Friday, February 23, 2018

You Can't Fight City Hall--Or Can You?

Two citizens are disproving the expression "You Can't Fight City Hall." These  residents of the Forest Hill Heights area have petitioned the the Chancery Court of Shelby County to order the City of Germantown to honor the original density limitations on residential units in the Forest Hill Heights area. The petitioners appear to be doing this without an attorney, at least at this point.

At the December 2017 BMA meeting, our aldermen voted to increase the density of the of the PUD that includes the Watermark Apartment Complex in the Forest Hill Heights area to eighteen residential units per acre. Previously, in 2016, the BMA overlaid the area's office zoning with a T5 Smart Growth designation. According to the petition, it was at that time that the density was limited to twelve residential units per acre. 

The petitioners request, in effect, is that the Chancery Court reverse the December 2017 BMA action. I am advised that, in order to prevail, the petitioners must show that the BMA's December 2017 decision to increase the residential density was arbitrary and capricious. 

I uploaded the entire Writ here.

Below are pages 6-9 of the Writ, which list the facts and recommended action. It gives a brief overview of the history of the zoning issues in the area.  

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

There is the Messenger, and then there is the Message

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."   George Orwell  

Sorry, I guess this is just one of my pet peeves, but I really dislike the attempt to shut down a conversation of mine about issues by focusing on personalities. I can tolerate a tiny bit of that, just because I realize that this is human nature and I tend to be forgiving, but my patience is wearing thin. 

I am grateful for the "blocking" option of Facebook, but fortunately, I resort to using it extremely rarely-- I will note here some of the criteria that I use for blocking people, since it seems to have been a topic of conversation.   

First, however, I will tell you behavior that I never block-- 

I never block people who engage in polite and respectful disagreement with me or anyone else,   

I never block someone because of the so-called reputation of anyone responding, or anything to do with who their friends are, or who their relatives are. I certainly never want to be judged by any of those things. 

I never block people who exhibit adult behavior. I don't expect perfection in this, as we can all get a bit childish at times when goaded.

I welcome my ideas being held up to scrutiny. I am certainly not always right, and make mistakes like everyone else. I enjoy hearing other opinions as long as they are expressed in an adult fashion. 

Now, why have I had to block just a very few people?

A person has to exhibit certain behavior patterns to meet my criteria to block.   

1) When answering one of *my* posts, making an idea all about the person expressing the opinion (ME) is a big one. I am all about ideas, not personalities. Again, I never even point out who supports who, who is related to who, who is friends with who, etc. I don't even care. I always respond to ideas, not "allegiances", and, when responding to me, I expect the same thing from other posters. 

 2) Anyone who publicly states that they do not like seeing my posts. I block them because I like to think of myself as a problem solver. That solves their problem.  

3) Anyone who is too zany for me to figure out what they are saying, or why, and spouts off untruths regularly.  Now, anyone, including me, can be mistaken about things. That is fine. I am speaking of a repetitive pattern of behavior. This is just a waste of my and everyone else's time. 

4) Diverting attention by creating "straw man" arguments on a regular basis. That too, is diversionary.

5) Bullying behavior, including regularly posting rude GIFs or other images in response to normal posts of mine.  

6) Attacks on me in any form, including bringing up extraneous information that is unrelated to the ideas I express.  

7) Anyone who insists that I judge some other person by their behavior, online or otherwise. I refuse to do that.  All of us are different, and have different personalities. I only judge responses to my posts not anyone else's.

At this point in time, only three people have met my strict criteria for blocking, I am happy to say.

By the way, I do not block people because they hurt my feelings or because I have an emotional reaction to them. This is strictly a matter of transparency. Diversionary tactics obstruct meaningful conversation. Focusing on personalities rather than issues is non-productive.

I feel it is a great compliment to the Facebook groups I belong to, and the moderators that so generously give their time, that I have had to resort to blocking so few people.  

I suggest that if anyone brings up the subject of my blocking them, perhaps just post this. It could save a lot of wasted effort. It may or may not work. I have no control over it, obviously, since I cannot see the conversation.

Carry on!  A big thanks to almost everyone here that engages in polite disagreement. 

