Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Halbert asks Lendermon about the Cobblestones

At the full City Council Meeting on June 16, 2009, with respect to the final approval of the 2010 City budget, Councilperson Wanda Halbert had some questions for Benny Lendermon of the Riverfront Development Corporation regarding the Master Plan, the Cobblestones, and the use of Federal money.

Halbert's questions centered around two concerns: (1) Have there been changes between the original Master Plan, approved by City Council in 2002, and the current plan for the Cobblestones project? And, (2) Are there Federal monies involved and how might any such changes affect, or be affected by, such funding?

Continues... Below is a transcript of their exchange.

WANDA HALBERT: There's a Master Plan. And I've asked questions about that and at some point we're going to have to talk about that Master Plan, but there have been some changes that have occurred. With those changes, with that Master Plan have we collected federal monies for some of the projects that have been involved?

BENNY LENDERMON: The Master Plan includes a list of a number of possible projects that the City can opt to pursue or not pursue. And this Council has chosen to pursue some of those projects that have included Federal funds.

HALBERT: When we secure those Federal funds for the projects, if there is a change, are there any requirements?

LENDERMON: The Council totally dictates what we do or don't do. The Master Plan was approved by City Council, but the projects come individually to you and you choose to do the project or not. And to be perfectly honest, it doesn't make any difference. If you want to do a project in Master Plan or do a project not in Master Plan, you have the ability to do that.

HALBERT: The reason I asked the question: Normally when you receive funding from government, historically it's usually specified what you are going to use that funding for. The question came up to me and I didn't know how to answer it -- I think it was particularly the cobblestone project -- that we received some federal funding along with our local funding and some changes were made from the initial Master Plan, so the question then was asked of me, can you change a project that you have submitted to the Federal government to secure funding?

LENDERMON: I understand the question better. The Federal funds we receive are for...are targeted to specific projects, have nothing to do with what's in the Master Plan. Which you request. And you've received funds for specifically Beale Street Landing, you received funds for Cobblestones, we've recieved funds for a couple of other projects. The federal funds have certain stipulations tied to them. I don't think there's [unintelligible] within our original request from the fed. government, which dictates what those funds can be used for. Specifically on the cobblestones, understanding where the question is probably coming from now, there's some disagreement where...what is to be done on the cobblestones.

There will be, there's been a lot of discussion already. We were in Nashville 2-3 weeks ago meeting with the State Historic Preservation Office, Federal Highway, TN Department of Transportation. There will be at least one public meeting in this city, which we will talk about that again. There are some preliminary plans, which we [would] like to do, talking about how we deal with the cobblestones. Some people have issues with that. There will be a public forum for discussing that. The City Council will probably get a chance to review that at least twice before we move forward and give your input to make sure you are satisfied with what we are doing. And bottom line is whatever we do has to be in accordance with what the federal government gave us the money to do.

HALBERT: Correct. And just as a final caveat: I'm going to support this budget. But when there are changes in that Master Plan or any designs that the City Council has previously approved, we need to have in committee the specifics of those changes as a request to the Council, not necessarily tied up in the funding amount, because, being here relatively...a year and half, I'm not exactly sure what the history is all about, but there seems to be some external concerns and some decisions have been changing from the initial concept.

LENDERMON: That will all come back to...I guess it will be to Councilman Strickland's committee. At the point in time when this project goes forward and those changes will be there which some of you may want to embrace or not embrace or change or whatever, but we do nothing without Council approval.

Summary: As to the first question, Mr. Lendermon suggested that any differences between the Master Plan and the project plan(s) shouldn't matter, since the City Council has the opportunity to specifically approve each project plan.

As to the second question, Mr. Lendermon said that several projects have received Federal funding. He made it clear that Federal funding and any stipulations therein, would be tied to the project itself, not to the Master Plan. Therefore, changes if any from the Master Plan would have no bearing. It only matters whether the project plan itself meets the stipulations and requirements of such funding.

Ms. Halbert then made the point that City Council needs to be specifically informed about changes in plans, whether between the Master Plan and the project plan, or in subsequent versions of a previously-approved project plan. Mr. Lendermon assured her that City Council would have the opportunity to "embrace or not embrace change or whatever."

What is not clear from Mr. Lendermon's answer is whether there have been previous instances of projects that incorporated substantive changes vis-a-vis the 2002 Master Plan, and if so, whether City Council was specifically informed about the changes before approving them.

In this writer's opinion, Beale Street Landing is one such an instance. I do not believe it was ever pointed out to City Council that Beale Street Landing deviates in key respects from the Master Plan of 2002. Rather, the City Council was repeatedly told that the project carried out the vision of the Master Plan they had already approved.

Had these changes from the Master Plan been pointed out to the Council members, would they still have approved Beale Street Landing?

Furthermore, the "draft" plan for the Cobblestone area incorporates the same changes from the vision of the Master Plan, and gives finality to them. If City Council approves the plans substantially as they are now, the deviations from the Master Plan will be "cast in concrete" (pun intended).

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