needs. 

Role as Alderman-- Explain City decisions to citizens through communication. 

Development- All projects will be evaluated by impact.

Rod Motley  

Role as Alderman-Follow the will of the people

Development- No to mixed-use residential. People want safety and uncrowded schools. No to Carrefour. 


Position 5 click for Forum  


Brandon Musso  

Role as alderman-Follow the will of the citizens. 

Development- People move here because of the small town feel and the schools, not to live in an urban center. 

Jon McCreery 

Commissions: While he has not served on a Germantown Commission, he served on the Shelby County Land Use Control Board.

Role as alderman- Try to compromise.


Development- Cannot pre-judge projects, cannot pre-judge Carrefour. 

**********
   
As of June 30, the Shelby County Election Commission reports the following donations for each of the candidates:  

Sherrie Hicks    $16,388  
Brian Ueleke     $11.890 
Jon McCreery   $37,700 

The other candidates had no funds on June 30.



Here is another gif, about the will of the people on apartments:   










ezgif.com gif maker (1)

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Carmel, Indiana the Model for Germantown....

Without any proof, our leaders boldly assert that the City receives fiscal benefits from dense development. Let's take a look at Smart Growth in Carmel, Indiana, which our City leaders choose to emulate. Carmel, in fact, is a perfect example of dense development not resulting in fiscal health. While it is an affluent city, it is now mired in one billion dollars in debt, has had its debt rating downgraded twice, and is particularly vulnerable to economic downturns. 

But Clay Bailey, writing for the Commercial Appeal on June 23, 2016, after visiting Carmel declared it a "nice prototype for Germantown's future."  He also considered Carmel "one of the success stories of the Smart Growth approach." Ron Maxey, in a later Commercial Appeal article that year stated that Carmel is a "model for the Smart Growth concept Germantown would like to emulate long term," and it "reimagined things like density, land use and transportation probably 15 years before Germantown started thinking about it." As proof of the City's commitment to use Carmel as a model, city leaders took a nice long weekend trip to Carmel in early May, 2016, where they explored the city's numerous roundabouts, and other features of Carmel.  


 

Rocky Janda, Patrick Lawton, Mayor Brainard (Carmel), Mayor Palazzolo, Mary Anne Gibson, and Dave Klevan, during their visit to Carmel. 

 

Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis with a population of 100,000, is the hometown of City Administrator Lawton. Mayor Palazzolo even lived there for a short time. It was reported that Mayor Palazzolo was particularly enamored with the look of the buildings up against the sidewalks in the downtown area when he visited the City.

No doubt Carmel has transformed its roadways by replacing traffic signals with roundabouts. It has a thriving arts district. It is also a City in turmoil politically, with a controversial Mayor who has led the City down the path of fiscal irresponsibility. Do you think that could not happen to our City? I started looking at Carmel again after The Beacon Center of Tennessee ranked Germantown #30 out of  30 cities in Tennessee in "cost of government".  If we were behind Carmel by 15 years, what is in store for us 15 years down the road, if we continue on that same path? What I found out is not pretty.  

I take you no further than an article in the Indianapolis Monthly this past May-- Does Carmel Have a Spending Problem?  It details the cost overruns of a City-subsidized hotel project that had gone over budget by 18 million dollars. The Mayor did not see fit to inform the governing body of this overrun. Tim Hannon, a freshman City councillor mused: "Is this how things work here? I have to find out about the city’s finances from reporters?" 

Considering that both Aldermen Scott Sanders and Dean Massey complain that they find out about city matters from newspapers before they are informed by the administration, one wonders if our leaders emulate their lack of transparency from Carmel leaders, in addition to their penchant for dense development. The article states: "In Carmel, it’s increasingly clear that the amount of spending may be only part of the problem. What really infuriates Brainard’s most vocal critics is the opaque way in which his administration goes about doing it." 

At one point Mayor Brainard wanted to purchase a five million dollar carousel. Ultimately that was turned down, but the debt rating was downgraded shortly thereafter. According to the Indianapolis Monthly article, S&P wrote in a letter to the city that it was concerned that Carmel’s “crowded budget,” “high fixed costs,” and “heavy dependence on sometimes more volatile tax-increment revenues” would leave it vulnerable to the effects of a recession. One has to wonder about the fiscal effect of the pandemic in Carmel.  

