As we are approaching final days of campaigning for my re-election for Metro Council, I would like to take a moment to express my sincere appreciation to all those who early voted, who publicly endorsed my campaign, who contributed to my campaign, who supported my campaign effort, and to my dedicated volunteer campaign team! I have no other words but to say, “Thank you.”
In my last blog post, I shared my Road to Metro Council. It is almost 30 years since I left Japan and I have called Nashville home for the past 25 years (West Meade for the past 19 years). As I stated in this blog, I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, I would be your Metro Council representative. When I ran for Council in 2015, I was often asked why I decided to be a candidate. My answer was that I was not interested in being a candidate, but I was interested in continuing to do what I had been doing for years – speaking up and speaking out for our neighborhoods.
Over the past 19 years I have devoted much of my time and energy to volunteering for this District. When not volunteering for my community, I was a full-time caregiver for my mother-in-law who suffered early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, then caring for grandfather-in-law and grandmother-in-law who both outlived their daughter. During my first term, I was able to devote most of my time to my constituents and Council work.
As you may recall, I announced my plan to not seek re-election earlier this year. I was constantly contacted by many of my constituents attempting to change my mind following my announcement. Eventually, many of you persuaded me. I imagine anyone who has a career and commitments outside of your private life with your family and loved ones will understand how challenging it is to balance work commitments and private time and obligations. Most of my life when hard decisions were necessary, I have chosen the well-being of my family over my career advancement. Although I never considered serving on the Council as a career advancement, my earlier decision to not seek re-election was one of the examples of tough choices in my life, since I really enjoyed my role as Council Member. You can read my reasons as to Why I Reconsidered My Decision and Am Now Asking for Your Vote. Some may question my commitment to the district because I changed my mind. However, I can promise you that my commitment to District 23 and the city we all love is as strong today as it was four years ago.
As I stated previously, I don’t consider myself as a politician. Instead, I think of myself as a civil servant. Nonetheless, campaigning is the road one must go down in order to be elected to the position. I have witnessed campaigning being perceived as winning or losing a fight against your opponent. I believe campaigning is not a fight against your opponent, rather it is an opportunity to show your record and commitment to the voters. That is why I take satisfaction in running a positive campaign. After all, we are all neighbors who care about our community.
I am so grateful for the kind words, encouragement and endorsements I have received. I would like to share some of them with you.
I have shared highlights of my experience prior to being elected as your Metro Council representative, and after being elected on my blog post. Below is a short summary of some of my experience.
- Bringing the Harding Road Athletic Field to the West Meade neighborhood instead of higher density condos or assisted living facility
- Instrumental saving the West Meade waterfall
- Preventing LED/digital signage in residential neighborhoods
- Instrumental in creation of the “Development Tracker”
- Protecting Bell’s Bend by preventing May Town Center
- Preventing expansion of home businesses in residential neighborhoods
- Preventing the Construction and Demolition (C&D) Landfill adjacent to West Meade
- Appointed by Mayor Karl Dean to the AMP Citizens Advisory Committee
- Participated as a member of the Nashville Next Community Engagement Committee during the three-year update of Nashville’s General Plan known as Nashville next
During my term as your Metro Council representative many things have been accomplished, including:
- Preventing large scale development on 245 acres known as Nashville Highlands, by permitting development on only 14 acres and protecting more than 200 acres for open space
- Preventing another large scale development on 123 acres known as Nandi Hill by reducing the allowed 600 residential units to 128 units or single cabin
- Sponsored Short-term Rental bills to prohibit non-owner STRs in R, RS and RM zoned areas.
- Sponsored several bills to reform the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) process
- As a member of the Metro Council Rules and Confirmations Committee, changed the rule to afford accountability for all Metro Council committees by requiring a quorum of committee members before any vote is taken.
- Sponsored the bill that put the Charter Amendment 1, requiring more transparency for the annual operating budget, on the August 1 ballot.
- During my last four years in Council, I have e-mailed out over 60 newsletters discussing upcoming meetings and Council votes, requesting constituents’ input and being transparent in why I voted the way I did.
- I conducted 33 Districtwide community meetings along with numerous other smaller neighborhood meetings.
