Dear Metro Parks Board members:
Following on the request submitted last week, we are writing to state more fully our reasons for seeking a community meeting prior to Board action on the proposed E. S. Rose Park lease amendment.
As you know, Metro Parks Policy 3000.29 (“Public/Private Partnerships”) reads in part:
“In order to ensure the public interest in creating such a public/private partnership, the staff of Parks and Recreation, in conjunction with the area council representatives, will hold a minimum of two community meetings to ascertain the need for services identified to validate the assumptions. Additionally, the council representatives should endorse the planned development.”
We believe that the requirement of two community meetings does apply to Belmont University’s plans for Rose Park, that the problems resulting from not holding community meetings last year are very evident and widely acknowledged, and that these mistakes should not be repeated with the revised lease amendment.
Belmont University’s intention to construct a two-story athletics building in Rose Park and to maintain primary use of this building for over 30 years would represent a very significant private use of public land and would clearly have serious and long-term consequences for the Edgehill neighborhood.
Arguments that have been advanced against the requirement of community meetings in this case — that the lease amendment is not an RFP process and that the Parks policy only applies to “public assets which are not currently being utilized” — could also have been used in 2007 to avoid meetings regarding the original Rose Park lease.
Significantly, this did not happen. At least eight community meetings from this period are documented in the minutes of the Parks Board, and two of these, as required by the policy, were held by Metro Parks.
More importantly, the failure to hold community meetings regarding the proposed lease amendment violates the intention the Parks policy and similar provisions for the protection of public assets.
The practical consequences of neglecting or refusing to hold community meetings are clearly evident in the progress of the first Belmont building proposal through the Metro Council in 2017.
Council Member Burkley Allen, who was one of three sponsors of the bill, stated at the July 2018 Parks Board meeting:
“This is one, as many people have said, that sort of took us by surprise. When we voted ‘batting cage,’ I was thinking ‘fence,’ not ‘two-story building.’ So … we let some information not be known ahead of time ’cause it simply wasn’t clear to us.”
Nothing like this could could have happened if the Parks requirement of two community meetings — or even one community meeting — had been honored. The repeated misrepresentation of the Belmont building as a “batting cage structure” would have been immediately corrected, and Council members would have known what they were sponsoring or being asked to vote for.
The official position of the Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition and hundreds of petition signatories is that a bill passed under these conditions should be rescinded in order to allow for an open and truthful community process. Protecting this process — not its outcome — is also our purpose in requesting the two community meetings provided for by Parks policy.
We would prefer community meetings on the basis of a “reset” — as we experienced very positively in the case of Tony Rose Park — but our request to the Parks Board is simply for community meetings prior to any formal Parks Board action that would further weaken the influence of the Edgehill community in conversations and negotiations with Belmont University.
Prior to the July 2018 Parks Board consideration of Council Member Sledge’s revised lease amendment, he wrote in his newsletter:
“I’ll put it bluntly: I don’t expect this to garner a lot of community support, at least from those with whom I have conversed over the last year.”
We respect the candor reflected in this statement but believe that legislation — particularly in matters of this importance — can and should be based on community support.
The Parks Board recognized this problem at its July meeting, and Ms. Tari Hughes secured a commitment from Council Member Sledge to hold at least one community meeting. This was an enormously important positive development from our perspective. For it to have real meaning, however, the commitment needs to be kept. We are therefore requesting deferral pending at least one community meeting.
Thank you very much for your consideration, and please feel free to reach out to any of us if we can provide any further information or clarification.