In one way Carmel wanted to emulate Germantown. It used Germantown as an example when their Mayor's salary was raised, and he became the highest paid mayor in Indiana as a result. Perhaps Germantown should be looking at Carmel for salary comparisons. Although I do not have recent figures, in 2018, after the raise, Mayor Brainard was due to make $149,000, compared to Patrick Lawton's then salary of $212,500. Please note that Mayor Brainard also serves as the administrator of Carmel.

So goes the story of Carmel. We haven't heard as much about Carmel from our leaders lately. I wonder why not? I also wonder if roundabouts are still in our future. And we all wonder what our City will be like in 15 years.













 











 




Monday, September 14, 2020

Ex-Alderman Uhlhorn Buys Building Housing Germantown News

 

 


As you read this, recall the expression "Follow the money": 

On the surface, the purchase of the property at 7545 North in the heart of Old Germantown seems an unlikely investment for the homebuilder ex-alderman. So why did Mr. Uhlhorn purchase it? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the lessee, Germantown News, is under new ownership, and the  editor, Mark Randall, has written on subjects that have upset the administration? As an example, one of Mr. Randall's first articles was about Alderman Massey being muted in an online BMA meeting, and Mr. Massey having to text Alderman Sanders during the meeting to ask the Mayor to unmute him. Or, is this to ensure that any Germantown Realignment proposal goes a little more smoothly next time around? Yes, this building would be destroyed if that project reared its head.

A landlord can put pressure on a tenant, so we will have to see in the future what, if any, changes occur at Germantown News. I will not speculate here, but I will be watching closely.

So how much was this worth to Mr. Uhlhorn?  According the the Commercial Appeal property transfers, the cost was $353,100.  

Mr. Uhlhorn looms larger than life in politics in Germantown, and has been discussed in several different contexts:  

He ran an unsuccessful race for the Tennessee House a few years back.  

He owns a life insurance policy that the City is still paying premiums on.

In 2008, he and his friend Mike Palazzolo admitted campaign violations in their aldermen races, as sample ballots they distributed made it appear they were endorsed by the Republican Party, when, in fact, there was no such endorsement.  

He has been appointed as a commissioner to the Shelby County Election Commission.

He was one of the main donors to the "Germantown Values PAC" supporting administration candidates in the 2018 election. The PAC hired Caissa Public Strategy, who conducted illegal polling at New Bethel during that election. The firm was also exposed in a Commercial Appeal article for passing out literature at polling places that claimed the same candidates were either Democrats or Republicans, depending on the way people generally vote at that precinct. 

Here Mr. Uhlhorn is shown with Mayor Palazzolo at a Tigers' game. 



Here is the the Assessor's page for the property:   





Thursday, September 10, 2020

Costs and Plans for Stormwater Drainage

 

 
I referred to the City's infrastructure needs that have been neglected for decades in my recent Elephants in the Room post. And in the Drainage Survey I compiled, it was revealed that nearly 50% of the households that responded had experienced problems with stormwater drainage. The flooding last year caused seven million dollars in structural damage to homes in the City. That does not include replacement for furniture, appliances, electronics, etc.  

What do we need to bring our stormwater infrastructure into the 21st century, how much does it cost, and what do we have planned? My research indicates that our drainage system likely needs at least $170 million of upgrading  In the recently passed budget, just under $11.5 million* is scheduled to be spent in the next six years. 

******** 

When I requested an audio or video of the Finance Commission subcommittee on stormwater that met last Feb. 27, I was told there was none available. When I asked for the minutes, or even draft minutes, I received the following:  



That wasn't exactly helpful. However, I had also requested handouts from the meeting, and a PowerPoint was included. Here is the grand total of the cost estimate: 
 

This document seems to be based on 2017 information, and projects the timeline for the City to complete the needed work by 2023, beginning in 2017. That obviously was not accomplished.

A more modest $32.1 million proposal (the total of the column CIP FY21-26 in the below image) was also included, to begin to fix the issues now-- the total of all of the projects:  (22+3+3+3.25+.85+0=32.1) 

The $32.1 million total of all the above projects obviously was at least discussed at the February meeting. That total was far greater than what finally made it into the capital improvements budget--just under  $11.5 million, passed by the BMA:  





Here are the costs and projects that were budgeted for the last four fiscal years:  
  
2020 $1,075,000

 
 

2019 $200,000
 

2018 $350,000
 

2017 $1,770.000 



Some additional information and maps from the City are available on the Developments in Germantown website. Questions about the CIP budget for drainage should be directed to the City.  