- For every rezoning request brought to me over the last four years, I have averaged eight combined community and neighborhood meetings before any development plans or zone requests were finalized.
- I have answered countless emails and telephone calls. I have been accessible when my constituents needed me for my assistance.
- Through my persistence, Public Works has completed Phase I of the Davidson Road sidewalk project which had been in the Capital Improvements Budget for more than 12 years.
- Phase II of the Davidson Road sidewalk project is currently underway. It will resume as soon as all the easement agreements are finalized.
- Bresslyn Road was approved as one of Metro Public Works traffic calming projects.
- I worked with the Metro Historical Commission on the first historical marker project in our district. It was my honor to recognize Hillwood Estates and the Hill family for their enormous contribution to our community.
- Although Belle Meade has its own government, I attended Belle Meade City Commission meetings regularly to learn about their issues. I was instrumental in connecting the Belle Meade City manager with Nashville Electric Service when they were having difficulty with the installation of the License Plate Reader Cameras on the NES poles.
- I sponsored Resolution RS2018-1473 to update the inter-governmental agreement to bring more revenue to the City of Belle Meade to fill the loss of the Hall income tax.
- When renovation of the Hillwood Bridge was announced, I contacted State Representative John Ray Clemmons, various project team leaders within Metro Public Works and the City of Belle Meade to be sure all agencies and project teams were coordinating to minimize negative impact and inconvenience to the neighbors. Renovation was completed in August 2019.
- I have obtained a commitment from MNPS leaders and Metro administration that the community will play a key role in deciding the best use of the property. I am committed to making sure that MNPS and the administration follow through on their commitment when the high school closes.
When I am re-elected, I pledge to continue my commitment to my three top priorities:
- Continuing my efforts to preserve and protect our wonderful residential neighborhoods, natural resources and open spaces;
- Keeping Hillwood High School property for the best use for our community; and
- Mandating transparency and accountability in Metro Government.
My last four years as your Metro Council representative has truly been an honor. This re-election campaign has been an exciting time. I owe so much to so many. But we can’t rest yet; we still have 3 days until Election Day. Voting is at the heart of our democracy. It is not only a right, but a privilege. So, if you voted during early voting, thank you. If you have not, I am asking for your vote on September 12 to re-elect me as your District 23 Metro Council representative.
Someone once asked me if it was my dream and a goal to be a Metro Council representative when I left Japan. The answer is no. I never imagined I would be your Metro Council representative.
I was born in Tokyo, Japan. I am an only child raised by a single mother. I spent my early childhood in my mother’s hometown about 80 miles north from Tokyo, climbing trees, running around in rice fields, and playing by the river. I grew up supported by caring adults who watched over me while my mother was at work.
I attended public schools in Japan. My mother wanted to make sure that I did not have any disadvantages being raised by a single mother and made me study extra hard. I was always at the top of my class and nominated for class president each year. English was a mandatory subject starting in middle school; it was one of my favorite subjects.
Me and my mom in traditional Japanese attire
After graduating from the Japanese Public School System, I worked in an accounting department at a women’s apparel company in charge of daily sales report, accounts payable and receivable, inventory and P&L (Profit and Loss Statement).
Eventually, I found my calling in the hospitality industry. I became the youngest female General Manager of a popular restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo; at that time promoting females to a managerial position was not a common practice. In 1989, the company sent me to Atlanta to open up a new business there. I was in charge of every single aspect of opening the business from the ground up, such as the location search, leasing contract, obtaining business license, renovating the interior, hiring of local staff, purchasing and inventory, payrolls and P&L and obtaining visas for the Japanese staff.
After the business closed, I moved to Cincinnati and worked as the Assistant Food and Beverage Manager at Omni Netherland Hotel, then moved to Nashville in 1994. I worked at a restaurant, F. Scott's, for a short period of time, then moved on to became a corporate interpreter and bilingual recruiter until 2000. After getting married, I became a full-time caregiver for my mother-in-law who suffered from early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
To offer a bit of a different perspective on my personal life after arriving in Nashville, I will share a Blog Post written in March 2018 by a District 23 resident, Sheri Sellmeyer, for Nashville4All.
