A Metro councilwoman who is leading the charge to block an affordable housing apartment project planned for Antioch has put her legislation on the shelf, but she said she’s not giving up on the effort.
In a surprise move Tuesday, Councilwoman Karen Johnson led the indefinite deferral of her legislation that would down-zone property in order to block a project for low-income residents called The Ridge at Antioch, a 96-unit apartment complex that Arkansas-based RichSmith Development has planned for Forest View Drive near Murfreesboro Pike.
Johnson told The Tennessean that the action will allow her to address questions from council members and to work with the developer.
“I’m not giving up on it, but there are a lot of questions because it’s a complex issue,” Johnson said. “Many council members have not had low-income tax credit properties in their districts.
“Ultimately, I want to get approval from council members, but I think we have to work through the process of providing information.”
To revive the ordinance, Johnson would need to provide a one-week notice. In an email sent to council members early Tuesday morning, Johnson said she plans to bring the bill back up to be placed on the council’s Oct. 18 agenda.
Johnson said it’s her belief that because her ordinance is considered still active, the indefinite deferral will prevent the developer from getting permits needed to begin construction on the project.
But Metro Planning Director Doug Sloan disagreed and argued that because RichSmith Development’s rights are vested, the developer should be able to move forward with getting permits approved.
Tuesday’s deferral came after a lengthy public hearing saw Antioch residents take turns slamming a development they said would help “ghettoize” their neighborhood in a plea for the council to intervene. They said the project would further concentrate poverty in Antioch, whose residents have for years felt like a dumping ground for development and city projects that are unwanted in Nashville’s other more affluent neighborhoods.
The Ridge at Antioch has already been approved for $11 million in federal low-income tax credits by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency. Two other low-income housing projects are nearby. Most of the residents at both are minorities.
Opponents of the project on Tuesday demanded that new low-income housing be spread across Davidson County.
“We are not here to fight low-income housing,” Antioch resident Laura Moss said. “We’re not here to fight developers just for the sake of slowing down growth. We are more specifically fighting that this place is going to have concentrated low-income housing in one area.
“We’re basically creating a modern ghetto. It’s 2016, and I am fighting segregation. I can’t believe this is happening.”
Tracy Childress, an attorney for the developer, noted that under current zoning the project is approved for up to 212 apartment units — more than twice than what is planned. She also said Metro would be exposed to “significant liability” if the project is blocked.
“No. 1, the down-zoning would constitute an illegal taking of my client’s property in violation to both United States and Tennessee constitutions,” she said. “No. 2, the down-zoning would violate the Fair Housing Act by preventing prospective tenants — namely minorities and children of minorities — from moving into the community.”
Neighbors were countered at the public hearing by representatives of pro-business groups and housing advocates who said that killing an already-approved affordable housing project would set a troubling precedent.
“The chamber’s concern on this proposed down-zoning and PUD cancellation is that it is occurring mid-development without the consent of the property owner,” said Verlinda Darden, a representative of the Nashville Chamber Area of Commerce. “We believe it sets a dangerous precedent.
“We are also concerned about the impact it will have on the affordable housing on this site and jeopardizing Davidson County’s future access to low-income tax credits.”
Johnson’s ordinance, which was disapproved unanimously by the Metro Planning Commission, has split many council members who have struggled with the prospect of defeating an affordable housing development the same time many in Nashville are demanding that more be created. The planning commission’s disapproval means the ordinance would need 27 votes in the 40-member council for approval.
Though the bill is now deferred, Johnson gathered supporters in a prayer circle after Tuesday’s vote and called the night a victory for their cause.
“It’s a victory because we are now being heard,” Johnson said.
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.