Letter to Council Members Signing Ordinance

August 17, 2017

Council Member Burkley Allen
Council Member John Cooper

Council Member Colby Sledge

Dear Council Members Allen, Cooper, and Sledge:

Following on recent community meetings, we are writing to restate our objection to the proposed construction of an indoor batting facility by Belmont University in E.S. Rose Park and to call for the rescindment of the associated Metro ordinance (BL2017-662).

The opposition to this proposed project within our Coalition remains strong and consistent. The lease amendment supported by BL2017-662 provides public park land to a private institution on terms far below market rate and, by allowing the construction of a two-story building on this land, irrevocably surrenders an important scenic and historic resource of our neighborhood and the city.

We are also deeply concerned about the process through which the lease amendment was advanced. The 2007 lease agreement includes a commitment to ongoing, reciprocal communication with the Edgehill community regarding the lease arrangement. Amending the lease without consultation of, or even accurate notification to, the Edgehill community clearly violates this commitment.

We value the connections between Belmont University and the Edgehill neighborhood that have developed both within and outside the framework of 2007 lease agreement. We are committed to the further development of Edgehill’s relationship with Belmont and seek in the rescinding of the lease amendment an opportunity to continue and renew this relationship on a genuinely mutual basis, working together toward truly common goals.

Above all, we seek in the rescinding of BL2017-662 an opportunity to work with Metro Parks toward a strategic plan for E.S. Rose Park that recognizes its central importance to our neighborhood’s history and future. Our Coalition is actively working with numerous city agencies in vital planning activities throughout Edgehill, and the stewardship of E.S. Rose Park is inseparable from this work of envisioning carefully, creatively, and ambitiously the future of our historic, diverse, and rapidly growing neighborhood.

Signed by Residents of Edgehill

 

Background of the Letter

Report for the Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition on the E.S. Rose Park Meeting at Belmont University

August 1, 2017 

As discussed at the July 20 meeting of the Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition, we attended a meeting at Belmont University on Tuesday, July 25, to discuss a revised proposal for the construction an indoor batting facility in E. S. Rose Park. The meeting was convened by Council Member Sledge following the larger meeting he had called at the Midtown Hills Police Precinct Building on Thursday, June 22, at which strong and consistent community opposition to this project was expressed.
The Belmont meeting began with a presentation of the revised proposal followed by about two hours of discussion. The revised proposal responds to a concern expressed by property owners on the northern side of Rose Park by moving the proposed building back from the property line to the park’s northeast parking lot. This would also avoid the removal of trees and the loss of existing green space.
As at the June meeting, the discussion of the proposal ranged from practical concerns to issues of process and principle. In terms of its obstruction of the view from the park to the east (including the view of Fort Negley) and the loss of parking access protected by the original lease agreement, the proposed new location is even less desirable than the site previously suggested. This led to some consideration, at least among the Edgehill group, of whether the proposed building could be relocated to the northwest parking lot and/or reduced to a one-story building (minus the Belmont offices).
Discussion of process and principles at the meeting mostly revisited points made previously. The most important of these was the lack of consultation with, or even accurate notification to, the Edgehill community prior to the submission of the lease amendment to the Metro Council. We continue to regard this as especially problematic in light of the history of our relationship with Belmont and the communication/good-faith clauses of the original Rose Park lease agreement.
One new development at the meeting was the suggestion by some community members that space for indoor baseball practice be incorporated into Metro Parks’ planned redevelopment/expansion of the Easley Center from a “Neighborhood” classification to the kind of “Regional” facility serving Hadley, Sevier, Coleman, and other parks. It was not clear if Belmont would support this idea, and we would also need to present it to the Coalition, but joint advocacy for this facility might help to build a genuinely mutual partnership with Belmont toward a truly common goal.
We value the relationship with Belmont that has developed within the framework of the original lease agreement. The amendment, however, far exceeds the purview of this agreement and violates its spirit. The amendment leases public land to a private institution on terms far below market rate and, by allowing the construction of a building on this land, irrevocably surrenders an important scenic resource of the neighborhood and the city.
We strongly recommend that the Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition call for the repeal of the lease amendment and work with Metro Parks toward a strategic vision for E.S. Rose Park informed by neighborhood and community interests. We acknowledge the potential appeal of shorter-term “fixes,” including alternatives that we considered at the meeting, but these are responses to an unanticipated and unfortunate situation rather than a positive plan for the park. Careful stewardship of E.S. Rose Park clearly falls within the responsibilities and capabilities of our Coalition, which has also proved to be a reliable partner for the city and for institutions adjacent to our neighborhood. We believe that discussions going forward should be conducted within this framework, and we recognize the present moment as critical – both to protect what remains of the park as a natural community resource and to realize its future potential.
Members of the Edgehill Coalition Rose Park Team
Joel Dark
Gigi Gaskins
King Hollands
Ronnie Miller
Ben Tran

