Public Comment

Response to Zelda Bronstein's The Tea Party, Planning and Democrac

By Jake Robinson, Concerned Citizens for Rutherford County, Murfreesboro, TN
Monday January 30, 2012 - 10:53:00 AM

I found her article to be balanced. I am conservative and yes, one of "those" tea party nut jobs...

Recently, my "google alerts" went off and warned me about our County's plan to finalize a two-year process (of public input and comment) for our 25 year Comprehensive Plan.

I researched and was appalled at the draconian (I know, it's my opinion) nature of the sweeping changes headed our way. I read the Comprehensive Plan (CP) thoroughly at least 3 times and gathered my wits and performed deep-research.

I think you are on to something when you challenge your government's agencies to prove where the growth numbers are coming from. 

I have a google alert set up for "Comprehensive Plans" and I get 8 to 10 articles everyday in my inbox from all across the country from small to large cities and counties all talking about revamping their CP. And every single one of them ALL claim a huge population growth the coming 2 decades or so and they describe it as a crisis to be dealt with. 

Just where are all these people coming from? We can't always have growth everywhere at once (other than organic .96% fertility growth as listed by the CIA's own estimate) Our county was no exception. We were told at the rate of growth we would "consume" almost the entire county's parcels with developed land... prime farmland would disappear and open space would be a thing of the past. When you viewed the consultant's "before and after" figures and graphic it would cause anyone to scream, "We have to do something about this!" 

Which is what many on the Planning Commission (11 members) and the Steering Committee (15 appointed members) did... 

One problem. After we formed a citizen-task force to challenge the notion of a new CP, one of our crack "codes-aware" members spotted a huge glaring math anomaly. I'll call him Rick. Rick worked in the biggest city in our county in the planning department for several years. Rick was the planning director for a part of those years and actually wrote the 1984 zoning ordinances that are in place today. Our county government quickly borrowed his work and implemented a similar version the same year. Rick went on to become a successful real estate developer and continues to do this along with running his HOA management business. Rick has plenty of zoning "street cred". 

Rick found the following glaring anomaly: 

In 2008, the CP claimed, our unincorporated area of the county (outside the four incorporated cities in our county) had "consumed" 50,100 acres up to this point. The population "consuming" this land was 83,633 - or 34% by population (of the entire county) of the rural area. By the year 2035 (the target of our CP) we would/should grow to have an extra 55,762 people that have moved there.  

Now, using a bit of logic - how much land should this group of people use up based on the numbers? Fewer people than what we have now so it would make sense that we would also consume a lower number of acres. 

The CP estimates we will "develop" 201,000 acres! How can this happen? How can we use three times more (an extra 150,000 acres) land than we used with MORE people? 

2008: 50,100 acres used by 83,633 people 

2035: 201,000 acres used by 55,762 people 

Here's how. Parsons-Brinckerhoff may have the answer. Does this company sound familiar? It should, as they are the consultants that raised the cost of California's high speed rail project from $40 Billion to $100 Billion! And recently a couple of high level execs departed - only Parsons and the Governor still think this is a good way to spend your taxpayer money. But wait, Parsons-Brinckerhoff says the numbers will still work - only if you triple the ridership estimates (which most experts say is untenable) 

Parsons-Brinckerhoff has a way of fudging numbers. They have also dug-in deep with Boston's Big Dig which we all know is a deep debacle... 

Back to our issue in Rutherford County, TN. Mark, the owner of an engineering firm that uses county zoning regs on a daily basis, who is a member of the Steering Committee for our CP noticed this large mathematical departure from common sense and asked the Parsons-Brinckerhoff employee how these numbers were ascertained.  

PB uses a computer modeling system called CommunityVIZ and this program can purportedly predict growth and present compelling graphics to tell the story. This employee explained that if you estimate a constant growth rate each year, let's say 4.5% (Our growth rate has been very strong over the last decade) and the computer wants to "consume" 4.5% of the land that should be developed in the next year, the computer will find the adjacent parcel (next to existing developed parcels) and 'grey" the next parcel out. However, if the amount of the parcel needed calculated at 4.5% were say, 5 acres, then CommunityVIZ would take the next parcel, no matter how big the parcel is... In other words, the next adjacent parcel may be 20 acres or even 100 acres... even if the amount needed was 5 acres the software program shows the full 100 acres "eaten up" and turned grey on the graphic. The program has no way to subdivide at the parcel level.  