Volunteer Community Advocacy
One of my first forays into speaking at public hearings was in June 2009 at the Metro Planning Commission; I was speaking in opposition to LED signs in residential neighborhoods. Residents from over 30 different neighborhoods across Nashville spoke in opposition at the public hearing, after which the vote was deferred. After the meeting, I contacted the Planning staff to discuss more about the LED sign ordinance. Months later, a revised bill, sponsored by former Council Members Charlie Tygard and Jim Gotto, was brought before MPC. However, myself and other neighborhood leaders had also prepared our own LED sign bill that specifically prohibited LED signage in residentially zoned neighborhoods; we had asked neighborhood friendly council members to sponsor it. Although both of these bills were withdrawn, the existing code stood firm in not allowing LED signs in residentially zoned neighborhoods. That still holds true today.
Mina Johnson speaking at the June 11, 2009 MPC in opposition
to LED signage in residentially zoned neighborhoods
In October and November 2009, I attended and observed the Planning Commission Executive Committee session updating their rules and procedures. As an observer, I was unable to speak during the committee meeting. However, I was able to share my opinion regarding the public hearing process via e-mail. A common theme at Metro Planning Commission public hearings back then was, " I found out about this development a week ago." I pointed out the existing notification system was literally set up to notify people only a week prior to the public hearing, while development applications were submitted six weeks prior. I believed a large portion of frustration could be eliminated by changing the notification process, not only the area to be notified, but rather the timing to be notified. They all agreed the public should be notified as early as possible, and charged the director Rick Bernhardt with coming up with some available electronic options such as posting on their website, e-mail notification, e-mail update sign-up, etc.
In February 2011, Metro Planning Department rolled out the “Development Tracker” website. This became an invaluable tool for neighborhoods. This tracking system is still being used today.
Metro Nashville Development Tracker
In 2011, I spoke twice at Metro Council public hearings. In July 2011, then Councilman Mike Jameson was sponsoring a bill that would have permitted home businesses to allow customers/clients to come to a residential property. I do not believe a residential neighborhood should have commercial type businesses where customers/clients are allowed to visit. The same night as the public hearing, the Council actually voted to disapprove this bill – something that is rarely done at second reading.
July 5, 2011 Metro Council Meeting
My second public hearing appearance in November 2011, had to do with LED signage in residential neighborhoods. Former Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr. sponsored a bill to rezone a small portion of RS property to SP for the sole purpose of installing a LED sign. This would have set an unalterable precedent under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Again, along with some other neighborhood leaders, we opposed this bill. It was deferred indefinitely that night, and later withdrawn August 18, 2015.
November 1, 2011 Metro Council Meeting
In 2013, I spoke at the Board of Zoning Appeals public hearing, again on the subject of LED signage. This time it had to do with a request to convert a static billboard to LED and move it 300 feet. The original billboard was located at Belle Meade Plaza, near White Bridge Road. This billboard had already been torn down in anticipation of a new LED billboard in a different location. I, along with former District 34 Councilwoman Lynn Williams and Anne Carr from the Whitland neighborhood, spoke in opposition to this request. We were victorious, probably because the original billboard had already been removed. Today most people do not know that a proposed huge LED billboard, that would have towered above Belle Meade Plaza, was prevented by three women who took the time to speak at a BZA meeting.
Mina Johnson, Lynn Williams and Anne Carr
speaking before the July 25, 2013 BZA public hearing
AMP Citizens Advisory Committee
During the controversial transit plan known as “the AMP”, I was appointed by Mayor Karl Dean to serve on the AMP Citizens Advisory Committee, a 24-member committee to help facilitate a two-way conversation with the project team and the neighborhoods most greatly impacted by this project. Nashville Scene listed my credentials as “Community Volunteer and West Nashville resident.” In the end, the majority of committee members could not recommend the proposed design. My closing statement was, “I have more questions than answers after six months of our committee’s work.” In October 2014, Mayor Dean announced he would not seek further funding for the project. The final “nail” for the AMP came in February 2015, when the city announced plans to cease work on the project.