Response to the Letter from CM Sledge

September 11, 2017

Re: E.S. Rose Park

Dear Edgehill residents and Belmont University leaders,

As many of you know, we have had continued conversations regarding Belmont University’s ground lease for E.S. Rose Park and, in particular, a recent amendment allowing construction of a proposed batting facility for Belmont’s use. These concerns originated with a previous lease that is nearly a decade old.

In 2007, the Metro Council approved an Ordinance allowing the Metropolitan Parks director to enter a lease agreement with Belmont for the use of Rose Park. A lease was subsequently executed on November 5, 2007. Under the lease agreement, Belmont was permitted to construct athletic facilities within the park for use by its sports teams, though the park was also to be made available for public use. The lease provided that Belmont would construct the athletic facilities on the property, as well as a concessions building, locker rooms and improvements to the common areas — all at its own expense. The cost of these improvements was estimated at $7 million dollars. Based on the most recent report provided this week by the Parks Department, Belmont’s financial investment to date totals more than $9.7 million, including $1.2 million in scholarships to residents of Edgehill and nearby communities.

Metro retained the authority to schedule dates and times of Belmont’s use of the park, and Belmont was to provide six months advance notice of its needs. Though Belmont was given certain priorities, it was estimated that the sports fields would be available to the community for public use at least 80 percent of the time during regular park hours. Current data from Parks indicates that Belmont has used the soccer facilities 22 percent of the time it has been available over the last 12 months; baseball, 14 percent; softball, 10 percent; and track, 9 percent.

The term of the lease was for 40 years, but under the terms of the lease, termination can occur upon one year’s written notice by either party. However, if Metro acts to terminate the lease, Metro would be required to pay Belmont the fair value of the added improvements.

In May of this year, the Council approved an amendment to the original lease agreement allowing Belmont to construct an additional improvement on the Rose Park property, specifically an 80×120 square foot building abutting the baseball field which would serve primarily as a batting cage facility. In exchange, Belmont would increase its annual lease payment by $5,000 to be divided proportionately between Metro Parks Department, Rose Park Middle School, and Carter Lawrence Elementary School.

In the ensuing months since the Council’s approval of that amendment, concerns have arisen in the community regarding the location and use of this additional facility, prompting several meetings and lengthy negotiations with Belmont University’s administration. While those discussions were conducted in good faith by all parties, I must reluctantly report that the concerns raised by the community have not been adequately addressed by Belmont, and that we have reached no compromise or solution.

As a result, I explored filing legislation calling for the Metropolitan Council to rescind its previous approval of the amendment. Upon working toward drafting this resolution, however, I was notified by Belmont legal representatives, Metro Legal representatives and Metro Council legal counsel that the road to repealing this amendment may be nearly impossible without repealing the entire lease. This is a course I don’t believe any party is suggesting, nor would I support, due in no small part to the provision that would require Metro to reimburse Belmont for improvements to the park.

In ongoing discussions with Belmont representatives and Edgehill representatives, I have secured a commitment from Belmont that the school will not move on any sort of construction for the rest of 2017. I have heard from Edgehill representatives that they desire Belmont’s active involvement in Envision Edgehill. I believe this request is reasonable and would result in better outcomes for Edgehill’s future.

Regarding the batting facility, I must ask all parties to continue to work together to determine a mutually beneficial outcome. I continue to seek community input regarding this decision and I welcome your questions and comments.

Sincerely,

Colby Sledge

Metro Council, District 17