This is absurd and reflects a built-in compounding error that will obviously showed skewed results... Perfect for the "we-have-to-stop-evil-sprawl-at-any-cost" type Sustainable Everything planner. Infact, the further away from the center of the county you go the bigger the parcels tend to be since they are out in rural farmland which exacerbates the problem even more. 

So, if I were in the Bay Area, I would pay very close attention to the numbers and challenge every mathematical relationship down to the formula used by the software.  

I also became suspicious when I set up my google alert on "Parsons-Brinckerhoff". I studied their website, as well as receive daily articles about PB and all of their projects making headlines around the world. First, they are a multi-national firm of 150+ offices on six continents and over 14,000 employees. I noticed they were working on this $40 Billion to $100 Billion rail project in California and they recently won the bid for a $50 Billion high-speed rail project in the UK.  

Why would such a large company with super lucrative rail projects want to take a measly $249,635 fee to craft our rinky-dink county Comprehensive Plan? 

Follow the small money to the big money. You see, my county is part of a 5-county Metropolitan Planning Organization - authorized by the federal government to spend Federal Funds on transportation projects - very similar to the MTC and their "board members". Ours is made up of 21 city and county mayors, the Tennessee Governor, and two other Org members... My county mayor was at the Chair when the 2010 "Master Transportation Plan 2035" was rolled out complete with Lite Rail, Rapid Bus Transit and 1,127 miles of bike path (which alone was estimated at $800 MM).  

So, now I am getting a bigger picture... The lite rail project is valued around $6 Billion for our smallish version compared to other big metro areas. However, if you cruise over to the US High Speed Rail Association's website and check out their "interactive map" of the nation's proposed high-speed rail network you will see two different lines running right through Nashville, TN.  

The St. Louis to Nashville (then running right through our county and Murfreesboro, TN) to Chattanooga then terminating in Atlanta, makes it clear to me that Parsons-Brinckerhoff is like a pedophile grooming a teenage boy - getting us ready to embrace "smart growth"+"sustainable development" complete with "High Density, Mixed Use, Walkable, Liveable, Less-Auto-Dependent Communities" complete with Complete Streets. Make sure you downzone most of our unincorporated rural areas from the current allowed density of 3 units/acre down to 1 unit/acre creating a 'no-man's land' that developers will not touch for love or money. Make sure you allow developers to "concentrate population growth' in "nodes" and in the "urban fringe zone" as to create enough population density to demonstrate to the DOT a favorable scenario for TOD (Transit-oriented Development). Hmmm, can you say "Lite Rail" then chase it with High Speed Billion Dollar Bullet Trains? 

I can. 

I is a vivid vision for the future of Parsons-Brinckerhoff. Get these podunk county planners to glom-on to the hip-planning trend of "Sustainable Everything" and our county can purchase a lottery ticket for $249,635 and play the numbers for that future payoff that only the big boys like PB can deliver... 

Any wonder why a small-time citizen like me speculates about losing my rights as an individual property owner? It's all in the plan... the comprehensive plan... 

[I have quickly organized a task force and have successfully delayed the final vote to make our plan gain the force of law. We are a long way from prevailing but everyday I discover more stench from the plan and we believe we will have a successful outcome for citizens who want transparency and common sense planning that is tailored to our way of life and not some International Planning Carpetbagger like Parsons-Brinckerhoff.] 

I can back every assertion I have made with URLs and my county's plan. I have documented every claim and can provide the proof. This issue is being played out all across America with varying degrees of scale. It is my intent to shed additional light on the subject so when planners and city/county fathers start hawking the awesome sauce of "smart growth" people - the citizens - take note and become aware of the threat they face. 

I have listed my youtube channel below that hosts a 70 minute formal presentation from our "Town Hall" meeting and a 7 minute "expose' video that sheds the light of truth on how devious our planning director can be... 

Join our FB page at:!/pages/Concerned-Citizens-for-Rutherford-County/339439906084895?sk=wall

We are fighting the property rights-stripping trend of "Sustainable Development", "Smart Growth" and Agenda 21.

To learn more visit our Youtube Channel and view several videos on what we are facing: