1. Changing the character of the neighborhood is contrary to the City's own Vision 2030 emphasis on wellness and natural resources,
2. For ethical reasons, the City's promises to the area when annexed and in subsequent years should be kept, whether or not there are legally binding agreements.
3. Most importantly, rezoning to denser development from estate zoning impacts the City's fiscal health negatively.
I discuss each of these three reasons below:
After listening to the residents of the Forest Hill Heights area speak passionately to the BMA this past week, I could not help but connect emotionally with their issues. What is it about a dead beaver in someone's front yard that got to me? Well, I grew up in an area similar to the Forest Hill Heights area. Looking back on it, my Texas suburb was a bit of a magical place, with frogs in every mud puddle after it rained. I fed carrots to the horses across the street, and played field sports with neighborhood kids in an extended area of our backyard that we called "pony lot". I also learned astronomy from the dark night sky, not videos. After living in Memphis for decades, I feel almost back home again after moving here, even though I live in the western part of our beautiful city in a condominium. I am still close to nature, with Poplar Estates Park and the Greenway within walking distance. As one person pointed out in Citizens to Be Heard, what the Forest Hill Heights area is now facing is contradictory to our City's own Vision 2030, with its emphasis on wellness and natural resources. Let's be consistent when we talk about applying plans to neighborhoods!
The residents of Forest Hill Heights also speak of broken promises by the City - promises that the same estate-sized zoning would be kept. When past promises were broken they were replaced with subsequent promises such as the ones embodied in the Forest Hill Heights Small Area Plan, and we know what happened to those plans. Now the City openly states that past promises mean nothing, and only legally binding agreements will be considered when making zoning decisions. Some of us may have ethical issues with that approach.
But, suppose we drop all the emotion! I am quite capable of that. And by all means, drop the ethics! I never acquired a fear of numbers, and can easily apply my math skills to a word problem. Plus, I heard two citizens call for cost/benefit analyses of various residential projects. We hear about them for the developers, but we don't ever hear about the fiscal impact for the City as a whole, one citizen stated. I hereby shed my emotional response, my inclination to be ethical, gear up my left brain for action, and apply skills gained from my public education to the following word problem--
Which Zoning Scenario for the Reaves Property Yields the Best Fiscal Outcome?
As you can see, the Reaves property is 36 acres. It is currently zoned for estate-sized one acre lots. If it is developed using current zoning, 36 houses would be built.
Using the assumptions and conclusions of the City-commissioned $85,000 July 2016 TischlerBise Fiscal Impact Analysis, thoroughly discussed in this post, I compute the marginal fiscal impacts for three different scenarios. Apologies to all of my previous Finance professors - I am not using a "discounted cash flow" model for the simple reason that the TischlerBise Analysis assumes that there is no "time value" of money. In other words, a dollar today is worth exactly the same as a dollar thirty years from now. Note to detractors: this analysis would come out much worse for dense growth if I added any time value of money to the analysis.
a. This scenario is the easiest, as the area keeps its estate zoning but for whatever reason there is no development on the land. The marginal fiscal impact for the City's finances is zero. No math! And the best fiscal outcome.
b. In this scenario, we assume that the current zoning is kept, and 36 homes with one acre lots are built. The closest TischerBise assumption of cost/benefit of this scenario is the "status quo" growth scenario: The status quo development net fiscal cost in Tischler Bise was an average annual negative ($1,270,000) over thirty years for 1,886 residential units. Each "status quo" residential unit built therefore costs the city an annual average of ($673) for the next thirty years.
Conclusion: 36 homes x ($673)= ($24,228)
The estate growth scenario, over thirty years, erodes the City's finances by an average annual $24,228.
c. Now let's assume the densest growth contemplated for the thirty six acres, which involves rezoning the property to higher density residential zoning, and possibly adding a PUD. I believe I heard that the density could be 108 units on this property. Although this still may also be closer to the "status quo" growth scenario in the Analysis than the "dense growth" scenario, for the sake of argument I am going to give the developer the benefit of the doubt, and go with the seemingly less costly "dense growth" assumptions. The dense growth development net fiscal cost in TischlerBise was an average annual negative ($942,000) over 30 years for 2,413 residential units. Each "dense growth" residential unit built therefore costs the city an annual average of ($390) for the next thirty years.
Conclusion: 108 homes at ($390)= ($42,120)
The dense growth scenario, over thirty years, erodes the City's finances by an average annual $42,000.
Fiscal Health Conclusion -
A buildout of 108 residential units harms the City's fiscal health almost twice twice as much as a buildout of 36 residential units on the Reaves property. No residential growth, at zero marginal impact, is the best fiscal outcome for the city.
Overall Conclusion: Consistency with Vision 2030, ethical considerations, and the fiscal health of our city all dictate that the City needs to preserve estate zoning on the Reaves property. If we are considering the best whole health of all concerned, why are we even contemplating denser growth for the area?