Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sound County Policy On Free Lots Remains Homeless

Simply put, there is no basis for the Shelby County Board of Commissioners’ approving county government’s gift of 140 lots to Buehler Homes.

It is simply wrong on so many levels. Politically, it’s essentially the majority invoking their will on a district whose direct representative to Shelby County Board of Commissioners opposes the transfer. More to the point, that commissioner, Henri Brooks, is convincing in her concerns and compelling in her objections.

And yet, the county commissioners ignore the elected leader from North Memphis and instead take a wild gamble that these homes will not become anathema to neighborhood revitalization like so many that have gone before.

Responding to Real Plans

In the end, the biggest problem that we have with the decision of the board of commissioners is that they made it in a vacuum. We find it hard to imagine a scenario in which county government would give away 140 lots in Cordova or Midtown or University District without at least finding out about plans for those neighborhoods and without specific and detailed official public input.

After all, it’s not Shelby County Government that will deliver services or will be in charge of neighborhood revitalization efforts in the area where the new Buehler Homes are located. That’s City of Memphis. So far, we haven’t heard even a whisper of a question about how this fits into any ongoing programs funded and directed by the primary government for this area – city government.

And the commissioners’ complicity in undermining urban neighborhoods is deepened by their failure to advocate for development of the comprehensive plan for Memphis and Shelby County that is way overdue. Without a clear plan of what you are trying to achieve, a sense of what is needed and a master plan of what should be done, our community is seduced into a hodgepodge of ideas and projects.

The Real Problem

The greatest indictment of the Buehler gift is that it is next to impossible to find a professional planner or architect in the entire city who says it is a good idea. To the contrary, they point to it as the symbol of what’s wrong with decision-making about the future of neighborhoods and about the emphasis of good design overall in Memphis.

At the board of commissioners, there was of course the normal rhetoric about answering the housing demands of our neighborhoods. They need to drive into some of them. Right now, about 20% of all Memphis houses are vacant, and that number has more than doubled since 2000. Or put another way, there are now about 53,000 vacant houses in Memphis and they are inarguably seen as cancers on their neighborhoods.

We’re certain that Shelby County Government has seized many of them for non-payment of taxes, and it would seem that the vacant houses, not the vacant lots, that should get priority. We’d support Buehler getting some of them if the company would renovate them and make them presentable and habitable. Our neighborhoods have serious needs, and there is none more pressing than dealing with the vacant housing that can quickly deteriorate and become hang-outs for exactly the kind of people the neighborhoods don’t want.

Better Ideas

Meanwhile, Sustainable Shelby talks a lot about urban gardening and farming. Perhaps, county government should walk the talk and use the lots for an innovative program for inner city residents to grow crops and set up co-ops. Who knows? Different kind of thinking could get a different answer, one that could even have national implications.

As the saying goes, if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. As long as county government thinks that it’s objective is to get rid of lots no matter what, it’s destined to make short-sighted decisions. Everything in a city is connected, and unless you look at an issue within the larger frame, you really haven’t looked at it at all.

Shelby County Government is in the prime negotiating position, so why not leverage Buehler Homes’ work inside Memphis to improve neighborhood character with renovated existing housing? If he can improve those county-owned vacant homes, we’re all for giving them to him and waiving taxes for five years, because at least in that way, he’s fulfilling a serious civic priority and neighborhood need.

It’s Policy, Stupid

Buehler Homes is not a social services agency. His business model makes him money and more power to him for that. But if his business model is to include the gift of public property, his product should respond directly to a serious public need and an official neighborhood revitalization plan.

In our form of government, the legislative branch sets policies that the executive branch carries out. Unfortunately, the vote on Beuhler Homes was about everything but sound public policy. It was treated as a political transaction. It was treated as a public relations exercise.

But it all obscures the truth. The board of commissioner’s decision on the 140 lots was anything but good policy. Usually, good policy is made in context and with an assessment of all available resources. In this instant, that context would have been a full understanding of neighborhood revitalization plans of City of Memphis and other relevant entities. It would also involve an inventory of resources and services as well as identifying the pressing needs of the area.

A Modest Proposal

Rather than do any of that, the board of commissioners has effectively plopped down houses all over North Memphis with no regard for any existing plans and without any response to a well-crafted strategic plan of action. It’s haphazard and it’s not strategic for neighborhoods whose futures have always gotten short shrift and given long odds.