Sincerely, Pauline

Monday, February 19, 2018

Let's Get This Straight--Realignment is on the MPO project list, it is not "Dead"

Memphis Metropolitan Planning Orgainization Livability 2050 Logo
I want to clear up any misconceptions about the Germantown Road Realignment. As shown on the chart below, the Realignment project is currently on the MPO project list. Before discussing that in more detail, I first I want to give big thanks to the readers for doing exactly what the Metropolitan Planning Organization representative suggested we do - first, taking the MPO survey, and second, contacting our elected representatives if we want Germantown Road Realignment kept off the MPO Livability 2050 Plan. Your communications certainly sent our Mayor and Aldermen a strong message - namely, that we do not want Germantown Road Realignment to rear its head again in the future.  

The MPO's suggestions to us were meant to be proactive rather than reactive. Removal from the MPO project list would ensure that we will not have to deal with an “active” Road Realignment issue in the future. And, if we are to believe that this project is really "dead", as some of our leaders claim, it also would keep the MPO from having to deal with having a "dead" project on its list. My goal in alerting you to the MPO's two suggestions was simply to keep a now-dormant project from later coming back to life. As I made clear in my first post in the subject, I do not know of any current City plans to move forward with the project. (I underlined that because some City people were mischaracterizing my post.) Because this is the year that the MPO actively seeks broad public feedback for its Livability 2050 Plan, the time is right to attempt to get Germantown Road Realignment removed from consideration on the Livability 2050 project list.

Unfortunately, it appears from the City's response that it will not  remove the project from consideration for the Livabilty 2050 Plan. I say this because, based on the response, the City completely ignored the question of whether such removal should take place. The City instead set up a classic "straw man" argument. More specifically, the City's response discussed the lack of current funding for the project, as if our present concern is about current funding as opposed to a dormant project having the potential to come alive.

In particular please note the following two sentences from the City response: 

And while the project was submitted for Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) funding in 2013, the request was withdrawn by the City and the project does not appear in any long-range MPO funding plans. This fact has been confirmed by MPO Administrator Pragati Srivastava, who recently confirmed “that the Germantown Realignment project is not included in the 2017-2020 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for federal funding.”  

I will first discuss Mr. Srivastava's statement, which is 100% correct - Germantown is not even eligible for federal funding for this project until next year. Because the City turned down the project two years ago, it is prohibited from applying for federal funding again until 2019. This is confirmed by former Alderman Klevan in the Leadership Germantown Candidate Forum in 2016:  

"We got 90% financing from the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) and TDOT.  We only had to pay a dime on a dollar. We gave it back. End of discussion. It's a three year process before funding even comes available again to apply. From now that is two and a half years. 2019 is the first year that this can even come up on the radar."

What the City does not tell us in its response is that Mr. Srivastava would confirm that Germantown Realignment is not dead, but is indeed listed as a 2018-2020 project, albeit without federal funding. As such, in the MPO's eyes, the current status of the project is that it is "fiscally constrained" But, again, it is certainly not dead.

Take a look at page 169 of the MPO's 2040 Livability Plan which was last updated a year ago, or look at the screenshot below.  Note that it shows the Realignment project with 75% state funding, 25% from the City, and no federal funding.  What we as citizens need to understand is that, although the City is not currently seeking funding for this project, nothing is precluding it from doing so in the future. Because federal funds could be available as soon as next year, (see Mr. Klevan's statement above), the City potentially could revive this project sooner than we think. I am not saying that this is the intent of our City's leadership. I am just pointing out that the project is not "dead".

Screenshots of Livabilty 2040 Page Showing Realignment with 75% State Funding and 25% City Funding 2018-2020 
Looking again to another part of the City’s response, the assertion that “the project does not appear in any long-range MPO funding plans” is confusing at best, and misleading at worst. Realignment is currently on the 2018-2020 MPO project list, as shown above, and it indicates both state and City funding ("fiscally constrained" because the City has not requested MPO funding). This is obviously a short-term designation, not long-term. Why would it have "long-term MPO funding plans" when it is currently designated for the short-term? Is the City playing word games? I should further note that the funding cycle for the MPO is only three years. So, I am at a loss to understand the City's statement that "the project does not appear in any long-term MPO funding plans." Nor does Mr. Srivastava's truthful statement "confirm" this.

When I spoke with the MPO representative at the February 6 meeting in Collierville, he most assuredly did not tell me: “You do not need to be concerned about this project being placed on the Livability 2050 project list because it is now “fiscally constrained” and it is not in our long range funding plans." He did not tell me this for the simple reason that it is not true.

Instead, he told me that, if the citizens do not want the Realignment project to appear on the MPO's Livability 2050 Plan, we need to make our views known to the City's leadership. My understanding, from what I learned at the meeting, is that the MPO will use the Livability 2040 Plan (again, Realignment is listed as a project in this plan) as a starting point for their consideration of the projects to be included in the Livability 2050 Plan.

Keep in mind that the the Livability plans and other documents on the MPO website are tedious and confusing, and my desire to confirm my understanding of them is one of the principal reasons for attending the Collierville meeting. The City's leaders may be using this confusion to further muddy the water and attempt to divert our attention from the fact that the Realignment project will likely be included in the Livability 2050 Plan unless they take action to prevent that from happening. In other words, the Realignment project will not be "dead". This project tore the City apart two years ago when I first got involved. It was stressful for the citizens, our politicians, and especially the businesses involved. My wish is that we avoid repeating this debacle in the future.    

As I have made very clear in the above discussion, the 
Germantown Road Realignment project is not “dead” as long as it remains on the MPO project list. And please do not be fooled into thinking that its inclusion in the MPO's 2050 Livability Plan with a later target date would necessarily mean that the project could not be revived for a long time. I would like to remind my readers that the last time we faced the issue it was plucked from the plan when it had a target date of 2030! It caught us all by surprise when it was moved ahead by well more than a decade. I want to remind everyone that Mayor Palazzolo sits on the Transportation Policy Board of the MPO, as he could have had a hand in that decision.

Please remember that a project that is dormant is not “dead”, and a dormant project can become active in the blink of an eye. Again, we saw that in 2015 when the Target 2030 dated project was foisted on us. Admittedly, Realignment is not currently in the City's long term capital budget, but that can easily be changed by a simple vote. If the City's long-term intention is not to reconsider Realignment, it only makes sense to remove it from consideration on the MPO project list. That would bury it and I would agree to the use of "dead" to describe Realignment.  Because the City does not seem to be prepared to do that, we as individuals have the option to question the candidates about their position on the issue during the coming campaign.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Opposition to Viridian Growing Across the City

The decision to exclude certain projects from the recently passed moratorium on apartment building was a controversial one, partly because it leaves the Forest Hill Heights area with the potential of having 610 (or more) rental units, when only 252 rental units were recommended as part of the Forest Hill Heights Small Area Plan (further discussion here). Alderman Massey’s proposed amendment would have eliminated these exemptions. The two apartment complexes in the Forest Hill Heights area that have specifically been exempted from the moratorium are Watermark, which has full approval by the BMA, and Viridian, which has only been given preliminary approval.    

My biggest issue all along has been with Viridian. For one thing, unlike Watermark, it is not fully approved. I also had some concerns after watching the Planning Commission meeting where Viridian was discussed, and only passed by a 4-3 vote, despite strong staff support for the project. Those opposed gave a very good reason for their “no” vote-- namely, that it was not the type of project that was contemplated when the plans were formed for the area. I have other concerns as well. The developers were seeking greater density than was recommended by staff, and said they preferred four-story buildings. Nearby residents, however, had stated that four story buildings would tower over adjacent single family homes. In response to this objection, the developers stated that three-story buildings would be of inferior quality because installing elevators would not be cost effective. In other words, four-story buildings with elevators would be high quality, but would tower over private homes. Three-story buildings would not tower over homes, but would be of inferior quality. Furthermore, Viridian, if fully approved, would be built next to the newly approved single-family development Goodwin Farms. Residents in the area are concerned that the apartments would affect the homes’ values. 
Page 50 of Small Area Plan Shows Single Family Homes in Viridian Area

My ears perked up as I watched the recent BMA meeting when former GMSD board member Ken Hoover, who does not even live in Forest Hill Heights, spoke in opposition to Viridian during “Citizens to Be Heard”.  Here are Ken’s remarks: 


In communicating with him subsequent to the BMA meeting, Ken said that Viridian would not only increase the number of FHH-area apartments to a level beyond that recommended by the Plan, it would also fail to satisfy the Plan’s other goals. (see chart below prepared by Ken).  