Mina Johnson, a member of the AMP Citizen Advisory Committee
with other committee members during a July 29, 2014 meeting
During the three-year process of updating Nashville’s General Plan, Nashville Next, I served on the Nashville Next Community Engagement Committee. This committee was used as advisors in how to reach all members of the Nashville community, including hard-to-reach constituents. We also reviewed community meeting reports, made recommendations as needed and participated in actual community meetings and online engagement.
March 2015 - Mina working with other committee members.
Mina participating in a Nashville Next community meeting.
My 2015 Campaign
Although it may appear that I had been putting myself on the front lines and had been speaking on behalf of the community, I never imagined I would became a council member during my community advocacy work. Someone once asked me if I was into politics; I responded all I wanted was to get things done. The person said that’s what is called politics, and you are very good at it.
In the summer of 2013, former District 23 Council Member Emily Evans, who would be term limited and leave office, encouraged me to run to fill her seat. My initial reaction was no way. As the end of 2014 approached, I realized none of our community advocacy leaders were coming forward to fill her seat. I started wondering who would carry our voice, and if the person wanting to fill her seat would know as much as we knew about our neighborhoods. Finally, it hit me, I may have to step up if no one else would. I reached out to several people, including Councilwoman Evans, to ask if they truly thought I should step up. The response was an overwhelming YES. So, in early 2015, I filed my paperwork with the Metro Election Commission. My “hat” was officially in the ring.
It turned out, the 2015 election for District 23 became quite memorable. One candidate forgot to turn in his qualifying petition paper on time and became a write-in candidate. Another candidate thought it was unfair for one write-in candidate to participate in the Belle Meade City candidates’ forum, so he too became an official write-in candidate. All in all, I picked up four opponents.
Throughout my past community involvement, I had a good grasp of what to expect in being a council member, its role and responsibilities. However, being a candidate is a whole new story. During the campaign, I was often asked why I decided to be a candidate. My answer was that I was not interested in being a candidate, but I was interested in continuing to do what I had been doing for years – speaking up and speaking out for our neighborhoods.
The 2015 Belle Meade candidates’ Forum
After the initial filing and the realization that I was actually going to run for Metro Council, I discovered all the things involved in running a campaign; setting up a campaign’s email and web site; canvassing neighborhoods; designing mail pieces, scheduling meet and greet events; participating in public forums; and last, but certainly not least, fundraising. Although Election Day seemed a long time away, the reality was there was almost too much to accomplish before the August 6, 2015 Election Day.
I was so fortunate to have good friends and fellow community activists offer to help; they all jumped in and quickly became my volunteer campaign team. Although we had been active on the issues pertaining to our neighborhoods, none of us knew how to run a campaign. We asked many questions to former and current council members on how to campaign. They all said the same thing, raise money and knock on doors. It sounded simple enough. However, it did not take too long to find out it is easier said than done.
I found fundraising to be rather challenging. Even though my campaign team were all volunteers, I discovered I needed professional help with the mail pieces, yard signs and campaign materials. With the help of friends and neighbors, I was able to raise almost enough to cover campaign costs. On the other hand, door knocking was quite enjoyable regardless of the hot summer heat and walking up long hilly driveways. I will never forget that people thanked me for running and offered cold water. How amazing was that!
On Election night after the polls closed and the votes counted, I had received the most votes (2,162), but not enough for an outright victory of 50% plus one needed. I was in a runoff! The runoff election was scheduled for September 10, 2015. So, five more weeks of campaigning by doing everything we had been doing, but in a much shorter period of time.
On the night of September 10, as my campaign team gathered to watch the runoff election results, we were upbeat. In the end, we had good reason; I won each of the four voting precincts in District 23 to become the next District 23 Metro Council Member.
Victory Party - September 10, 2015
09/21/15 -Mina Johnson officially being sworn in
by Chancellor Carol McCoy at the historic Hermitage Hotel
Site of the final battle to pass the 19th Amendment
My Four Years in Council
During the last four years, my Metro Government experience has intensified. Although I had over 15 years of community volunteer experience, understanding the “nitty gritty” of the mechanics of exactly how Metro Government works, was a little shocking. Actually, being an elected official is somewhat overwhelming in many ways. I had appeared before the Metro Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and Metro Council many times representing myself and my own views. Now I was representing all constituents in District 23. It was, and still is, very important for me to listen to my constituents and decide the best outcome for the district I had been elected to represent and for Nashville as a whole.
