Friday, February 21, 2020

The End Game- Water Tower, Athletic Fields, Land Swap, Campaign Donors

Corinne Kennedy of the Commercial Appeal, reported yesterday afternoon that the City revealed an agreement on a proposal for a far less onerous location for the water tower  than the one discussed by the BMA. Now the tower would be on Poplar Pike rather than by Forest Hill Elementary School, a move that I actually suggested in my last blog post on this subject

The City seems to be favoring the Commercial Appeal lately, as Germantown's controversial (prestigious, or pay-to-play?) Baldrige award was also first reported by her. I have no problem with Ms. Kennedy. Both she and Abigail Warren of the Daily Memphian are doing excellent reporting. In particular, Ms. Warren's in-depth reporting on school system issues and this land swap deal is appreciated. Again, I urge readers to support both news sources by subscribing to their publications, as both make my job so much easier, and you will benefit from reading about the City from their articles. 

Having said that, the release of this "deal" to the Commercial Appeal ignores the BMA. Apparently at least some of the aldermen had not been told about these dealings, and had to find out about the new proposed location of the water tower from the newspaper. That is emblematic of the dysfunctional nature of our City government. I will leave it at that.

Here is a link to the story:

Water Tower Would Have New Location in Revised Land Exchange  

After the story came out, the City released the packet for the aldermen for BMA meeting on Monday.

Abigail Warren of the Daily Memphian reported on the story last night: 
Germantown to Vote on Revised Land Swap

Graphic from the Facebook Group Developments in Germantown, TN-DIG
From what I understand, Mr. John Duke, who owns property by Forest Hill Elementary, approached the City and suggested a land swap after the original proposal passed the BMA. He would give up five acres of land on Poplar Pike in exchange for three acres of land owned by GMSD adjacent to his planned upscale home development. Twelve acres of GMSD land by Forest Hill Elementary would be transferred to the City for a "nature preserve." The other part of the deal, the transfer of land to GMSD for the high school athletic fields, would remain the same as reported here. Therein lies the rub. 

First of all, the new location of the water tower is exactly what I was hoping for at this point. Keep in mind, though, that the administration has screwed up just about everything that led up to this.The original insistence by the City was that the new elementary school property be on Winchester. There was no formal land search, no public input, and only three days notice before a BMA vote. And at no time did the City reveal publicly that there was to be a water tower by the school. When asked why 30 acres was needed for a school site, Mayor Palazzolo simply said it was traditional to have a public park by our schools. Because of citizen pushback against the Winchester School site, a task force was appointed to conduct a formal property search. The Winchester site that had been touted as the only site available by Mayor Palazzolo did not even make it into the top three sites selected by the task force.

It was only a deep dive into open records requests by citizens that first revealed that a water tower by the elementary school was planned by the City.-- again, there was no public announcement, and certainly there were no public meetings, only private conversations between GMSD and the City (no surprise, the City leaders live and breathe secrecy). 

A water tower in the midst of an upscale, settled neighborhood and directly by a school is and was completely unacceptable and never should have been an option. Nevertheless, without appropriate authorization, the City built now useless infrastructure for the water tower. This industrial-sized water pipe cost citizens over $232,000. The payment for the pipe was all so underhanded that the Comptroller of the State had to be contacted to figure out how correct the fiscal mess that was created. This is all discussed BMA Meeting Reveals City Illegally Ordered GMSD Utility Pipe. Given all that, I am happy and relieved about the new proposed water tower site. Yes, it would have been far less costly and caused less angst to be upfront about the water tower from the get go, but, the City only knows how to operate behind the veil. 

But is a water tower needed at all? Taxpayers are funding it, but the need for a water tower is due to land development in the Forest Hill area, not for current taxpayers. In his election campaign, Mayor Palazzolo promised to look into fiscal impact fees for developers, but of course nothing has been done on this front. Furthermore, no studies were undertaken to determine if water pumps would be a more viable and palatable option than a tower.

The Athletic Fields by HHS and a Taxpayer Squeeze

Although I laud the new proposed water tower location, GMSD should not allow itself to be bamboozled into accepting the  offer for the transfer of land. It is offered exclusive use only one field by HHS for Girl's softball in exchange for a total of 15 acres of GMSD land by Forest Hill Elementary School.  GMSD would only be able to use other fields when the City is not using them. GMSD will likely need another field for lacrosse in the near future. Yes, the plan includes an eventual transfer of all the property involved by HHS to GMSD, but the school system will likely need more fields sooner rather than later.  

This proposed contract is so lopsided that GMSD should not even consider it. The City is forcing on GMSD a shortage of fields. Why? BECAUSE THAT IS PROBABLY THE ONLY WAY THE CITY PLAN FOR AN ATHLETIC COMPLEX COULD BE PASSED! All of this has to do with the Parks Plan proposal for a tournament level athletic complex south of Winchester. This was likely a promise to various large campaign donors that own property in the area. Please see Candidate Financial Disclosures in the 2018 election.
 That part of the City has been slow to develop--hence a few years ago the City created a "Smart Growth" zoning district in the area, so that apartment complexes could be built. Viridian, a proposal on the border with Collierville, is exempt from recent zoning changes that ban "stand-alone" apartment complexes. Of course, a water tower was needed for all the planned developments! Since the City has no fiscal impact fees for developers, the taxpayers foot the bill.   