Phase 1 

Phase 1b 

Phase 2 

Phase 3 

 ***
The figures of the six year budget have been updated to reflect the budget passed by the BMA. I was relying on the budget posted on the City website to be accurate. The BMA budget was slightly different from the budget passed by the Finance Commission. The total six-year CIP budget number for drainage should be $11,485,000 rather than $10,610,000.  Sadly no new project was added. The change simply moved budgeted funds unspent from last year into this year's budget. The work on Lateral E budgeted for last year was not completed. Alderman Scott Sanders contacted me about this post and requested that I correct the figures.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Apartments vs. "Mixed-Use" - also Neglect of Infrastructure Needs; Two Elephants in the Room


There are actually more than the two elephants in our City's room-- that is, the things that the administration does not want us to know, or talk about, particularly in an election year. Thus, I will let each of the above elephants stand for a group of issues. One elephant represents the financial challenges the City faces, due to past and current City leaders continually kicking basic needs down the road, and instead using taxpayer funds to seek external rewards and engage in self-promotion. The "boring" things like maintaining an aging water system (think: broken water mains and blue water stains),  ensuring the retirement account is properly funded , adding safety and  adequate space for the school system, and rebuilding the storm drains (think: floods) are all but forgotten. These things aren't nearly as sexy as building a big screen and high dollar outdoor venue in a relatively small space and narrowing Germantown Road, causing the resultant traffic jams and difficulties for businesses in the area. No matter who is elected as aldermen, there will likely have to be future property tax increases, simply to catch up with the infrastructure needs that have been long-neglected.  

The OTHER elephant in the room represents the development projects that will likely be coming before the BMA in the next two years. These projects have specifically been delayed so as not to influence the upcoming November municipal elections. A NextDoor poll found that 71% of citizens want no new apartment complexes, and 22% want just a few more apartment units. That means, of course, that every candidate will claim to be anti-apartment. But the loophole?? The moniker "mixed-use" takes care of that.  


 
"Mixed-Use" Means Apartments

 If you are among the 90% of citizens that wants to limit apartment growth in some manner, beware of the double-speak. Administration candidates claim to be against new apartment projects, which, by the way, are already banned, but in the same breath, they favor so-called "mixed-use" projects, which include, ahem, apartments.  An apartment complex with a laundromat and coffee shop attached could be labeled "mixed-use". 

So, these administration candidates say they are against new apartments, while they actually FAVOR new apartments. Two apartment/mixed-use projects that will come before the City in the next two years are 1) Viridian, an apartment complex on Winchester that our administration graciously exempted from the apartment moratorium and stand-alone apartment ban, and 2), Carrefour, a dense, 6-10 story multi-building complex at Kirby and Poplar. The City has already spent millions of dollars on extra infrastructure for this project, while virtually ignoring the infrastructure needs of current citizens.  

The former Germantown Country Club property has a contract to be sold, but the purchaser is unknown at this time and no plans have been submitted. Which candidates do you want in office when those plans are considered? 

Viridian--

Viridian, which is on Winchester at the Collierville border, stands out as the City's only project that did not get unanimous approval by a Planning Commission noted for unanimity. The outline sailed through that body with a mere 4-3 vote (the Mayor abstained, as he generally does). 

Yet Mary Anne Gibson, Rocky Janda, and Forrest Owens used that vote as a reason to pass the outline plan in the BMA. Dean Massey and John Barzizza voted against the measure. Viridian plans call for 310 apartment units, while the entire Forest Hill Heights small area plan only calls for 252 rental units. Director of Economic Development Cameron Ross misrepresented the Small Area Plan when presenting Viridian to the Planning Commission and the BMA. (see December 11, 2017 post).

When citizens objected to Viridian and other projects, the apartment moratorium was enacted, but this project was grandfathered in. It is now the only "stand-alone" project allowed. It could come through next at the planning commission with a coffee shop attached, just so it can be called "mixed-use" to assuage any aldermen that claim to be against apartments, but for "mixed use".    

Some more information: 

Opposition to Viridian Grows Across City  

Carrefour 

Carrefour is the massive nine acre project planned for the Kirby Parkway/Poplar corner. It will require two additional traffic lights-- one on Poplar, and one on Kirby between Poplar Pike and Poplar. The Planning Commission unanimously gave the original outline plan its approval in the autumn of  2018 , and the BMA followed suit, in the same 3-2 vote as Viridian. The only candidate in the November election who voted on this project is Sherry Hicks, who voted for the Carrefour outline plan as a Planning Commission member.