My campaign vision included priorities of protecting neighborhoods from over development and requiring more transparency and accountability; two areas I truly believed I could impact. Many candidates will say while campaigning that they will solve big problems. Solving big problems is important, and Metro Council members do vote on solutions. However, for some issues, Metro Council has very little input and authority. For example, many people may think Metro Council has some oversight or authority over the Metro Public School System since Council approves the school budget as a part of the Mayor’s budget. However, under the Metro Charter, only the Board of Education has the final say with what happens in the school system, including teachers’ pay. The Metro budget provides funding to MNPS, but the Board of Education is the only entity that can decide how it is spent.
Another issue where Metro Council has little input is Metro’s operating budget. Budgetary issues cannot be solved by a single Council member, no matter a Council member’s financial background or knowledge managing big budgets. Reality is that the mayor submits an annual operating budget; the only Council member that really has any input is the Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee. All forty members of the Council may suggest amending the chair’s budget; but, it will have to be adopted by 21 votes. Even then, the Mayor holds the veto power, and Council must vote on three separate days and adopt it by a 2/3 vote of the Council body prior to June 30th to overturn the veto.
So, what can a single Council member accomplish? Any ordinance or resolution submitted by a Council member requires 21 yes votes to be approved. Collaboration and consensus are key to accomplishing any goal. The majority of votes that Council members cast has to do with zoning. Understanding the nuances of zoning is critical. For more detailed information about zoning, please see my blog Zoning in District 23 - Why Zoning Matters and What I am Doing to Protect Neighborhoods in District 23.
To meet my pledge to Preserve and Protect our Neighborhoods, my first bill was to cancel an outdated development plan that would have allowed ridge top development to create 900 multi-housing units on 245 acres; I replaced it with the Nashville Highland Specific Plan that would allow development up to 360 units on a limited 14 acres, keeping more than 200 acres as open and natural space.
Nashville Highlands Specific Plan - 200 acres preserved.
My next bill cancelled another outdated development plan at the end of Rodney Drive that would have allowed 600 multi-housing units on 123 acres; I replaced it with the Nandi Hill Specific Plan that would allow development up to 128 multi-family units or assisted living when and if the property owner decides to proceed. Currently there is no plan to develop the hill, and I helped the property owner to obtain a Greenbelt tax classification. In addition, I have co-sponsored bills to eliminate short-term rentals from residentially zoned properties. You can read my newsletter about STR-Short Term Rental Ordinance sent in January, 2018, as well as my blog on Short Term Rentals - Why I Am Trying To Improve Regulations And Protect Neighborhoods
Nandi Hill Specific Plan - reduced from 600 units to 128.
To meet my pledge for more Transparency and Accountability, I have co-sponsored several bills to reform the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) process. As a member of the Rules and Confirmations Committee, one of the first actions we took was to afford accountability for all Metro Council committees by requiring a quorum of committee members before any vote is taken. To ensure more transparency, I also sponsored the bill that put Charter Amendment 1 on the August 1 ballot. This Amendment requires more transparency regarding Nashville’s annual operating budget by requiring performance and efficiency measurements for departments, boards, commissions and agencies. In addition, it requires the mayor to submit more detailed information about Nashville’s debt.
To meet my pledge for Efficient Communication, I have e-mailed out over 60 newsletters and conducted 33 Districtwide community meetings along with numerous other smaller neighborhood meetings. For every rezoning request brought to me over the last four years, I have averaged 8 combined community and neighborhood meetings before any development plans or zone requests were finalized. In addition, I have answered countless emails and telephone calls. Although I admit I have missed responding to a few e-mails in a timely manner, I have been accessible when my constituents needed me for my assistance.
Some of the projects accomplished in District 23 during my first term include:
Davidson Road sidewalk project - Phase I between Hillwood High School and H. G. Hill Middle School has been completed! The sidewalk project from Hillwood High School to Harding Pike has been in the Capital Improvement Budget for more than 12 years, but was never funded prior to 2015. It took persistence on my part to convince the Public Works sidewalk project team that my constituents needed this sidewalk to be built for many reasons. Phase II is currently underway. It will resume as soon as all the easement agreements are finalized.
