With support from Newsom Station residents, the Metro Planning Commission eliminated a Bellevue development project contracted to Olde Mill Partners of Franklin for its lack of progress, which neighbors say turned out to be the best possible outcome.
Councilmember Dave Rosenberg — in whose district the land sits and has been awaiting development for 14 years — first established the proposal to designate the development “inactive” on Jan. 11, 2021. Newsom Station residents had been vehemently opposed to its development for years already.
Since 2007, the project threatened to bring some 250 to 300 new homes right across the street from Newsom Station, a neighborhood so well established and fundamental to Nashville that a 2015 Neighborhood Nostalgia article in GCA News characterized it as instrumental to the early settlement of Bellevue itself.
When Rosenberg’s agenda item opened for public comment, several Newsom Station residents voiced their concerns.
“I’m calling in opposition because this area floods three to four times a year,” Catherine A. Epstein said in a virtual forum, “and also the overburdening of Newsom Station Road traffic.”
The issues she highlighted proved thematic for most residents who called into the public hearing for Rosenberg’s proposal.
Mark Tye, a 13-year resident of the Merrymount Acre Subdivision adjacent to the development site, added a more anecdotal parallel to the same explanation.
“During the 2010 disastrous flood event, our subdivision off of Newsom Station Road was totally inaccessible by fire, ambulance, police and utility services due to the high water on Highway 70 to a point just west of Fire Station 34.”
“The seven-inch rain event of a few Saturdays ago again left us, as I like to call it, an island in the storm, as Newsom Station Road flooded once again,” Tye added. “This is not an isolated event as it frequently happens.”
Rosenberg told Williamson Home Page this was hardly the only unwanted development pressure Newsom Station had seen in recent years — such as a project poised to develop townhomes off of the same road, approved earlier in the same hearing. But as the Olde Mill development had been looming for so long, this was an ideal opportunity to undo what he viewed as an unwise zoning decision that allowed a developer to attempt to build it up in the first place.
“The [specific plan] is inconsistent because neighborhood maintenance calls for low- to medium-density residential, moderate spacing between residences, […] This is significantly denser.”
While Olde Mill Partners of Franklin was the listed developer on the project, there’s been no evidence of work being done onsite. Rosenberg’s proposal was that, upon demonstration of no development occurring within four years of the original plan approval, an auspicious section of a long-established metro zoning ordinance be used to initiate a periodic review that labeled the project inactive, permitting Metro Council to proceed in the future with rezoning efforts.
The criteria in that section of Metro Code include whether or not a minimum of four years have elapsed since initial approval, amendment of the plan, re-approval thereof or the passing of Metro Council’s deadline on making decisions regrading the plan or the property. Despite re-approval in 2011, far more than four years had passed since even then.
Virtually all developments classified as “specific plans” can be subjected to periodic review this way according to Section 17.40.106 I, but another subsection therein provided an out for the developers, stating that Metro Council could also consider the aggregate of actions over the course of the past year when determining activity or inactivity.
That subsection listed several forms of activity that, if executed within the last 12 months, could potentially justify the project as active in spite of all other periods of inactivity thus far. The activities that take precedence are forms of onsite construction or offsite improvements that support the specific plan.
Meritage Homes contracted Olde Mill Partners for the development project originally, and they retained Tune, Entrekin & White, P.C. to defend the development project before Council — the same well-oiled legal machine on whom Amazon relied to push Tennessee’s biggest development project past Mt. Juliet’s Board of Commissioners.
TEW Law sent a letter to Metro Planning Chair Greg Atkins, which argued that “there has been a tremendous amount of activity related to the development of this [project] over the last 12 months or so” and that there was “no basis to declare this [project] inactive.”
They also contended that, in the last year, core drilling had been done onsite for a bridge that was supposed to span over a CSX railroad as well as consultations with Army Corps of Engineers, the Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation, CSX Railroad, TN Parks Dept., Metro Planning staff, Metro Stormwater Mgmt. and Metro Public Works.
In lieu of strong words, though, the Olde Mill’s legal representation conceded at the hearing that no work had been done onsite. George Dean, an attorney with TEW Law, said, “We represent the owner, and he’s opposed to the cancellation of the planned unit development. Having said that, I do want to say that the staff’s presentation was fair; there has not been work on the site.”
Metro Planning unanimously voted to designate the project inactive based on not only staff’s recommendation but also the anticlimactic legal defense. Other developments were approved that inflame the same concerns residents of Newsom Station Road subdivisions voiced in opposition to the Olde Mill project, but according to Council maintained that inactivity was the primary reason for objection to this one.