Homes Not Hotels

I sent the following letter to the Metro Council this morning as we contemplate the final meeting of our term with several controversial bills before us, including BL2019-1633, which attempts to address 24/7 mini-hotels in residential zoning, but as currently drafted creates as many problems as it purports to solve. I have a compromise, “second substitute” bill that I hope colleagues will consider seriously.

Dear Colleagues,

I cannot believe how swiftly four years have passed. It has been an honor to work with you all to help make Nashville better, safer, healthier, and happier to the best of our abilities. I think we would all acknowledge that strong neighborhoods are the building blocks of our city. In our term, one issue that has affected a wide variety of neighborhoods and constituents from the single-family suburbs of District 34 to the multi-family apartments of District 19 is Not-Owner-Occupied Short Term Rentals. This Council did not enable this annual permitted use–it was the prior Council, but we have certainly struggled with the unintended consequences. I hope together we can achieve a resolution this evening. 

I want to bring your attention to one of two proposed second substitutes in the amendments packet and put the Henderson/Hagar/Johnson substitute (pages 13-17) in context of 1) this term’s broader STRP policy struggles and 2) the various options that are before you for consideration. 

Not-Owner-Occupied STRP-permitted properties have been a mounting problem for neighborhood quality of life and housing affordability in Nashville and numerous cities with thriving tourist economies across the U.S. and the world. Increasingly we have seen that the benefits of the annually permitted not-owner-occupied STRP use to guests, owners, and the tourist economy are outweighed by the damage to neighborhoods, quality of life, and housing affordability. This is acute in neighborhoods closest to downtown and areas near popular tourist destinations. Every city struggles with the appropriate regulatory balance for these low-barrier-to-entry, disruptor business platforms, but the platforms control the narrative and with it the related-policy with millions in lobbying and marketing money. 

I would remind colleagues of the same thing Councilman O’Connell and I said when we voted against the enabling scooter legislation: legislating for disruptive and hyper-evolving business models requires sunset provisions. There is no accountability or reckoning without them. So here we are in the sunset of our term, and we have the opportunity to sunset new Not-Owner-Occupied short term rental in RM zoning. Sunsetting STRP annual permits in residential-only zoning, whether that’s R, RS or RM, will not diminish the underlying appreciating real estate asset. The primary use of the property as zoned has always been and remains residential. Taking thousands of homes off the market and turning them into 24/7 mini-hotels via an annual permitted use is something that we can and should fix.

The onus is not on us to make sure that a speculative real estate investment garners it’s maximum return. The onus is on the buyer to perform due diligence before making their purchase. Basing an investment on a one-year permit in a hyper-evolving and contentious business model has risks. This would be clearly evident to any investor with a quick Google search.

Subsequent to the passage of 608, which addressed Not-Owner-Occupied STRPs in R and RS zoning, we have seen and heard from numerous Nashvillians distraught that their RM apartment community is being converted into an STRP hotel. As we close out this term, let’s start closing the door on this practice. Our Council securing places for people to live is more fundamental to our success as a city than our securing commercial hotel investments in residentially zoned neighborhoods. Real estate investors will tell you that markets like certainty, and they are correct about that. So let’s provide that certainty. Let’s substitute and thus simplify this legislation.

The Henderson/Hagar substitute, which is supported by the Coalition for Nashville Neighborhoods does the following:

•                     Returns the bill essentially to the form it was in when it unanimously passed the Planning Commission (before it was subsequently amended and substituted.)

•                     Eliminates exemptions and transfers for RM zoned properties. This is key. Passage of 1633 in its current form will effectively make an annual permit a property right.

•                     Extends the window to acquire a new permit from May 31, 2020 to January 1, 2022 to address the concerns of in-progress investors and balance the removal of the exemptions and transfers.

•                     Keeps all necessary state law changes and includes the language to deal with lawsuits pending against Metro for HPRs who were issued STRP permits before July 1, 2019

I know that Councilwoman Allen’s heart was in the right place with 1633, and it was a bill initially supported by neighborhood leaders albeit with some skepticism, but you have heard the email furor from neighborhood advocates about this bill as currently substituted and amended. That’s not just because it reflects concessions primarily for speculative builder/investors, but because the exception and transfer provisions could have very real negative consequences for both RM and R & RS zoning districts. It sets a bad precedent and does not provide the clear and definitive policy statement that Nashville’s residents and real estate investors want and need.  