AND the City wants to buy land for an athletic complex, likely from Forest Hill Associates, an LLC. Most citizens are skeptical about the financial viability of such a complex, particularly because the much larger Mike Rose complex is so near. The easiest way to get the athletic complex passed is to put the squeeze on GMSD athletic space. There will thus be public pressure from GMSD supporters for the athletic complex, so that HHS will no longer have to share fields with the City. The taxpayer cost for all the plans to benefit landowners in southeast Germantown is enormous-- the water tower, the unneeded pipe, the land for the athletic complex, plus all the the ongoing expenses of development and the complex. Please keep in mind that the citizens have not been shown a cost/benefit analysis for the athletic complex. Please also keep in mind that the planned $2.5 million dollar outdoor addition to GPAC has burgeoned to $7.5 million dollars, so I  would NOT trust City estimates in any case. The City has a very poor record in containing costs.

As a confirmation that the City is forcing GMSD into a shortage of fields, astonishingly, the new plans for Riverdale Park actually include removal of the softball field located there!  Why can't there be continued use of that field, so that the use of more fields by HHS is available for the schools?

Plans for Riverdale Park Remove the Softball Field

Our City leaders are putting the squeeze on GMSD athletics and City taxpayers by trying to force upon us a tournament level athletic complex in order to benefit landowner campaign donors in southeast Germantown. 



  1. There's a lot of things wrong with this post, but the one I have time for now is the purpose of the water tower. The tower is NOT being built for new development -- it's being built because our current infrastructure is long overdue for one. The Commercial Appeal had a great article about this. With our current main tank holding only enough water for a few hours of standard consumption, our water system is at risk if electrical failures happen at the water treatment plants. If the main tank is out of service for routine maintenance, the reserve tank can't hold enough water to supply homes AND fight a medium sized house fire. If there were two house fires in town, we would run out of water and put everyone's homes and health at risk.

    You've said before that underground electric pumps were the answer. For that to work, we would need several stations around the city (each occupying a whole acre that can have nothing else located on it). Currently, there's not that much unoccupied land in the necessary places. Also, new underground piping would be needed which is tremendously expensive. Is it responsible to pay hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, when many times less will function better?

    BTW, the BMA never voted on a location for a water tower. They voted on a land swap with GMSD, but the location for a water tower hasn't come up for a vote yet. You should correct your post to reflect the truth.

  2. That begs the question.........if our water system is in such a great need of a water tower, how in the world did the City get superior ratings for it? I actually heard the City engineer brag about the high ratings the City water system received? Can we not trust rating agencies? Well, that would not surprise me.

    Surely we have plans for loss of electricity?? Generators?? Good grief one bad ice storm and we would be doomed without a backup plan.

    I am fine with the water tower location now that it has moved. I have no issue with it, other than we do not require fiscal impact fees, and I do not like the agreement on the fields at HHS. Of course, I do not see how Collierville and Memphis do without many of them, but whatever. A water tower on Poplar Pike won't look bad. That is where it should have been planned all along, if the City needs it.

    Yes, there was never a vote by the BMA to put the water tower anywhere specific, which is why it was so astonishing to find out that industrial sized pipes were ordered without authorization, and now the taxpayers have to foot the bill.

  3. I forgot to add that I viewed the Planning Commission meeting about Viridian and there was a lot of conversation about water pressure. It was stated that the water system was not adequate for all the development being planned in the area, and the water pressure would be too low. I would say it is disingenuous to argue that our highly rated water system does not need the water tower for future development. It does. The developers should pay fiscal impact fees.

  4. The city got superior ratings for delivering high quality water in a safe and reliable manner. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't prepare for emergencies. It's been known and publicized since the since the 1980s that we needed additional storage and redundancy in the water system. In 2004, the process for an additional water tower was begun -- and shot down by residents in 2006. This was all before Smart Growth even entered the picture. If potential growth south of Winchester after 2020 were really the driver, why was the issue being discussed 30+ yrs ago? Your characterization doesn't match reality.

    Also, the prudent thing to do is to prepare for emergencies. There was a CA article just about a week ago with warnings from Germantown flood victims to prepare for emergencies. Although it's exceedingly rare that we'll experience another 1000-yr rainfall again (4 months worth of rain in 1 hr), they're warning others to be prepared. Perhaps you would like to tell them how you think that being prepared isn't necessary.

