Germantown Planning Commission Votes Cordova Triangle Rezoning
In a 5-3 vote, the Planning Commission approved the return of R (residential) zoning to the Cordova Triangle. The measure must now pass three readings in the BMA.
Neighbors and interested observers attended the Planning Commission meeting as citizens, politicians, landowners, and attorneys pitched their cases. Others viewed the meeting live online. Those who payed close attention noted that the Commissioners went to great lengths to state that the decision could be reversed in the future if the "right plan" came along.
Here is the entire packet of information the City Administration prepared for this vote, including a letter from the Mayor requesting the zoning change, and objections from a landowner's attorney-
The Cordova Triangle discussion may be viewed beginning at 25:16:
25:16 Director of Economic Development Cameron Ross-- rezoning requested to be changed from T4 (general urban) to R (residential), and removing it from Central Business District, was zoned T4 in 2007, still single family homes in area, west of Germantown Road has remained single family, not wise to have T4 west of Germantown Rd. now. Legal basis for the change-- public necessity, convenience, general welfare, good zoning practice, existing zoning--unwise, unjust, and mistake in original zoning, or change in neighborhood, needs to retain character and context and continue those kinds of development patterns to continue west of Germantown Rd.
My Note: It certainly was "unwise" and "unjust" to force this zoning on an unwilling neighborhood in 2007. The Administration only took this position after forced when hundreds of people descended on a BMA meeting last January, demanding that the City not approve apartments in Germantown. In response, in addition to the weak apartment moratorium adopted, the City agreed to look at returning the original zoning to the Triangle.
Here were the City leaders in 2007 when the "unwise" Smart Growth designation was put on the Triangle, against the will of the surrounding residents:
At 31:30 The Mayor also supports the change in zoning, reads his letter (included in the packet linked above). No project filed with the City to develop the parcels, which demonstrates that the original 2007 was unwise and erroneous. Traffic from development across the street and need for citizen participation argues against dense development west of Germantown Rd. Will vote in event of a tie.
38:54 A Planning Commission member asks--"A couple of clarifications, If the Triangle is Rezoned to R that does not prevent a future developer to come back and apply for a PD, correct?" Ross-"No, it doesn't prohibit any property owner or future developer/investor from coming back and applying for a planned development under R zoning, or coming back and utilizing this process we are using tonight to come back and rezone this property to something else to allow them a little bit more flexibility with number of lots per acre if it goes the residential route, or if it goes the commercial route along the Germantown Rd. side." The tree canopy goes away with R zoning.
My note: The above is the way zoning works. This is also the first of several times at the meeting when the discussion turned to the possibility that the R designation could well be only temporary! It is a reminder that next year after R zoning is restored in the area, election pressures subside and the apartment moratorium ends. It is quite possible that the landowners and developers will come up with another plan for apartments in the area, and go to the Planning Commission requesting another zoning change, this time in the other direction--R to T4.
49:25 Politicians and residents begin speaking in favor of returning the Triangle to residential zoning. They include Alderman Mary Anne Gibson, Jennifer Baker, Jim Jacobs, Alderman (and candidate for Mayor) John Barzizza, Steve Shields, Alderman Candidate Dr. Jeff Brown (petition creator), Don Lossing.
The above speakers reiterated the reasons to return the Triangle to residential zoning, most saying that it should never have been T4 in the first place. The residents were always opposed. The last speaker stated that everyone was leery of landscaped borders of trees anyway, because the neighborhood was never told how wide the border was. Nor was there any landscaped border left around Thornwood, as was required but did not happen.
1:11.58 Those against rezoning the area from T4 to R began speaking. I will cover the legal points they make because of the potential for the City to face lawsuits over the rezoning, as the property owners have "lawyered up."
1:12.10 Rick Winchester, attorney, said only opinions, no facts support the R zoning, no traffic study, no financial study, no sketch plan submitted and that is required for R zoning. Thornwood got awards, now everyone scared instead of embracing Smart Growth. Negative financial impact to Owen family. Nobody will build a 1/3 acre lot backing up to Germantown Road- bad zoning. Unprecedented to do this type of downzoning, eats up 5% of Smart Growth area, wants six months to study issue. 1:25.03 Laura Trezevant, property owner, owns the point of the Triangle, counted on T4 zoning in her 2017 purchase, potential of $560,000 a year in property taxes for Germantown with T4 on Triangle. 1:29.38 Pat Wilcheck, spouse of property owner, offered compromises to neighbors, deed restrictions and preservation areas were offered. 1:32.40 Woody Welch-- Germantown Rd. is commercial on both sides of street, residents should have realized that. Thornwood has expensive homes right next door. Andy Pouncey showed him plans with development, retail on bottom, expensive condos on top, he has 500+ feet frontage on Germantown Road, he will lose money. Keep it T4,
Discussion by Planning Commission members begins 1:38.55 Forrest Owens wants an alternative plan to satisfy neighbors, and no development plan in place, absent a plan, nothing concrete to talk about, if a plan was to come forward after changing it to R, we could talk about the plan with residents then (see above underlined comments above). Owens says additional time to discuss would not help, having a particular plan to discuss would. 1:41.42 Commissioner Rick Bennett comments that he has a different take on Smart Growth, was on Vision 2020 Committee in 2004, City landlocked, wants a City like Square in Collierville, NIMBY here, millennials, empty nesters want to walk places, shouldn't be R on Germantown Road side, Thornwood and Travure--everyone excited (laughter from audience), create destination, property zoned properly in the first place, hard work went into it. 1:50.58, Cameron Ross again answered question saying there is always an option to rezone it T3-T6 again, still part of Small Area Plan. Why rezone now? At the direction of BMA, 1:51.54 Mayor Palazzolo speaks about public sentiment and neighborhood input, (see his letter in packet linked above), due diligence of apartment moratorium driving the rezoning, 1:54.20 Commissioner Keith Saunders, proponent of Smart Growth, from 2020, "live, work, play", agrees that Germantown Road unsafe to cross, that should have been the boundary. Need places for people to downsize, the overall decision was good, but may have made errors along the way, Going back to original zoning, should not need a plan to do that, sees both sides. 2:00.07 Commissioner Bacon cites Smart Growth principles, compact building design, lots of housing and transportation choices, contentious piece of property but in heart of City, struggles going back to R, if we rezone it to R it will come back as PD. Wishes we had project to debate. At some point there will be an equitable solution, R is not realistic. 2:04.06 Commissioner Hicks-was on Planning Commission in 2007 and excited about Smart Growth but struggled with this piece of property and felt it probably should not be included. Points out there was no plan when Smart Growth was put in, should not be required to take it away. 2:05.04 Commissioner Hernandez not convinced an error was made or it was unwise, wrestles with the fact that it embraces bicycles and pedestrians, Germantown Road will always be a barrier, would not be a successful Smart Growth project, will vote "yes", 2:07.18 Chairman says Smart Growth is good, R zoning on three sides of this property, lots of options for the property (mentions T3) but better to start all over,
Final Vote to Return Triangle to R from T4 zoning designation"
No- Bacon, Bennett, Clark
Yes- Hernandez, Hicks, Owens, Saunders, Harless,
The Mayor states he would have voted "yes" if it had been a tie.
The motion passed, and the meeting was adjourned. It now proceeds to the BMA for three readings, where final passage is expected. Based on the discussion at the meeting, I doubt if this is the last time that zoning for this piece of property is discussed in the Planning Commission. When a plan is submitted that does not fit the R zoning, the ultimate outcome will depend on the the citizens serving on future Planning Commissions and the BMA.