Office 430,000 sq. ft.
Hotel  2 hotels 240 rooms
Retail 100,000 sq. ft
Apartment Units 0   

****************

The original outline plan indicated no apartment units, but a new outline plan was submitted included 320 apartment units. The Planning Commission passed the measure unanimously.  Alderman Candidate and Planning Commission member  Sherry Hicks was absent for the vote. This was the most important vote of her tenure, and her only absence from the Planning Commission for the year.  

Office  320,000
Hotel 1 hotel, 174 rooms 
Retail 100,000 sq. ft.
Apartment Units  320


 



 
Last December, the new Carrefour outline plan passed the BMA in a 3-2 vote, this time with Aldermen Massey and Sanders dissenting. 

It is unknown if the Carrefour developers will need yet another outline plan due to the pandemic. Office lease rates have declined since many people are working from home. This June 10 Commercial Appeal article speculates that Travure would be the last new office building built for awhile. My guess is that the developers will build the apartment building first, and then seek modifications. If that happens, it can't even be deemed a mixed-use project, simply another apartment building.  

More information on Carrefour--  

320 high-rise apartments at Carrefour, and the 7% solution.

Germantown Country Club 

This project has not yet closed, nor do we know who the new owner is. What we do know is that Mayor Mike Palazzolo promised, in a statement made on January 4, 2019, that he would not support smart growth zoning changes for this piece of property. 

“I can state unequivocally that, as your Mayor, I will not support a proposal to rezone or develop this land for multi-family housing, nor will I support Smart Growth zoning for the area,” Palazzolo wrote. “If the property does not remain as a country club, any changes will occur with regard for the interest of the adjoining property owners.”


He could reverse course and plead that he has no final say in the matter, and that the Planning Commission and the BMA decide that. Please do remember that the Mayor alone decides who is on the Planning Commission. The BMA simply approves a slate that is submitted by the Mayor. This may become more difficult for the Mayor if his choice candidates are not elected. 

I need to add an addendum to this--this MBJ article names Spence Ray as the buyer, and states that the project is going to be 2,500 to 6,500 square feet homes. It states that no zoning changes are contemplated. As we know, there is a history of bait and switch in this City, so we shall see what happens after the election.



*************

Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing, and be very careful in your vote for aldermen. There are some very qualified people running for aldermen, but suffice it to say you can take the establishment candidates  "anti-apartment" stances with a big grain of salt. 





Sunday, August 23, 2020

Tournament Level Sports Fields--Appraisal of Forest Hill Property


As I listened to the most recent BMA meeting, I realized that I needed to request the City-ordered appraisal of the property being considered for the tournament long fields. The entire meeting may be found on the City website. Scott Sanders made a number of interesting points about the appraisal in the meeting. He moves to postpone this decision until after the election, when the new Board can have a full work session about the project.




Here is the appraisal- link 

Page 2 The subject property has been offered for sale for more than 20 years.   

Page 4 Prolonged disruptions in financial markets may impact commercial real state markets

Page 4 COVID is a unique event that is expected to be temporary, a reliable estimate of the impact on commercial real estate is not possible,  

Page 22 The site characteristics are as follows:  Gross land area 44.06 acres, Usable Land area, 31.06 acres, usable land % is only 70 %,   

Page 24 According to discussions with the city of Germantown there will be a required detention basin PLUS an additional 5 acres of non-disturbance area and is estimated to cost AT LEAST $1,000,000

Page 41 A review of online data indicated that the subject property taxes were delinquent as of the date of the property appraisal.

Page 55 The appraised value of the property is $3,310,000 but is adjusted by the cost of the detention basin as discussed, which the city estimates as $1,000,000 leaving a value of 2,310,000 

Page 56 If the actual cost of the detention basin differs, it could alter the value conclusion,   

Sanders further states that this is a six million dollar project and there will still be the need to find a corporate partner to build the fields, install lighting, concession stands, restrooms etc., and states that we shouldn’t gamble with the taxpayers money.

Our Master Park Plan indicates that a long field complex will never be a revenue generating facility, in fact it will cost the taxpayer approximately $330,000 to maintain the facility each year.

Dean Massey seconded Alderman Sanders' motion.

The motion failed 3-2.
************* 

I am a big proponent of having adequate sports fields in the community, but I feel that we need to consider more than this one exceptionally costly option, given the underfunded pension plan liabilities and infrastructure needs of the community.

The third reading of the budget is tomorrow, August 24. If you want to voice your opinion about the sports fields, or anything else in the budget, email 
CTBH@germantown-TN.gov. You must include your name, address, and telephone number.