Sidewalk Plan on Davidson Road in front of HG Hill Middle and Hillwood High Schools.
Ongoing discussions to keep the West Meade Elementary school in our district– The West Meade Elementary School classroom addition and renovation plan has been in the Capital Improvement Budget Request for over 10 years. At a January 2018 meeting, MNPS surprised us by revealing three options for the school. One option would remove the elementary school from District 23. I am working hard to make sure an elementary school remains in our district. I held several community meetings and urged residents to respond to the school survey. I have been lobbying MNPS to rezone school clusters so the residents of Hillwood and West Meade will have options to send children to a neighborhood elementary school instead of in the opposite direction of their neighborhoods. You can read more about Westmeade Elementary School plans in my January, 2018 newsletter.
Traffic calming effort – Speeding in our neighborhood streets was one of the top complaints I heard during my first term. I conducted the first districtwide traffic calming meeting in May 2016, as well as requesting the West Police Precinct for aid, whenever available, for many streets of District 23 to monitor and reduce speeding in our neighborhoods. Earlier this year, Bresslyn Road was approved as one of Metro Public Works traffic calming projects. The community meeting was held on June 1st and several ideas were shared by Public Works Traffic Calming manager Derek Hagerty. We will pick it up later to decide which recommendations to adopt after the runoff election.
Traffic calming proposal on Bresslyn Rd.
Historical marker project for District 23 – Metro Council allocated funding to install historical markers in each Council district. I worked with the Metro Historical Commission on the first historical marker project in our district. It was my honor to recognize Hillwood Estates and the Hill family for their enormous contribution to our community.
Dedication of the Hillwood Estates historical marker
Being instrumental for the City of Belle Meade – as the District 23 Council member, I am not directly responsible for nor required to interact with the residents of the City of Belle Meade since it has its own government; yet they are also my constituents. I thought the best way for me to represent the residents of the City of Belle Meade was to establish a great rapport with the Belle Meade City Commissioners. I attended Belle Meade City Commission meetings regularly to learn about their issues and shared updates in Metro Government that might affect the City of Belle Meade. I was able to connect the Belle Meade City manager with Nashville Electric Service when they were having difficulty with the installation of the License Plate Reader Cameras on the NES poles. Also, after Tennessee State legislators passed a bill to repeal the Hall income tax in 2017, the City of Belle Meade started searching for ways to fill the gap in their city budget. I sponsored Resolution RS2018-1473 to update the inter-governmental agreement to bring more revenue to the City of Belle Meade to fill the loss of the Hall income tax.
The Hillwood Boulevard Bridge’s renovation was completed in August 2019. This year-long project as part of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Public Highway Bridge System is co-owned by the City of Nashville and the City of Belle Meade. Prior to the construction, I contacted representative John Ray Clemmons, various project team leaders within Metro Public Works, and the City of Belle Meade to be sure all agencies and project teams were coordinating to minimize negative impact and inconvenience to the neighbors. The completion of the project came ahead of schedule, and the opening of the renovated bridge was welcomed by all.
Renovated Hillwood Bridge
These are just a few examples of my involvements in the past four years.
As your District 23 Metro Councilmember, I have served on the Rules, Confirmations and Public Elections Committee, the Planning, Zoning and Historical Committee, and the Public Works Committee, as well as Continuum of Care Homelessness Planning Council. Throughout my first term, I have worked with other Council members to mandate more transparency for certain Metro areas that have been, or at least given an appearance of, operating under an opaque system. With each rezone request, I have worked to ensure it was a good fit for the surrounding neighborhood. During the past two years, I have been working with MNPS and the administration to ensure the high school property is retained for the best use for our community. You can read the details on my blog How the West Nashville Community Plan Will Help Save the Hillwood High School Property. I believe my record shows I have successfully accomplished each of my priorities.
Four Years Later
It is hard to believe it has been four years since my last election. It has been my honor and privilege to represent District 23. There is still more work to be done, and I am committed to serving the residents of this district to the best of my ability. I have detailed my pledge, containing nine areas, on my web page, https://www.minaforcouncil.com/minaspledge, with my top priorities being to preserve and protect our wonderful residential neighborhoods, keep Hillwood High School property for the best use for our community and install transparency and accountability in Metro Government.
My campaign team is hard at work donating their time and energy by canvassing door to door in sweltering 95+ degree temperatures, placing yard signs, making phone calls, writing post cards, helping with meet and greet events, working the polls during early voting and election day and generally just being there for whatever needs to be done. My all volunteer campaign team includes neighborhood leaders within District 23, as well as outside, millennials who are getting involved for the first time and neighborhood residents who believe in my leadership. Most of my volunteers have been on my campaign team since the last election. I am so proud and grateful that I don’t have any paid staff on my campaign team, just neighbors and friends devoting their time for my campaign.
I believe my last four years of Council experience and past nearly 20 years of community advocacy provide the right experience, the right skills and the right knowledge to navigate Metro Government. I am not afraid to ask the tough questions and call for better transparency and accountability. I have always been able to work with residents and city leaders toward common goals and unity through balancing fiscal responsibility and sound judgment.
Nashville is at a crossroads. We must make sure neighborhood voices are heard. I know I can be a loud voice for neighborhoods; I have been doing that for almost 20 years. I have more to accomplish for the residents of District 23. I do appreciate your vote and support in allowing me to continue my journey on the Metro Council road, and the honor to once again represent you for the next four years. Early voting has already started and runs through September 7. The runoff Election Day is September 12. VOTE Mina For Council, https://www.minaforcouncil.com
Zoning in District 23 - Why Zoning Matters and What I am Doing to Protect Neighborhoods in District 23
What is zoning?
I think it is fair to say that zoning is something that is not on most people’s mind, unless you are in the business of development or investment. Most people don’t even think about it until they receive a rezone request or a public hearing notice from a nearby property owner or developer. Then panic sets in, and all types of questions pop up. “What is my zoning?” “What will the re-zone mean; what will be built there?”
Zoning is a set of rules that governs how land may be used and developed, including density, building placement, lot coverage, parking, signage, landscaping and buffering requirements. Zoning and land use policy were established to protect our community’s safety, health and welfare.
There are many different zoning classifications throughout Nashville and Davidson County. The vast majority of District 23 is zoned residential, either RS (single family residential), R (one and two-family residential) or RM (multi-family residential), with few exceptions of CS (commercial service), OR (office and residential) and SP (specific plan).
Residential Zoning in District 23
The majority of residential zoning in District 23 is RS40. It permits one single-family home per 40,000 sqft or roughly one house per 1 acre. RS20 permits one house per half acre and RS80 permits one house per 2 acres and so forth. Former District 23 Councilmember Gary Odom had the foresight to rezone almost all R zoning to RS when the RS zoning classification became available in1987. Back then, there was no zoning classification to differentiate between single-family and two-family homes. However, several property owners “opted out” in order to remain R zoning even though a single-family home structure was there; also, some duplex property owners “opted in” and rezoned to RS even though the use remained as duplex.
Evolution of R zoning
For years most of us thought of duplexes as a single structure containing two housing units, each having a separate entrance, but sharing a common wall. In Nashville, many of these older duplexes had one owner who lived in one side and rented out the other. This changed sometime in the 1970s. Through an attempt to be precise, Metro code defined a duplex as “a two-family structure is two attached dwelling units forming a single structure connected by not less than eight feet of continuous floor, roof and walls.”
One might say the definition of a duplex was poorly written, or the person who thought of how to construct a house that looked like the description was “thinking outside the box”.
Whichever the case might be, the duplexes that popped up around 2005 were not received favorably. Some called the connector wall as the “umbilical cord”.
To appeal to the eye of the beholder and to better define the two-family structures, BL2008-115 was introduced by CMs Holleman & Tygard. The adoption of this ordinance created a detached duplex, separated by 10 feet. Unfortunately, outside-of-the-box-thinkers then squeezed “tall & skinnies” onto small lots and created out-of-character structures in established neighborhoods. BL2014-770 was introduced by CMs Hunt, S. Davis, Allen & A. Davis and adopted in September 2014. This bill established the distance between two structures from 10 feet to 6 feet and limited the height of the building to one and one-half the width.