    On the parkland swap, it was conceived by the school district as a way to give all parties what they want until the city can acquire more parkland. It's interesting that you say you stick up for the schools, but you're arguing against what they said they wanted. If I'm not mistaken, you also strongly opposed the City giving parkland to GMSD for the FES playground for 6 hrs/day during the schoolyear, claiming that schools shouldn't take away parkland from the city. Now, you're demanding that the city take away parkland and give it to the schools.

    It looks like the only consistency in your narrative is that you want ot oppose whatever's presented.

  5. Again, I learned from the Planning Commission meeting I attended that a water tower was necessary for water pressure for development in the area. The City may have desired one on the past for more redundancy, but the development makes it absolutely necessary. Why do we not have fiscal impact fees so developers share the cost?

    I have no problem with giving the schools what they need. If you actually read what I wrote, the City is not giving HHS enough of what it needs. And the City plans to remove the softball field at Riverdale Park, forcing more of a shortage of fields. WHY? And why should GMSD have to pay for upkeep of fields they cannot use?

    All this is to force a shortage of fields everywhere, so that purchase of more land for another Germantown boondoggle is made necessary, benefiting donors of course. I am not at all inconsistent. I feel a reasonable accommodation was finally made at Farmington. The first proposal was ridiculous, banning the public from the park they had enjoyed for decades. That really has nothing to do with sports fields.

  6. Whether new development places higher demands on the water system or not is a moot point. The city is obligated to provide water service to residents and businesses, who then pay for the water they use. If you add a person to your household, should you be charged more money on top of the additional rate you'll be paying?

    It also doesn't make sense that the city has identified a need for an additional water tower for the last 40 some years, but you think that it's only recent development that necessitates it. You're grasping at straws.

    The land swap is a compromise between entities that allows GMSD to meet its Title XI obligations and allows City of Germantown to meet its Parks obligations. This was a swap that GMSD came up with and gave their full support to. Perhaps you don't like it, but if GMSD likes it and City of Germantown likes it, I think that outweighs your dislike. It's no different than you disliking what I'm eating for breakfast.

  7. I disagree. If we had needed a water tower that much then we would have built it 40 years ago. It may have been desired, but it was not needed. A fiscal impact fee would take the burden of infrastructure off the taxpayer, and put in on the developer where it belongs.

    If GMSD wants to vote for this, and it meets their needs, it is fine with me. It is obvious the school board was not going to vote for the first option, which was horrible. There were a number of changes to the latest agreement with regard to the use of the fields that make it more palatable. They will have to address security issues about the new park, and usage there. I do believe the use of two fields could have been given to the schools without pairing it to the water tower, but I am not dead set against their voting for this version if they want it.

    But the BMA should have turned this down! Anything that enables a water tower there should be postponed until a fiscal impact fee can be put into place. However, the fiscal impact fee does not involve the school system so I can understand why they would not consider it.

  8. If your logic were correct, the tower would be built now and nobody would object. the reason that it wasn't built before was caving to public objection and kicking the can down the road. At the 2/24 BMA meeting, Bo Mills gave a detailed account of what happened in 2014 when the City nearly ran out of water. Power went out at the Southern Ave treatment plant. Two separate backup systems failed, so the main water tower couldn't be re-filled. The underground pump station at Johnson Rd Park (which was the compromise reached to appease naysayers in 2006) wasn't strong enough to re-fill the tower and supply water to the rest of Germantown. The water level in the tower dropped into the neck and the pressure was so low that nearby residents had no water pressure in the second story of their homes. If a fire had broken out somewhere, there wouldn't have been enough water to fight the fire.

    I think that scenario is what turned the tide for our leadership. years ago, it may have been considered showing leadership to install subpar compromises to appease naysayers and NIMBYs. Today, I think it's recognized that leadership is doing the right thing, even when it's not popular. Protecting our citizens and our water system is far more important than somebody whining about seeing a tower from their neighborhood.

    The idea that you and Massey/Sanders have about banning the citizens from a park so that the high school can use the fields is ridiculous. I was talking to someone just last night who said that his 8 yr old daughters' softball league plays at those fields and that it wouldn't be fair to yank that out from under them and hand it to the school. He liked the idea that the schools and the parks dept can live and play together until a new site for the park can be found. The kids liked that idea. I wonder why kids can get along better than adults can ............

    I think the other Anonymous poster above was correct. It seems hypocritical that you opposed allowing the schools block off a part of Farmington Park only for the school day, but you're more than happy to allow Houston High to take over an entire park all the time and kick out the little kids who's softball league plays there. Where's your advocacy for those citizens?

    1. Bo Mills should investigate Fuel Cell Energy. They have systems to power water treatment plants and are doing it successfully, most recently in California.

      Don't hide behind "Anonymous". If you have credibility, identify yourself...

  9. Please keep in mind that I do not object to a water tower in the new location. I simply object to a water tower that is not subject to a fiscal impact fee from developers.

    It is concerning that two backup systems failed. Shouldn't they be regularly tested to make sure they are in working order? It seems that if they were, it is highly unlikely that they would both fail at the same time.