He believes that the Planning Commission should insist that the project meet all stated goals before it gives final approval to Viridian. He expressed surprise that a majority of the BMA voted in December to give preliminary approval to Viridian when it met none of the goals of the FHH Small Area Plan passed by the BMA in April of 2016. It is Ken’s view that the approval of this particular project would be detrimental to the entire city.  

Ken informed me that he likes the Plan’s vision for Forest Hill Heights—namely, a village green, retail, restaurants, condos, and apartments nearby, and that Watermark fits that vision. He also agrees that reasonable people could disagree with that. He emphasizes that achieving that vision will require intense attention to detail at every step. Along this line, Ken notes that the plan itself specifically warns against the folly of leaving development to chance.  

Ken feels that the outcome of the vote in the Planning Commission could have been different if the staff had focused on the Plan’s goals. He feels that damage has been to the public trust. “We trust the City Staff and the BMA to adhere to the Plan. That hasn’t happened so far in this case.”

For the city leaders who insist “we are following the plan”, simply because it followed the required approval process, Ken offers this direct quote from one of the Planning Commission members:   

“That’s the whole reason to do the plan; What do you want to be built in this Forest Hills Heights neighborhood?  It’s a disservice to them (all the citizens who participated) to go in and say we wanted you to spend time and effort to tell us what you want, and study, and have meeting upon meeting and come up with this wonderful plan, and then to have someone say ‘Well, we really don’t think that makes any sense to us.’”  

Ken asserts that the voice of the people has been ignored here, and I wholeheartedly agree. The good news is that Viridian will appear before the Planning Commission again.  If the Commission insists on adherence to the goals and principles in the Plan, Viridian in anything close to its present form will not be approved. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Is Germantown Road Realignment being considered yet again? Take the survey! Talk to Elected Officials!

Germantown Road Realignment remains on the list of the Metropolitan Planning Organization's projects, with a 2020 target date, although I am unaware of any recent action to proactively move this forward. See page 169 of this document.

For those unfamiliar with the citizens' successful fight against Germantown Road Realignment in late 2015, please refer to the website that I created about the issue at that time. Also, here are some old Commercial Appeal articles:

Germantown Road Realignment Draws Standing Room Crowd, Opposition

Germantown Drops Controversial Plans for Road Realignment 

The extensive construction for this project would negatively affect many popular local businesses in the area, including More than Words, Southern Social, The Germantown Commissary, Bumbletees, etc.

Every four years the MPO goes through a required evaluation of transportation needs, and public input is considered. I recently went to a meeting in Collierville that was designed to get that public input. Unfortunately only a few individuals attended. Although particular projects were not discussed in the meeting, we were encouraged to speak with individuals from the MPO later. I took advantage of that, and told the MPO representative that the citizens of Germantown were not in favor of this Germantown Road realignment, and we did not want to have to fight this again. I gave reasons based on some of the goals expressed in the meetings, including preserving neighborhoods.  He responded that we needed to communicate our wishes to our elected representatives, because they listen to their wishes as well as the wishes of the public. He also requested that we all take their survey.

PLEASE TAKE NOTE: The MPO representative did NOT say "Germantown Road Realignment is dead" as some of our politicians like to say. Instead he said, talk to your leaders.

I am asking that you do both of these, no matter what your feelings are about Germantown Road Realignment. 

1. The MPO survey is easy and fun to complete. You can click on various part of the map and make comments.  I clicked on Old Germantown and said we did not need road realignment and gave some reasons. This survey may not be up more than a few days, so please do not delay. I also made some comments on other areas of town. I am well aware that Lamar Avenue still needs work and that this is affecting our ability to promote our area as a true transportation hub, so that was another comment I made. Many of you are aware of other needs in the community and you will want to give feedback on other parts of the county.  

2. Because the MPO representative stressed to me that we needed to communicate with our elected representatives about transporation needs and desires, I am asking that you begin to do so. It is particularly important that during the coming election campaign that you get firm answers from candidates on where they stand on this issue, as well as other transportation issues in Germantown that are of importance to you.  Here is the contact information for our Mayor and our aldermen.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Right and Wrong, What is Legal? And What is Possible?