It would seem prudent and logical that before Shelby County Government gives away any more lots inside the city limits of Memphis, it would adopt two overriding policies:

One, no county-owned property will be given to any person or any company that owes delinquent property taxes (Buehler Homes’ bill is just south of $1 million).

Two, no county-owned property will be given to any person or any company without consultation with City of Memphis to determine if the county’s action is consistent with programs that are under way.

Most of all, we hope that future decisions like this won’t be treated as if they’re about a political end game rather than about reaching the wisest possible public policy.


Anonymous said...

This transaction stinks. I can't even imagine the promises made between commissioners and Buehler representatives to get this deal done. Who wins on this one? Certainly not the people of these neighborhoods. Here's betting that Buehler and his buddies make off like bandits and the taxpayers, once again, are left holding the tab. And to think we elected the seven county commissioners who voted for this deal. Barf!

Zippy the giver said...

I agree, this is a stupid move and supported by the statement, "it's the only option on the table" well, so what?
What's the rush that a bad deal is so good.
This clown doesn't pay his taxes.
He should pay full retail.
I never agree with Brooks but I think she's on the money this time.
Big Question:
What are they countering with this deal.

Save This MG said...

Where were the counter proposals? Who else had stepped forward to take on the project of either rehabbing the houses or rebuilding?

Were we just as upset when homes and businesses were seized to make uptown or were we OK with it because we happened to like the developer to whom the city gave the property?

Aaron said...

It's not about who we like it's about showing some good leadership and refusing to reward someone who is not paying his taxes. You know this is stuff our parents teach us...or not.

Smart City Consulting said...

Here's the difference. There was a comprehensive plan for Uptown. It had been accepted by both governments and every one knew what the goals were. It was strategic and it was clear and everyone was on the same page.

All the things that this transaction isn't.

Anonymous said...

There's no doubt in my mind Memphis has a death wish.

In my 23 years here, I have NEVER seen ANY city do its utmost best to destroy itself at each and every turn.

Education, crime, racial issues, poor investments, curroption, land use, the things that OTHER cities have got a handle on, we seem to WALLOW in.

And repeat over and over again !


I absolutly believe this town is doomed to hell. There's no getting better, and each day gets worse.

Remember the factoid about 3 middle class families per day leaving ?

There goes your tax base.

What happens when it flips and the havenots outnumber the haves that have up and left.

Who is going to bail Memphis out ?

NO ONE, thats who !!

Anonymous said...

You don't suppose that money could have been behind this do you? I mean just because Buehler's lobbyist, David Upton, had political connections couldn't be the reason at all could it?

Just because Steve Mulroy owed Upton big time, former enemies Upton and Chism have kissed and made up, that Chism has his two bitches on the commission (Gibson and Kuhn)...... nooooooooo, none of that had anything to do with it.

Upton used his sweetness to charm all 7 of them to earn his meager wage with no political contributions promised to any of them, or to Chism's new bitch, Harold Byrd.

Anonymous said...

140 lots times $350/year cleanup/cutting costs to SC gummint
is why this 'debacle' was allowed to happen.

the anciliary benefit to the neighborhoods will be a free supply of construction materials for several months.

Zippy the giver said...

I think a felony bribery or corruption charge could come out of this, it was very obviously against the public's best interest and against it's wishes. The county should also call for the ouster of those two idiots.
What would have been on the public's interest?
Buehler paying his taxes!
Seriously, this is begging for an investigation, TBI or FBI?

Zippy the giver said...

I paid one person to vote against a criminally bad deal for the county, I paid 7 to vote yes, I paid one to be vocally against and make it public news, but, not vote, one to to abstain from voting though it's clearly not in anyone's best interest but mine and everyone should have voted no.
I'm going to get rich off this and you will now get stiffed, because I have no intention of delivering on this. I had people get mad publicly about how it should go through, I even convinced people who it would be in their personal best interest to be against it and speak out to be on my side.
You guys are going to get stiffed, I'll get caught and the money, follow the money, will go somewhere. This is the oldest trick in the book, it's old time Memphis corruption.
I'm going to make sure none of the people who think the will get the money get stimulated.

SavethisMG, this is not a project that was called for to be done, this is subversion of federal funds, again. This time it's being reported BEFORE distribution.

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