As we conclude our term and our deliberation on this policy, let’s please think more about the parents living next to not-owner-occupied short-term-rentals and have empathy for the anxiety they feel every Thursday waiting to see who is going to show up and be hanging out across the back fence or on the deck above their children’s playset. Let’s think more about the young couples, who are going to have to move out of their downtown apartment close to their work to the periphery of the county to find an affordable place to live, compounding our traffic problem, because their residential apartment community is being turned into a hotel.

Nashvillians are watching. They are no longer fooled by the false and self-serving narratives proffered by this industry. Please show the majority of Nashvillians who you represent by supporting and voting in favor of the Hagar/Henderson/Johnson substitute.

Our substitute is solid and thoughtful bill that meets the needs and concerns of a wide variety of districts and stakeholders. We did not file it rashly. We co-sponsors have followed this issue very closely our entire term, and our substitute reflects four years of listening and researching a broad variety of cities and stakeholder perspectives.

Hard though it may seem, if Councilwoman Allen were to simply let go of her much-maligned bill, which it does not appear she has the votes to pass, moving the Henderson/Hagar/Johnson substitute would honor her legislative intent and achieve the majority of her policy goals. Complicated though this seems, it’s really quite simple. Let’s not give up on Nashville’s neighborhoods at the finish line.

With thanks for your consideration,

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  • Written by angie henderson

Speak for the Trees

District 34 is home to numerous ash trees (examples above), which are now threatened due to the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an invasive beetle species. This insect will have a devastating effect on our community’s tree canopy, with almost all untreated ash trees expected to die by 2026. It is estimated that up to 10% of Nashville’s tree canopy is ash trees, and in many District 34 neighborhoods, the percentage of the canopy is much higher. Ash trees can be found throughout the district in parks, neighborhoods, school campuses, cultural sites, along city streets and in private yards. There are 241 ash trees on the 55 acres at Cheekwood, for example, and my own street adjacent to Cheekwood is a veritable grove of beautiful, tall ash trees. Sadly, the loss of ash trees will be both visible and palpable for many District 34 neighborhoods.

In partnership with the Metro Tree Advisory Committee, Metro Public Works and Cheekwood, I am hosting a District 34 Community Meeting about the Emerald Ash Borer epidemic on Wednesday, July 10th, 7:00 – 8:00 PM at Cheekwood in the Potter Room in Botanic Hall. This will be a concise informational meeting to make sure you know exactly what an ash tree looks like and all the options you have to address their impending demise in your neighborhood and/or at your home. If you have a big, healthy ash tree, you may still be able to save it through trunk treatments. Other ash trees, which become brittle and hazardous as they die, will need to be removed, or if they are in a wooded area and not a hazard, they can be left to die in place.

The loss of ash trees will have a significant impact on private and public property in the coming years, however this past year, I found that many Nashvillians had not yet heard of this looming epidemic. This spring, I filed a resolution to help raise awareness in our community and within Metro Government. The death of so many large canopy trees will have an impact on both the Public Works and Parks Department budgets and the impact to stormwater runoff will also be challenging for Metro’s Stormwater Division. Click here to read the resolution.

Additional Resources & Information:

During my first term in office, it has been my privilege to work with the Metro Tree Advisory Committee, Nashville Tree Foundation, Nashville Tree Task Force, and numerous advocates for trees on community tree plantings–most recently along Page Road in District 34, where the “kissing canopy” has been compromised by two major straight-line wind events and along which there are numerous ash trees. Trees can serve as traffic calming–when planted close to the street, they narrow a drivers cone of vision and reduce speeding. Along Page Road, Metro’s horticulturist worked with neighbors to strategically place the new trees in areas of impending ash loss.

Root Nashville, a public/private campaign, is led by Metro Nashville Government and the Cumberland River Compact. Root Nashville’s goal is to plant 500,000 trees across Davidson County by 2050. All the trees from community plantings are recorded on the Root Nashville website, and if you plant a tree(s) at your own home, please make sure you record it on the website also to help the city reach its goal. Stay tuned for the Metro Public Works tree sale in the fall, for great deals on trees and assistance in the planting and watering them.

