Tuesday, August 6, 2019

City's Future in Hands of Unelected Planning Commission??

A big thank you to John Peyton, webmaster and owner of Developments in Germantown website, and founder of DIG Facebook group, for recording the July 21 work session of the BMA. He live-streamed the video to a few Facebook groups. Since I can't post Facebook videos to the blog, I extracted the audio, and (mostly) added the photos of the people speaking, along with corresponding identification, and embedded and commented on it below. 


Update added August 8--

The resolution that will be voted on by the BMA is on the City website--  

Here is the definition of an apartment development in a  "vertically integrated mixed-use setting":

From the moratorium study:  

Clearly, Thornwood type apartment buildings would continue to be allowed with this resolution. Viridian and Watermark, which originally were part of the apartment moratorium but no longer seem on the horizon for separate reasons, would not.


Although the newspapers and television stations covered the July 21 BMA work session on the apartment moratorium, they don't have the space or time to cover all the nuances or back history which you will get here. It is apparent from the work session that the members of the Planning Commission, appointed by the Mayor, will draft their recommendations, and those recommendations will likely be accepted by three members of the BMA. At first I wrote that the appointees to the Planning Commission were approved by the BMA, but I was told by Alderman Massey that this is not the case with this particular commission. The BMA will vote on a resolution at the August 12 meeting--that resolution will be the instructions given to the Planning Commission. Because the mayor has sole authority for choosing Planning Commission members, it is instructive to read this recent quote from Mayor Palazzolo in the Memphis Business Journal: "The city has a “gap in housing for millennials,” he said, with a lack of residences in walkable areas as well as a lack of new condos and apartments." 

What is a "stand-alone" residential project?

In the work session, "stand-alone" apartments were rejected by all, but the definition of "stand-alone" has different meanings to different people. Actions taken by the BMA in the fall of 2017 included approvals of different stages of two full-fledged "stand-alone" apartment projects --Viridian and Watermark. These approvals incurred the wrath of citizens, and the three aldermen who voted for those complexes (Owens, Gibson, and Janda) now are effectively backing away from those votes. For background see Anatomy of a BMA Meeting for my description of a contentious BMA meeting in December of 2017. At the January 8, 2018 BMA meeting hundreds of citizens showed up to protest the apartment approvals.

Even though Viridian and Watermark were in Smart Growth areas, which called for multi-use, they were stand-alone complexes, with no "multi-use" component planned along side. Although it was exempt from the apartment moratorium, Viridian developers so far have not gone forward with the project. Thanks to the BMA's disapproval of the actions of the developer during a lawsuit by citizens Jaime Picunko and Phil Conner against the City, Watermark has been halted for now, although a ruling against the developer in the Watermark developer's lawsuit against the City is being appealed.  

So, Viridian and Watermark type complexes are likely out, (unless Viridian reappears and is grandfathered, or Watermark wins its appeal), but what exactly is in? One point of contention could be the stand-alone type of apartment building that is in Thornwood's multi-use development. It is in a gray area-- is it a stand-alone building? Yes. Is it part of an integrated multi-use area? Also yes. And, what about apartment complexes that have token things like laundromats and a small coffee shop or automat on the first floor? Will all buildings with apartments be required to have concrete and steel construction, as commercial projects have, rather than wood framing? Requiring that would go a long way towards helping to ensure true multi-use, rather than allowing an apartment project with token businesses attached, simply to pass muster with the new ordinances that may be passed. It would also help the buildings hold their value, which is important in keeping the impact on city services down, according to the discussion at the meeting.

The In-House Study, and the Aldermen's Viewpoints--the Work Session Chronologically  

Alderman Massey was unable to attend the work session, but he is a known foe of more apartments in the City. For the views of the other four aldermen, and for what may lie ahead, watch the video of the meeting and/or read my notes on the meeting below. My personal commentary is in red, to distinguish it from what people said at the meeting.  



Jason Huisman- Assistant City Administrator And Staff 

Mr. Huisman and City staff discussed the Apartment Moratorium Report.

The City has 16,081 residential units, single family are over 13,000, current apartment units are about 1,000, which is 6.3 % of the total of residential units. 

The study found no disproportionate impact on services from apartment units My note: per unit, not per acre, since there are more apartment units per acre than single family homes per acre, and that was not considered.  

Westminster and Farmington Gates, two current apartment complexes, have a preponderance of  two bedroom apartments, and being lower priced, they have a disproportionate amount of impact on City services and the school system.  

Using the City's small area plans, an aggressive scenario of development is 3,642  total additional residential units, of which 2,141 are additional apartment units, in the next ten years.  If 2,141 apartment units are added, the percentage of apartment units to total residential units will go from 6.3% to 16% in ten years.

Impact on fire, police, ambulance, and schools were discussed. The impact on schools begins at 13:49 and is discussed below: 

Schools will have a total capacity of 6,665 this year, with the new school online. That is an extra capacity of 1,000 students. My note: Why, if there is that much excess capacity, is Dogwood School still planning to have portables this year? 