Charles Schulz, via
As discussed in City Officials Misprepresent and Ignore Forest Hill Heights Small Area Plan  the recent approvals of Watermark and Viridian apartment complexes were "bait and switch" because the total rental units greatly exceed the number of rental units contemplated in the relatively recently drafted Forest Hill Heights Small Area Plan. Residents took part in the process of planning by participating in charrettes, only to have the City Administration pull the rug out from under the residents. City officials even went so far as to wrongly claim that they are following the plan. 

I am a "straw man."
I'd like to examine the carefully worded, seemingly scripted replies to my comment on social media that the City engaged in "bait and switch". According to defenders of the practice, the City was actually following the Small Area Plan because of the mere fact that the projects were approved by the Planning Commission and BMA. Because I never made the representation that what the City did was illegal, this is by definition a "straw man" argument. 

The reasoning expressed is that developers use the Small Area Plan as something to bargain against, so that they can come to a "compromise" with the City. They do not look at the Small Area Plan as something they should attempt to comply with, since it cannot be legally enforced.

Of course, the issue is that the residents of Forest Hill Heights were not told that their good faith effort in helping craft the Small Area Plan was simply a beginning point for eventual compromise with developers.  Although the Small Area Plan is not a legally binding document, our leaders should certainly attempt to comply with the guidelines.  Don't the citizens deserve an explanation when significant portions of the Small Area Plan are ignored, when residents were led to believe that their participation had some meaning?  We not only got no explanation, the Small Area Plan, when discussed in meetings, was given as the reason that both Viridian and Watermark should be approved. The references to this Plan were sprinkled throughout their meetings, yet there was no discussion at all of the deviations. Is this transparency? I will let my readers decide if they think this is what we should expect from our City.

The bottom line is that the Viridian and Watermark complexes total 610 rental apartment units, while the Small Area Plan calls for 252 (by 2025!).  And neither of these apartment complexes is subject to the "moratorium."  That is why I characterize the moratorium as weak and toothless.  

What Else is Legal? 

Because of the "it's legal" (and therefore right?) argument (that seemed to me like "cut and paste" directly from the City Economic Development Department) I feel that it is instructive to extend that same line of thinking to see what other actions could lie in our City's future. The following would also be legal:  

*1. By increasing the density of apartment units allowable in the PUD to 18 per acre in the December BMA meeting, the City has set an important precedent. It is likely that other projects in FHH will request the same density, and obtain it as quickly and easily as the vote in December. Apartments are allowed in T5 areas, and if deviations in the Small Area Plan can be easily ignored, we could see apartments of this increased density over the entire T5 zoned area. Can you imagine the entire FHH area being filled with apartments at a density of 18 per acre?

2. Cordova Triangle, watch out!  Do you believe that what the BMA passed in the January meeting means that the area is now zoned single family?  Notwithstanding the action taken, the Triangle currently still has T4 zoning;  Legally the action taken by the BMA was meaningless. Please see the following discussion. 


Per City Attorney David Harris, the Smart Code T4 zoning overlay may officially be removed from the Triangle by first going back to the Planning Commssion. If removed by the Planning Commission, then the measure would be brought before the BMA, and there it could be approved in three readings. Only then would the Triangle would be free of the Smart Code zoning.

There are two difficulties with this:

a.  The City Attorney sidestepped a question about this-- As it stands now, the Cordova Triangle is still zoned T4, which includes light retail and all multi-family housing. Yet, the moratorium only keeps apartments and apartment buildings from being approved for eighteen months. There is nothing to prevent a developer from bringing forth a non-apartment related multi-family or a retail project before the T4 zoning is legally removed. Thus, it would be legal for such a project to be approved, nothwithstanding the January 8 vote by the BMA. In effect, the vote by the BMA regarding the Cordova Triangle was more of a promise than a legal action. I remind the residents near the Triangle that t
he City broke a promise to the FHH area. What is there to prevent the City from breaking the promise about the Triangle? 

b.  Also note that there have been two separate meetings of the Planning Commission since this resolution was passed by the BMA, and the removal of T4 zoning of the Triangle has not yet been part of the agenda. Will the removal of the Smart Growth overlay even come to fruition at all? I recommend that the citizens in the neighborhoods near the Triangle stay well informed of any progress (or, more specifically, lack of progress) being made with regard to the removal of the Smart Growth overlay from the Cordova Triangle.

*Note: #1 has been edited to reflect that the density of apartments was changed for the PUD, rather than for the entire area.