[Update!] The landfill proposal was rescinded after several local leaders revoked their support. A great example of how individuals and good journalism can stand for truth. Read on for the original story.
A proposed construction and demolition landfill in Bellevue is creating a stir for residents who live off Charlotte Pike.
Land developer Charlie “Mickey” Mitchell says his eco-friendly project will accommodate the residents of West Nashville, clean up the current condition of the land, and make the roads safer.
Neighbors say the project could hurt property values, interrupt traffic flow, and damage the environment. Last week, a recently organized neighborhood association was documenting its opposition with the Board of Zoning Appeals.
The board will meet Thursday to hear both sides of the case. If the appeal is successful, the developer will move forward to seek approval for the landfill from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Area resident Dave Green and his concerned neighbors hope it won’t get to that point.
“The very best scenario for us,” Green said, “would be if the developer realized that the project was misplaced and it does not need to go into property this close in proximity to our neighborhood.”
No early opposition
Mitchell first requested a zoning change for his 190-acre property at 7739 Charlotte Pike in West Nashville at a small, relatively quiet Metro Council meeting in October 2010. With no opposition present at the meeting, the motion easily passed, and the land was rezoned from a residential to an agricultural district. That new classification, AR2a in the municipal code, enables owners to file for a special exception with the Board of Zoning Appeals, which is needed to develop a landfill.
Sometime in the fall of 2011, a representative for Mitchell went to Metro Public Works with the idea of including a Metro recycling and convenience center on the land, at no cost to Public Works. In addition, Mitchell offered to pay for construction of the public facility.
“We have been looking for a site in that area for a very long time,” said Metro Public Works’ public information officer Gwen Hopkins. “We saw it as an opportunity to provide a facility for residents on that side of the county.”
In March 2012, District 22 Councilwoman Sheri Weiner held a community meeting where Mitchell and his attorney presented the plan to create a private construction and demolition landfill in conjunction with a Metro Public Works recycling convenience center, just 300 feet from some homes in the neighborhood. A convenience center accepts household waste and recyclable material such as mattresses, carpets, aluminum, glass and more. A construction and demolition landfill, however, can process large quantities of commercial debris, crush concrete, chip wood, and manage waste steel products.
Hearing no opposition to the plan, Weiner wrote a letter in support of the project and sent it to the Board of Zoning Appeals.
But at that meeting, Green — a retired computer science and business professor who has lived in nearby Thousand Oaks Estates for 40 years — stood in shock, unsure of how to stand up for his concerns. Green’s home sits 400 feet from the property in question. Unprepared for the news, Green didn’t know what questions to ask or how to pose a viable opposition.
“I must say that the meeting and presentation was very well prepared and impressive, but it was an overpowering dog and pony show that caught us off guard,” he said.
“I felt ambushed. And after seeing all the people we were dealing with, a big developer and Metro government, I felt uncomfortable on my own standing up and indicating any opposition to the plan.”
Soon after the meeting, Green traversed the neighborhood, gathering phone numbers, email addresses, and names. He wanted to make sure everyone was informed of the proposed changes. As recently as last week, members of a newly organized neighborhood association held an informational meeting where they gathered 95 opposition signatures, and they have begun interviewing lawyers to help their cause.
And it’s not just residents who are concerned. The Harpeth River Watershed Association is dedicated to preserving and restoring the ecological health of the Harpeth River, which runs just over 2 miles from the proposed landfill site. The association’s executive director, Dorie Bolze, explains that according to Tennessee law, no landfill can be sited within 2 miles of the Harpeth River within Davidson County. Though the 2-mile mark seems arbitrary, she said, the distance is needed to protect surface and ground water from contamination.
“It’s a basic water quality issue,” Bolze said, explaining that, although this site won’t have as many toxins as a sanitary landfill, there are still risks.
“Construction and demolition landfills are not supposed to contain hazardous waste, but a lot of times that’s exactly what’s in them, because they aren’t very well policed.”
Three months after the initial March meeting, Councilwoman Weiner caught wind of the mounting frustration in her district. In response, she drafted a second letter to the Board of Zoning Appeals explaining that there was new neighborhood opposition. But at that point, she said, it may have been too late.
“My sphere of influence is basically nonexistent,” Weiner said. “I can write letters, which I have done, but local Metro Council influence ended before I took office. I have no control over this issue.”
Some argue that the outcry is disproportionate to the changes at hand, since the land in question has been used as a dumping site for nearly 30 years. In fact, the developer Mitchell said he originally purchased the land in 1999 specifically to have a place for waste from his growing construction business.
His plans expanded, though, when Mitchell made his offer to Metro Public Works.
The recycling center and landfill would probably create dozens of new jobs and millions in revenue. Typically, sites like what Mitchell is proposing generate income by charging dumpers by the ton. For example, one small construction and demolition landfill in Williamson County charges $38 per ton, and processes more than 43,000 tons a year, for a total of $1.5 million in revenue.
Mitchell dismisses any concerns about noise pollution or visibility from homes, saying nearby traffic from Interstate 40 and hills around the area shield neighbors from any unwanted intrusion.
“We’ve had unanimous votes and very little opposition in every one of those meetings, and then all of a sudden, it’s been blown completely out of proportion,” Mitchell said.
“I think it’s so unfortunate that people have taken the stand that they’ve taken and that folks are bitter about something they’re not informed about.”