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Rumble in Rose Park

Edgehill loses round one of its battle to keep Belmont University out of the neighborhood

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E.S. Rose Park’s nearly 25-acre spread is not much to look at. When it comes to the park’s rusted chain-link fences, ungroomed outfields and cracked concrete stadium seating, it’s clear that whatever could deteriorate, has. But the residents of Edgehill, a historically black neighborhood that borders the park, want to keep it this way—or at least keep Belmont University from building a multimillion-dollar sportsplex in their backyard. Even so, when the university asked the Metro Board of Parks and Recreation if it could funnel nearly $7 million into the park to build a sports facility worthy of NCAA Division I play last year, the board agreed to explore the idea.

Since then, community groups such as the Organized Neighbors of Edgehill have generated piles of documents outlining their concerns. They’ve held dozens of community meetings—some with Belmont and parks department officials in attendance—to voice their opposition. Most recently, ONE has generated a petition against Belmont’s proposal. So far, more than 325 Edgehill residents have signed it.

As reported here (“Field of Screams,” March 8, 2007), residents have asked the parks board to look past the university’s renderings of the dreamy sports park to see its potential effect on their community—and their quality of life. Better amenities will bring more noise, traffic and parking issues. They fear the latter two could make Edgehill streets less safe for the kids who live there. Plus, the park is couched closely on two sides by both Carter-Lawrence Elementary Magnet and Rose Park Magnet Middle School, so closely in fact that a wayward fly ball could very well end up in the middle school library.

Still, the parks board voted unanimously at its May 1 meeting to approve the university’s lease agreement. In fact, the board members said little at all about the concerns that have been accumulating and festering in the community since early last year. Now the proposal is headed to the Metro Planning Commission. If approved, it will move to the Metro Council.

Few were surprised by the parks board vote. Arlene Lane, an ONE member who addressed the board at the meeting, says the decision—and, more specifically, the way in which it was made—was typical of how community concerns have been tossed aside all along.

Last week, Lane stood before the board, her voice cracking as she made a quickened plea in the three minutes she was allotted. She posed a dozen or so questions: “Has the community been given the opportunity for maximum input...? Does the current agreement address the community’s interests and concerns...?” And she continued on, question after question, asking the board to postpone the vote if they could answer no—or at least were uncertain of the answer—to even one of her concerns.

But all of her questions went unanswered. It was typical, she says. “The parks board continues to block out, to ignore, to render invisible and nonexistent every attempt, both written and oral, that the Organized Neighbors of Edgehill and the Edgehill community have made in the past 17 months,” Lane says.

ONE also submitted a nine-page list of suggested terms for the lease agreement to the board, but Lane says it was also dismissed. She hand-delivered the document to parks department offices two weeks before the meeting. But Lane says Metro’s legal department, which assisted in drawing up the lease, did not receive the term sheet until the morning of the May 1 meeting. By that time, the agreement already was drawn up. “It’s obvious that a conscious decision was made by the parks board to wait until after the final draft had been written up to send [our terms] up to Metro legal,” she says.

Board member James Lawson says the ONE terms “were taken into consideration and calculated” by parks staff. Yet none of the terms was implemented by the board. Lawson described some of ONE’s suggestions as “not practical,” but he did suggest that Metro staff “should look at it.”

And what about the other community claims that weren’t addressed by the board before it took its final vote? Lawson says board members have participated individually “in one way or another” in the entire process. “While it may have appeared as if they were not engaged, they were fully engaged,” he says.

Others aren’t so convinced. When Metro Council member-at-large Carolyn Baldwin Tucker addressed the board, she focused on how Belmont’s plan leaves little room for neighborhood activity in the park. Tucker, who has worked closely with the Edgehill community schools for years, said the development would be devastating to neighborhood children, who use the park for gym class during the school year and extensively for spontaneous use in the summer months. But she also received no response. “I would have hoped that they would have at least said, ‘Let’s talk about it more and come to some common ground,’ ” she says.

And things only got worse. Attorney Joe Johnston, who is representing two Edgehill women who live within several hundred feet of the park, was shooed away from the podium when he tried to address the board. The board says Johnston’s request to speak did not meet the board’s deadline. He would’ve had to submit that request two weeks before the meeting—it’s a requirement he says he met. His clients, like many of their neighbors, fear that the revamped park could generate traffic and parking problems that will endanger Edgehill children. “Obviously, the board was not ready to deal with those issues,” he says. Now Johnston plans to file a petition in state court to challenge the board decision.

The testimony of District 19 council member Ludye Wallace, whose district includes Rose Park, didn’t help the community’s case much. Wallace said he didn’t exactly know what the Edgehill residents are opposed to, which is odd, Lane says. Wallace has attended two Edgehill community meetings to discuss Belmont’s proposal (though he was more than an hour late to one of them) and ONE representatives met with him for two hours on March 2 to outline the community’s position, Lane says. They also sent him a copy of their petition. Wallace did say, however, that he hoped Belmont and Edgehill residents would “pray” for compromise.

It’s a sentiment that Lane finds ridiculous. She says residents know that praying just won’t do. It didn’t do when Edgehill was facing land grabs from the likes of Music Row and Vanderbilt University. And she says Belmont’s sportsplex, complete with brick-lined stadiums and paths laden with lush landscaping and cascading fountains, won’t make residents feel any less like they’ve lost out again.

Tucker says she is disappointed with how the Metro parks board demonstrated a lack of concern for citizen needs. “I have no qualms at all with Belmont because Belmont has to do what Belmont has to do,” she says. “But the government of Nashville should do what it’s supposed to do and provide for the citizens.”

Lane says the vote left her feeling empty, but she hopes that Edgehill will get a fighting chance. At least she knows it can’t get much worse. “We feel invisible—disregarded and disrespected,” she says. “What happened to the democratic process? It is obvious that the parks board does not believe that the Edgehill community is worthy of benefiting from those rights.”

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