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‘Blight’ ordinance should be repealed

editorial-blight.gifThe Clarksville City Council should rescind the “blight” ordinance. Start over. Make it right for the city and its residents.

Mayor Johnny Piper made the right decision in opting to cancel the public meeting on Ordinance 73-20050-06, acting on suspicion and subsequently on information that the the Downtown District Partnership and the City Council did not practice “due diligence” or follow state law in preparing, submitting and approving this plan. Over the past six weeks, Piper fired salvos toward former DDP members, stating there “may have been instances that they [DDP] did not follow state law.”

That was one of the questions raised by members of the grassroots citizen group comprised of property owners and taxpayers, Clarksville Property Rights Coalition, who challenged the legality and the morality of the ordinance and have been proved right.

We had the opportunity to listen to residents from the affected area in a meeting last month. After reading the bill in depth and listening to everyone involved, We are fully convinced that this ordinance needs to be abjectly rejected by the County Commission and immediately repealed by the City Council. It’s a rotten piece of legislation that has the danger of being precedent setting. If it sticks, then it will be even more dangerous. Hundreds of people have been attended various meetings in the last two months regarding the ordinance. Even more have been outspoken against it, including City Mayor Johnny Piper.

This issue effects the entire city, and we believe that everyone needs to get involved. Proponents have even suggested that people from outside the affected area have little to say about it. Nashville Attorney and former Metro Council Member John Summers was also put under scrutiny. An earlier press release dispatched from City Information Officer Missy Graham’s office said that “misinformation” had been given about the ordinance. Apparently, it wasn’t misinformation after all.

We can’t see any way in which this ordinance is positive. Clause #7 is enough to send chills down anyone’s spine:

“That it is hereby found and determined that the Plan for the project area will afford maximum opportunity consistent with sound needs of the locality as a whole, for the redevelopment of the area by private enterprise.”

“In other words,” Summers said, “It’s an assemblage clause.” Since the whole area is declared “blighted,” then even if a home or business is in pristine condition and up-to-date on their taxes, it’s still subject to condemnation if it’s in a block that’s being redeveloped. Even historical homes are vulnerable. The assemblage clause includes language which allows any opportunistic developer to have pristine homes with paid-up property taxes condemned for whatever project might be planned.

As one panelist said in the recent grassroots meetings said, it’s a developer’s fantasy. That alone is enough to be highly suspicious. The last thing we need is room for more loopholes. Any redevelopment plan must be accompanied by a specific goal and area to be redeveloped. This ordinance is nothing more than a blank check that would allow developers to pursue imminent domain, and bypass the whole ‘blighted’ issue, since this ordinance declares that the entire area (with the exception of APSU) is blighted. Ward 6 Councilman Marc Harris was succinct when he described the ordinance: “It’s a mess.”

According to this language, the Courthouse is blighted. So is the new court center. And the refurbished Two Rivers Center. The brand new F&M Bank Building is even considered “blighted” in this ordinance. It’s so broadly (and badly) written, that even our city’s landmarks are subject to “blight.”

Clarksville NAACP Branch president also pointed out that Burt School is “blighted.” Wilma Rudolph’s former high school is one of the many buildings in the affected area that are at risk because of this ordinance.

One of the largest gaps is the complete open-ended conclusion of the document which literally allows for any provision possible. There are no concrete plans associated with it, which raises far more questions than answers. Tennessee Preservation Trust Executive Director Dan Brown’s assessment of the ordinance as “audacious” is, in our opinion, not strong enough. This ordinance is an atrocity.

Given the breakdown in trust between citizens and both the City Council and the DDP, amending the ordinance is not the solution.

Clearly, this ordinance was written with broad strokes to allow for a master plan to be put in action. What is that plan? Clearly, this is a framework for future use, loosely rooted in the DDP’s Land Use Master Plan but without any immediate or clearly defined purposes or projects. It defies public knowledge.

There’s no gray area here. Without any clear and specific plans attached, it’s an open-ended nightmare that’s just waiting to happen.

The ordinance needs to be repealed, now.


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