There are two types of apartment complexes detailed in the study, (go to 14:28 of video):

Type a vertical mixed-use (Thornwood is an example)-- with half of units being one or fewer bedroom 50% are two bedroom plus. My note: For reference sake, please remember the term "vertical mixed use" as it applies to the Thornwood apartment building.  

Type b 60% or more two bedroom (Watermark is/was an example),

The less expensive the development, and the more bedrooms per unit, the more new GMSD students are produced from the development. 
Estimate--Type a apartments result in 2.7 students per 100 residential units, Type b apartments result in 15.3 students per 100 units.

My Note: This seems rather low to me since GMSD has been using a figure of 31 students per 100 residential units based on
 its own analysis. The previous GMSD analysis did not distinguish between types of apartment complexes.  

There are 9 sites where 2,141 apartments could be located, and City staff estimate that 123 students would come from these apartments. My note: Using the former GMSD ratio, that figure would be over 600 additional students.   

Using demographic figures and all residential construction estimates, there will be a spare capacity in our schools of 600 students in ten years. My note: I am not sure if this study accounts for extra rooms needed for art, music, etc. 

The study found that the infrastructure is strong and can take the impact of the new development, and that by the end of this year, all the infrastructure will be in place for all the development expected.  


Each aldermen spoke more than one time. This is in chronological order, so keep scrolling until you read it all-- 

Alderman Scott Sanders: 34.23 

Asked about options, re: moratorium, attorney stated next step to consider changes in zoning ordinances, the answer-- goes to Planning commission with guidance from BMA   

Alderman Forrest Owens: 36:50 

No zone left for stand-alone apartments My note: If there is no zone left for stand-alone apartments under current zoning,  why would we need a new ordinance to prevent them?, only land left in gateways (mixed-use). My note: Then Viridian and Watermark should not have even come to a vote originally because they were not mixed-use!!

Apartments are needed for downsizing and millennials where they have fewer responsibilities and it's easier to be mobile.

Apartments don’t provide a disproportionate strain on resources. My note: Again, this was calculated on a per unit basis, not per acre, and $$$ impact was not part of the study.

“Create special places”. Ability to create special places go away with the same use. The land uses have to work in concert together, and this is complex, sustainable, lasts for centuries, multi-family has a place for vibrancy and sustainability, Thornwood is a good example of starting that, not knowing it,  but would rather have vertically mixed use, where residences are over retail. My note: He seems unsupportive here of the separate apartment building at Thornwood, though he tries to be delicate. As with Watermark and Viridian, he voted for the Thornwood development with the "stand-alone" building. Also note that when calculating the GMSD student ratio, Thornwood was labeled a "vertically mixed-use" by the staff. Someone needs to get definitions straight!. So Alderman Owens prefers vertically mixed use rather than the Thornwood apartment building, but City staff considers the Thornwood apartment building as being an example of vertical mixed use. Confused?? Me too!!

Administration needs to direct Planning Commission, but administration also needs input from Commission. My note: Please do not try to pass the buck. Whatever the PC comes up with, the aldermen who vote for the changes and Mayor who selected the PC members will own that decision.

Alderman Owens supports the following, which he read:  "multi-family residential development in a smart code zoning district, as long as it is part of an integrated mixed-use setting, in a non-dominant mixed-use development application, appropriately designed and scaled to its surroundings."

Reiterated that he's not in favor of any more garden style, single-use apartments in any area of the City  My note: like he voted in favor of (Viridian and Watermark) just months ago.  

Alderman Mary Anne Gibson: 43:45 

Agrees with Forrest Owens, What impact on schools will apartments be now and next ten years?  Asks why numbers start to fall off in 2023.

GMSD Superintendent Jason Manuel: 45:08 

GMSD doesn't have a say in this process but appreciates the fact that he has a seat at the table, and would like to see that continued process. Hopes at each step in the process of development over the next ten years that GMSD will be able to re-analyze where their numbers are and impact of development. What we see now may not be the same now as one or two years from now.    

Reminds us that price point of apartments can change, and that a development planned at one price point could have to lower prices, which would mean more students from the development.  What causes most empty nesters to move is the death of a spouse, and the demographer therefore looked at mortality rates.

My note: Reasonable answer, He may be skeptical of  the City staff's new student ratios, at least over the long haul. In any case, he realizes that projections can be way off.  

Alderman Mary Anne  Gibson: 47:15 Asked staff a question about drainage. 

Economic Development Director Cameron Ross: 48:16   

Any storm water will have to be retained on site until the current drainage system is ready for the water, this involves an above ground or below ground retention pond until peak flows subside. 
My note: Several residents noted in Shining a Light's drainage survey that they had no drainage issues until developments came to their area, so I am skeptical of the findings of the drainage studies paid for and submitted by developers.   

City Administrator Patrick Lawton: 49:29 

Follow the Small Area Plans, takes drainage into account.  

Alderman Rocky Janda: 51:20 

Apartments have less impact than his expectations. He gives thanks to Alderman Owens for his viewpoint. Likes Thornwood apartments, they are stand-alone but part of the community that is there. My note: He is the only aldermen who gives a ringing, specific endorsement of the Thornwood apartment building.  And it has no impact on schools, mixed- use the way to go, worry about the schools being able to cover overhead with extra capacity. My note: That does not worry me. If that is a problem ever, more transfers could be allowed.