In the last two years of this term, I’m also proud to have been the lead sponsor on Nashville’s first tree-related legislation in 10 years. BL2018-1416 was highly technical and complicated and took many months working with Metro Planning staff and stakeholders to reach consensus. The bill as substituted and amended had a positive public hearing on July 2 and is now on track to pass third and final reading on July 16th. “The tree bill” will better incentivize mature tree retention and street trees and require more tree density in commercial and multi-family development. This is just the first in a series of bills that will work in concert with each other to deliver a more consistent, comprehensive and effective approach to urban forestry in Nashville.

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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  • Written by angie henderson

2019 Budget Breakdown

Why I didn’t vote for a property tax increase.

It was a challenging week on Metro Council, with mixed opinions on the various proposed budgets (the most substitute budgets filed by the Council in Metro’s history) and a wide variety of needs and wants to balance and consider. Several of my constituents are disappointed because I did not vote for what they believed was a much-needed, 15.8% property tax increase. While it saddens me to disappoint any constituent, and I understand their concerns, I also know that the majority of my constituents agree with my decision to vote no.

There are more people over age 70 living in District 34 than anywhere else in Nashville, and I heard from a lot of them last week. A senior residing in a modest ranch home on our district’s typically large lots is paying around $4,000 in property taxes at the current rate. The Vercher substitute budget would have increased their annual taxes $630. Some will say, that’s a small price to pay for all the benefits within the budget, but I have to think closely about the impact on the people I represent and be mindful that in other areas of Nashville with exponentially appreciating home values, a sharply rising and regressive property tax is an even greater burden, contributing to the gentrification of core neighborhoods and pushing more people to reside on the periphery of Davidson County and beyond.

I also heard from several constituents asking me to raise their taxes. I appreciate these constituents’ willingness to increase their personal tax burden for the collective good of our schools. While this was a clear vote for my head, this was a difficult vote for my heart because I know that our Metro teachers and employees feel under valued and under appreciated with just a 3% cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the mayor’s budget, when they were already due 3% last year. Chair Vercher’s budget delivered a 4% COLA and one pay “step” increase for MNPS employees, but just a 3% COLA for general Metro employees. The Council eagerly awaits the MNPS pay study and the School Board’s work in this area, as it is clear that teachers have long been dissatisfied with the current pay structure.

Numerous departments and constituencies had items in the Vercher substitute budget that they wanted, that were good things, but those goods have to be balanced against the larger budgetary and economic impacts. For example, the Vercher budget added 20 new positions to the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD), which sounds beneficial, until you realize that there are currently over 80 MNPD positions un-filled. Personally, I wanted another urban forestry position in the Codes Department. I know from my work on tree-related policy that we are far behind peer cities and this position is much needed. This was a budget request that I personally coordinated. Chair Vercher kindly added it to her substitute budget, but as passionate as I am about tree-policy work, that still did not convince me to vote for this budget.

There’s no one solution to Metro’s budget woes. I agree that we will likely need a slight tax rate adjustment to get back on track after the last three mayors abdicated their responsibility to adjust the rate to keep revenue, spending and debt obligations in balance. That said, I disagree that a rate adjustment of the magnitude proposed, a $0.498 cent increase per $100 of assessed value, a 15.8% rate increase, is appropriate at this time. A rate adjustment should not be so significant that Metro Government is disincentivized from addressing systemic/structural problems and making the heavier, more complicated policy lifts. Before we consider raising property taxes, which have the greatest impact on lower-income individuals, we must:

  1. address the revenue capture in the “downtown” tourism zone (TDZ).
  2. advance a referendum within the next two years for a fundamentals-first transportation plan with dedicated funding for sidewalks, greenways, bikeways, & a truly excellent bus system.
  3. be pro-active and intentional about implementing business improvement districts (BID) in our suburban centers to supplement funding for the specific operational and capital needs of those areas.
  4. elevate ethics in procurement.
  5. reform tax increment financing (TIF).
  6. better address the impact and lessen the use of incentives and abatements for preferred real estate developers and corporations.

These are just some of the structural, policy changes we need to make, and I do not believe we should raise the property taxes of individual citizens so significantly until Metro Government gets our proverbial house in order. (For more details on the list above, please see the “Getting Our House in Order” blog post). There are so many awesome folks in Metro Government doing solid work for our citizens. I am grateful to them, and saddened that the rocky leadership in the Mayor’s Office, and the doubts and concerns that creates, continues to influence the willingness of taxpayers to invest more money in the Bank of Metro.

However they feel about mayoral leadership over this term, the majority of the Council agrees that Metro Government’s budgeting process is broken. Despite our thick budget books and 55 departmental budget hearings, much of our large departments’ budgets remain opaque. It is only through years of intentional engagement that council members begin to notice patterns in legislative and budget related discussions and start making specific requests for organizational charts and financial reports. In so doing, members of our various committee’s come to better understand the inner workings and budgetary needs of the departments to better deliver the services that citizens need and want. This requires an inordinate amount of time and effort, and questions of the council members are often met with skepticism and concerns of micro-management.

Given the constraints the Council has, I am grateful to Councilman Mendes for his budget work, to Councilman Glover for trying to provide a budget with a lower tax increase to honor the COLA, and to Budget & Finance Committee Chair Vercher for all her hard work. For one person to have to revise and compile a massive budget in virtual isolation with small inputs for changes and additions from other council members via staff, when the mayor has a massive finance department and months and months at his disposal to prepare his budget, is ridiculous. Our mayor-dominant system does not serve our citizens well. The Council does not, but can and should, make better use of its committee system to divide the work needed for comprehensive departmental oversight, meeting policy goals, and delivering a budget that reflects the collective will of our body and the citizens we represent.

When a budget fails by one vote, it’s very easy for those who are disappointed to direct their ire at any one particular Council member. Nashvillians who are mad at the Council for not passing the substitute budget with the tax increase, should remember also that the mayor lobbied against it and likely would have vetoed it. If you want better budgeting and fiscal stewardship, elect a better mayor and elect council members with the independence to vote against unsound deals. For good or bad, with our “strong-mayor” form of government, Nashville is where it is at any particular time largely due to the deals and choices made inside the Mayor’s Office.

In service to you, I research, read, and listen to a variety of opinions and sources before all votes, especially one of this magnitude. I stand by my budget vote and am accountable for it and every vote that I have made in my service on the Council. I welcome you to contact me with your questions and concerns at or call me at 615-260-5530. I am always happy to discuss your Metro government with you.

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  • Written by angie henderson

Getting Our House in Order

I’ve been mixing my metaphors lately: houses, gambling, cleaning, stores, trains. “We’re off track.” “We need to clean house.” One day last week, I was thinking perhaps I should make an effort to dial down the use of metaphors in my remarks about Metro when a constituent said to me that it appeared to him that Metro had misplaced priorities and was putting a lot of energy into branding and marketing and less into fundamentals of governance.

“Indeed,” I said. “Recent mayors have put a lot of energy into highlighting programs & proclamations, but it would behoove the city if they would spend less time touting the admirable variety of merchandise in the display windows and more time paying attention to all the essential products being stolen out of the back of the store!” (A store metaphor, right off the top of my head–apparently, I’m a metaphor addict.)

My blog post about my budget vote was too loooong. I could already feel people falling asleep as I was typing it. One of the central points I was trying to make was that Metro needs to address several key, structural and policy issues before asking individual taxpayers to contribute more in property tax. I briefly listed several areas that need attention, and lest you think I did not expound upon them sufficiently in my other post, I decided to flesh them out a bit more here.

  1. Address the revenue capture in the tourism development zone (TDZ). Structured to provide dedicated tax revenue for operations and debt service on the new convention center, this zone is too large, extending well past downtown. It’s so large that the Convention Center Authority (CCA) is running a $100 million revenue surplus and using that surplus to fund parking garages in private development, like the recent $38 million contributed to the 5th & Broadway project. As negotiated by Metro, the CCA directed $10 million to the general fund this year. They may be able to provide more, but we also need to consider whether the boundaries of the TDZ need to be redrawn via legislation at the State. Learn more about the TDZ here:
  2. Advance a referendum ASAP within the next two years for a fundamentals-first transportation plan with dedicated funding for sidewalks, greenways, bikeways & a truly excellent bus system. This will open up at least $48 million in the annual operational budget. Mayor Barry’s gamble in 2017, when she didn’t adjust the tax rate (historically always a mayor-lead effort) so she could tout the “lowest tax rate ever” for the benefit of marketing her high-cost, low-return, debt-laden transit plan (which failed via referendum 2 to 1) is coming due. We cannot wait five years to advance a better more modest plan that will make a positive difference for more people.
  3. Be pro-active and intentional about implementing business improvement districts (BID) in our suburban centers to supplement funding for the specific operational and capital needs of those areas. In a sprawled city/county consolidated government like Nashville, BIDs allow these established business hubs, many with legacy chambers of commerce, to enhance infrastructure and services on their own, tailored terms. This is an important financial and community building tool that Nashville is so far only using in three areas. Learn more about BIDs here:
  4. Elevate ethics in procurement. Nashville has had several messy, major procurements this term first for the potential redevelopment of the park land that was home to the former Greer Stadium and most recently for the purchase and management of our on-street parking system, a plan most on Council oppose. In response to the Collier Engineering scandal, Mayor Briley hired a 100K position in the Mayor’s Office to address ethics in procurement. Fine, but at the same time, we should probably stop doing business with the corrupt contractors that sparked this work, no? Why is our city still doing business with a firm that we have verifiable proof stole money from taxpayers? Tolerance of grifters only begets more grifters.
  5. Reform tax increment financing (TIF). TIF can be an important tool when used as intended to catalyze development in depressed and blighted areas, but TIF was still being doled out for prime downtown real estate projects in 2017. Nashville’s real estate market is burning hot, and fires don’t need gasoline poured on them. (Metaphor alert) This needs to stop, and I appreciate Councilman Cooper and Councilman Mendes’ work to address this. Learn more about TIF in Nashville here:
  6. Address incentives and abatements for preferred developers and corporations. For per-job type incentives, we’re still paying half a million to Dell every year in our budget, apparently because no one in the Mayor’s Office or on the Council thought to put a reasonable time limit on that incentive when it passed in 1999. This year, I amended the Amazon per-job incentive bill, which I didn’t vote for, to cap them after 7 years. I opposed $15 million in infrastructure incentives for the Nashville Yards development, the $20 million un-itemized bucket in our capital spending plan for the River North development, and the 10-acre give away for a private, mixed-use development that was part of the soccer deal. Private development should pay for itself, full stop. Hopefully abatements are an incentive of the past, but the Omni Hotel is still abated to the tune of around $2 million per year, and the Bridgestone Americas downtown tower is receiving a 100 percent property tax abatement for 20 years, just to name a few. These decisions have accrued to the detriment of our general fund, basic services, and schools.

Metro Government needs to get our house in order, and I’m determined to help clean things up. If we address the issues listed above, we’ll be back on the right track. (I know, I know, cleaning house AND train tracks, but I told you at the start I was having a metaphor problem, so it was bound to show up in the conclusion.)

P.S. Please note that these blogs are far from research papers. Is there more to be said, more facts to be shared? Sure. But there’s only so much time in the day to serve my constituents, complete two major policy efforts (trees! sidewalks!), and campaign to continue to representing District 34. If you like what you read here, there’s also a contribution page on this website, and I’d be grateful for your support to continue serving on the city council. Next financial deadline is June 30th. Thanks very much!

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  • Written by angie henderson

Angie in the News as a Policymaker

The Metro Council is your city’s legislative and oversight body. In my first term on Nashville’s Metro Council, I have served as chair of the Parks, Libraries & Arts Committee, vice chair of the Public Works Committee, and served on the Budget & Finance Committee. As a policymaker, my work has received local and national attention. To learn more about my service on the Council and my policy interests, please click the links below.

Angie calls out corruption:

Tennessean: Nashville Payments to Collier Engineering Firm for Two Liaisons Draws Scrutiny

Angie, a long-time transit advocate, breaks down her opposition to the 2018 transit plan:

Tennessean: Put the Real Cost of the Nashville Transit Plan on the Ballot

Angie sponsors and passes landmark sidewalk legislation:

Tennessean: Nashville to Require More Developers Provide Sidewalks

Angie speaks about the NFL Draft/Cherry Tree debacle, the tree bill, and the Emerald Ash Borer epidemic:

Newsmaker: Angie Henderson, Metro Council Dist.34, on Nashville Trees

Angie works with local Girl Scouts on a resolution honoring Josephine Holloway

Nashville Public Radio: How Nashville Girl Scouts Honored the Founder of a Pioneering Black Troop

Angie co-sponsors bill preventing Metro from selling land to plug holes in the operational budget:

Tennessean: Nashville Council Votes to Prohibit Selling Metro Land for Budget Fixes

Angie speaks to new harassment training requirements bill that she helped pass:

Nashville Public Radio: Metro To Require Contract Companies To Go Through Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

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  • Written by angie henderson