As details of the recent City Council action in approving Ordinance 73-2005-06 unfold, residents of the two-square mile downtown district now deemed “blighted” awakened to what is perceived as a potential threat to their homes and neighborhoods in form of “redevelopment” and eminent domain. The Council quietly whispered through the new ordinance and the people roared back their displeasure in the form of grassroots meetings and the beginnings of a sign campaign that touts the area as “Blightville.”
The City Council, which had considered the plan a done deal, is now facing the need to justify the Downtown Redevelopment Plan. They will respond to an angry constituency with a meeting of their own, a public forum to be held in January on a yet to be determined date and time and location. The Council hearing will be led by an as yet unnamed attorney. They’ll need a big room, since the opposition is growing steadily, as noted with the three hundred people who showed up for the December 17 petition drive at the Historic Train Station on Tenth Street.
Brainchild of the Downtown District partnership, the plan includes a tax-incentive financing package meant to boost private development in an extensive downtown area including Dog Hill, Emerald Hill, Red River and Brandon Hills. The plan also deemed everything except Austin Peay State University “blighted.”Many of the people living in these areas object to the term blighted, and to language that states property may be taken by eminent domain “to provide for the redevelopment of vacant and underutilized land” and to “eliminate structures not suitable for rehabilitation.” It also allows for “assemblage,” in which the taking by eminent domain of perfectly good property is allowed and facilitated if necessary of perfectly good property in order to assemble the land needed for larger projects, including those by private developers.
The uproar by an angered constituency forced the Council to respond, and they have done so by announced their own forum on the issue. Much of the council has endorsed the upcoming meeting as a way to clear the air.While some council members continue to speak in favor of the ordinance, Ward 6 Councilman Marc Harris has called for its repeal. He acknowledged that while there are parcels of lands that are clearly blight, or simply lying fallow and in need of development, the blanket designation of the entire downtown area as blighted was simply “not right.”
Atty. John Summers of Nashville, said in two community sponsored meetings that comparisons to plans in Nashville show distinct differences in both size and scope of the projects. Nashville’s seven redevelopment districts each had a project, and specific plan, for what was to happen. Where’s the [specific] plan here?”
The Clarksville Property Rights Coalition, sponsor of the Train Station community meeting, has collected signatures of irate resident and homeowner throughout the area for submission to city and county officials. NAPA Auto Parts briefly displayed a Welcome to Blightville sign on their frontage but it was removed Saturday night.
Coalition members are cataloging signatures and going door to door to contact all homeowners in the area and have vowed to continue their quest for a repeal of the ordinance.