Development Pressure: 1980 to Present
In 1989 Metro Council approved a new landfill in Bells Bend, designed to replace the one just down the road in Bordeaux. The site was owned by Eastman-Kodak—a chemical plant that was never built—and a group called Spicewood Services optioned 1300 acres and planned to fill in Poplar Hollow with garbage and build a garbage pyramid. Joined by Native Americans, upset by the possibility of disturbing graves in the area, local activists formed the Scottsboro-Bells Bend Defenders. The Defenders pointed out unmapped creeks and bogs, plus the proximity to JohnTuneAirport, and led a (very slow) tractor parade downtown to City Hall. Eventually protesters physically blocked drilling rigs, sent to obtain core samples from the site, and thirty were arrested.
Ultimately the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation determined that the rocky landscape was not suitable for a landfill. A different pyramid design was proposed, then a private landfill, and finally the city simply bought the property, which, nearly twenty years later, has become BellsBendPark.
There were rumors about a car racetrack, but this was eventually built on the other side of Nashville.
Sewer Treatment Plant
The Harpeth Valley Utility District proposed a sewer treatment plant, which was contested but eventually built. Sewerage is piped under the Cumberland, treated in Bells Bend, and sent back to HarpethValley. To pacify the community, afraid of subdivision sprawl, the utility promised never to provide sewer service to the Bells Bend area.
Bells Landing (2005)
In 2005, an investment group calling itself Bells Landing optioned 800 acres and planned a clustered development of 2000 houses and condominiums, later downsized to 1200 units—a radical change to this community of about 150 homes, and a logistical problem, given its location at the end of five miles of two-land road.
Deeply concerned about the density of the project and its expected trigger of urban sprawl, the community rallied again, attending meetings with developers and neighbors as well as a hearing before the Metro Nashville Planning Commission in 2006. Ultimately, the proposal was not approved.
Motivated by the realization that it was time to become proactive in protecting the rural community, from October, 2007- April, 2008 residents worked closely with the Metro Nashville Planning Department to develop a Detailed Design Plan that provided much greater detail of an area representing a small portion of the larger Bordeaux Whites Creek Community Plan (http://www.nashville.gov/Portals/0/SiteContent/Planning/docs/subarea3/Scottsboro_Bells_
Bend_DDP_Adopted_Web_Version.pdf) This plan describes in some detail the existing rural character of the area, the important sites and characteristics that should be protected as well as the type and location of appropriate development. This plan provides the first formal attempt to flesh out the idea of a Third Way—neither sprawl nor an impossible nostalgia, frozen in time.
May Town Center
The neighbors were incensed when the Detailed Design Plan as finally proposed by the Planning Department included a large “black hole”—hundreds of acres deep in the Bend to which the plan would not apply.
And into that “black hole” (referred to by the Planning Department as the Alternative Development Area) came May Town Center —Bells Landing investors connecting with Frank and Jack May to design a $4-billion extravaganza, as large as downtown Nashville, with 8000 condos, 600,000 square feet of retail space, plans for 40,000 office jobs, and country campuses for corporate headquarters. The May brothers never met with the community, and hired-gun developer Tony Giarratana represented the project, which featured, at different times, one, two, or three bridges across the Cumberland River, a donation of floodplain to Tennessee State University, and a slick website.
Polls showed that, although roughly 10% of residents thought that this type of development would bring long-delayed opportunities to the area, the majority felt that May Town Center would ultimately destroy the rural community they loved. Businessmen, nature lovers, and neighborhood activists across Middle Tennessee rallied against the project for many reasons—that it would be bad for business elsewhere in Nashville, that infrastructure costs were unknown but would be large, that a city should not be built in a cow pasture across from an environmental park when the urban core of the city was full of “brown fields” and areas ideal for infill development.
There are many fascinating substories— push-polls by outside firms hired by the Mays, offers by the Mays to donate land to a university and build a bridge across the Cumberland River, a trip to Reston, Virginia, undocumented box graves on the site, whooping cranes who helpfully appeared near the site, (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/01/us/01crane.html?_r=0) unrealistic and economic projections including calculation of actual increase in tax revenues (less than 1%), (An Assessment and Analysis of May Town Center: Economic Impact Analysis for Bell’s Landing Partners) flight paths from the airport over the site—and there were several very lengthy hearings, at which local residents faithfully appeared, clad in signature light-green T-shirts. (http://www.nashvillescene.com/nashville/road-kill/Content?oid=1197156) (http://nashvillecitypaper.com/content/city-news/zeitlin-sues-may-family-and-bells-landing-partners-over-may-town-center-project)
Ultimately, in June, 2009, at the end of a 6-hour public hearing before a packed chamber, the Planning Commission voted, by one vote, not to approve May Town Center and the Alternative Development Area. The remainder of the Detailed Design Plan which spelled out details for protecting the land was approved. The May Town Center proposal was scheduled for one last appearance before the Metro Council the proposal was withdrawn.
Currently there are no public plans for large-scale development, and the Third Vision is unfolding: a growing number of organic farms, a couple of planned orchards, a steady schedule of events and programs at both Bells Bend and Beaman (http://www.nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation/Nature-Centers-and-Natural-Areas/Beaman-Park-Nature-Center/Beaman-Park.aspx) (http://www.nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation/Nature-Centers-and-Natural-Areas/Bells-Bend-Outdoor-Center/Bells-Bend-Park.aspx) a long term plan to reinstate the ferry, create greenways along the river and a cross-country trail that links the 2 parks. There are currently over 350 acres preserved forever in Conservation Easements through the Land Trust for Tennessee. http://www.landtrusttn.org/
There are annual events such as the antique tractor show, square dances, and, as always, the Community Club’s September barbecue.
For more information see Chapter 9 - Preservation Struggle pages 113-118 in Beaman Park to Bells Bend Park: A Community Conservation Project