Alderman Scott Sanders: 54:18 

Not for stand alone apartments, residents don’t want apartments, may consider *some* multi-use.  Citizens may not know that City has been spending money on infrastructure for a long time, has spent a decade preparing for additional development,--lists some of these projects, adding to millions of dollars, such as the water tower in this year’s budget,  

The Tischler Bice study commissioned by City in 2016 My note: discussed in my blog post here clearly says that the additional growth is not going to cover expenses until the outlying years, (Mayor Palazzolo interrupts and says infrastructure is capitalized over 50 years), Sanders continues and says we do not break even until year 21, and The Tischler Bice study underestimated new school cost,

Sanders lists expenses, more fire stations, salaries, etc., in comparing status quo growth vs. higher density, five million dollars more in cost to support the higher density growth, and when older Germantown  residents move into apartments those houses will be sold to families, who have school children. We will need more roads, traffic signals, and we may not always have 80-20 match available for new traffic signals, which are very expensive, what if responsible for 100% of those in future? 

Need to take slow measured approach to future growth, does not like stand-alone apartment buildings, not what citizens want (clapping) (admonishment from MP), a lot of infrastructure has been paid for, doesn’t think citizens knew it. High density in Carrefour and Arthur proposals. Both way too dense to offer “a sense of place” or an inviting atmosphere, density is something he wants planning commission to look at (and presumably limit)

Thornwood type of apartments with retail and restaurants on the first floor, and apartments over--he might agree to that, but the Thornwood  type of stand-alone apartment is not something he would vote for, even though it is in mixed-use area development, he would not want any more like that. Stresses we need to know definition of stand-alone apartments. (My note: I definitely agree. It is hard to figure out what anyone thinks when definitions are not consistent.)

Alderman Forrest Owens: 1:05:45

Says he agrees with more with Alderman Sanders than he disagrees. City not growing is dying. Need quality thoughtful development. Need to retain value, and eventually they will pay off. Expounds on value of mixed-use. Wants vertically integrated mixed use above retail. Mentions Sugar Land, Texas. Need a phasing plan so developers don't leave after they plan just apartments. Wants Planning Commission to study that. Asks staff, what types of developments help retain value and keep student population low? Mentions Thornwood apartment has no balconies, no exterior patios, as if that might hold its value more. My note: Does he approve of the stand-alone apartment building at Thornwood or not? I guess so. I am also wondering why a building without balconies would hold its value more? My feeling is that the higher quality steel and cement construction would likely cause the structure to last centuries, as Alderman Owens had said he wanted. Earlier, I thought he implied he wasn't fond of the apartment building at Thornwood. Is he undecided or wishy-washy? He seems to want the Planning Commission to decide everything. He is a voting member of the Planning Commission.

Alderman Rocky Janda: 1:10:13

My note: I had trouble hearing a lot of this. We aren't here to make a profit, The planning that has been done here has led to a great community, sales taxes are up, not for stand-alone apartment except for those that are part of a community, likes Thornwood, we don't need to make a profit on development, breaking even would be nice, let Planning Commission look at this,

Alderman Mary Anne Gibson: 1:13:50

As a realtor, she feels there is a bit of a difference in what young people want now, more movement, we need more diversity of housing Her key focus is schools, we do things for posterity, like her father planting a Japanese maple for the future, we need to make good decisions now for the future.  


The rest of the meeting was discussion about how long the Planning Commission can take before finalizing the decisions. Scott Sanders wanted to extend the moratorium until the Planning Commission could look at everything. The City Attorney feels that the City cannot go on indefinitely without a firm decision, and he mentioned October as enough time for the Planning Commission to come back with needed changes.

There will be a resolution that the BMA will vote on August 12, requesting *something* from the Planning Commission, likely to consider the possibility of new ordinances.


1 comment:

  1. There's a lot here that needs to be put into perspective. First, the multi-family impact study was NOT to be used as a way to say that apartments are better or that single family homes are better. It also wasn't intended to be used on a per acre basis, since that value can change a lot between developments and a unit of land area doesn't impact requests for service. One housing unit on one acre doesn't generate fewer calls than one house on a half-acre. The study based service usage on housing units, because it's people who live in housing units that make calls, and it gives us something that can be used to compare developments. If we want to know the impact of 100 apartment units to city services, we now have that information. If we want to know the impact of 100 single family homes to city services, we now know that. It looks like you're trying to be judge and jury on things that haven't even been thought of yet.

    You're acting as though GMSD is being required to use the student values the city is seeing for its own analysis. That's false. GMSD will still assume, for planning purposes, that all housing unity in the city will contribute the highest number of students per unit that we have in the city. GMSD's own figures showed that they were using a high estimator and the city's figures showed that luxury apartments bring even fewer students than we originally thought. But, that still doesn't change GMSD's planning, which assumes even luxury apartments are going to contribute as many students per unit as the highest number on the cty.