You may have heard the term HPR (Horizontal Property Regime). It is Metro’s official term for two detached houses on one lot. HPRs were initially used for condos, where units are stacked on top of one another. Today if you purchase an HPR (two houses on one lot), you only own the land under the footprint of the house. The land surrounding the house is a common area, but can be limited, governed by an HOA. It may sound strange, but two owners will need to create a Homeowners Association if you own a detached duplex (HPR).
Zoning and Community Plans?
Although the majority of District 23 is zoned RS40, not every RS property is treated equally. It can be rezoned if the property owner wishes. However, whether the wish can be granted will be dictated by the Community Plan Policy.
The majority of residential property in District 23 is under T3 Suburban Neighborhood Maintenance Policy. In layman’s terms, it means the community desires to maintain the existing neighborhood character with no drastic changes. Under the existing T3 Suburban Neighborhood Maintenance Policy, it will be nearly impossible to change RS40 zoning to increase density or change it to another zoning classification, such as office or commercial use or even to R40 in order to build a detached duplex (HPR). However, it does not prevent an existing ranch-style house from being torn down and being replaced by a modern looking or much larger single-family house.
A few small areas in District 23 are under a Supplemental Policy rather than the T3 Suburban Neighborhood Maintenance Policy. Some Supplemental Policy areas provide guidance as to how the property should be developed when higher density is sought, and other Supplemental Policy areas provide how best to utilize the property when the current use ceases.
The Hillwood High School Property is one of the Supplemental Policy Areas in District 23. I have talked about how we can uphold this Supplemental Policy to keep the Hillwood High School property for the best use for the community in my earlier blog. You can read about it in here.
The Charlotte Pike corridor across from Nashville West is another Supplemental Policy Area. It was identified as a suitable area for higher density infill development considering it is located across from a high intensity commercial area that transitions to a single-family residential area. The first zone change in that Supplemental Policy Area was the Hillwood Court development. The first phase of the Hillwood Court development was initiated by our previous Councilmember Emily Evans, and it set the tone for density and building design.
There are quite a few properties across from Nashville West under Supplemental Policy that are currently zoned RS40. Therefore, that area can be transformed to add some density and maintain the existing neighborhood character with the right vision and collaboration.
How the rezoning process works?
Please keep in mind, every rezoning request must be approved by Metro Council through an ordinance. The ordinance needs 21 votes for approval of a rezone request if the plan is recommended by the Metro Planning Commission; 27 votes if the plan is disapproved by the Metro Planning Commission.
During my past four years in office, rezone requests typically went like this. First, I received an e-mail or phone call from someone who wanted to change their existing zoning. I provided my input as to whether the rezone they were seeking was either in line with our Community Plan Policy or not.
For example, I received several inquiries from individuals who wanted to develop their property for hotel/restaurant/office use, but the only higher-density use currently permitted was residential use. Therefore, I told them that those uses were not permitted under the current Community Plan Policy. You have not heard about any of those inquiries since none of them proceeded any further.
If the proposed plan passed the first hurdle, the next step was for me to set up a community meeting to connect the applicant who wanted to rezone their property with surrounding community members. I had a minimum of two community meetings to as many as five community meetings prior to the plan being filed at the Planning Commission.
On my watch, a rezoning request is only put on the Planning Commission agenda when a general agreement has been made after several community meetings. I have made it clear to applicants and to community members that I would not carry a bill to rezone a property if it was disapproved by the Planning Commission. Some rezoning requests have been withdrawn due to my policy position.
At this point, the rezone request became an ordinance, following the approval of the rezoning request by the Metro Planning Commission and moved to Metro Council for consideration. By this time, I had conducted several community meetings to make sure all the concessions and conditions were incorporated into the ordinance prior to the final passage.
Specific Plan and Final Review
Specific Plan (SP) zoning was created in 2005 to allow for more flexibility for the developer in order to meet market demands. It also assures Council members and community residents of a greater certainty as to what the final project will look like. Community members have a better chance of negotiating conditions, requirements and limitations. Although with good intentions, it appears there have been some disconnects in between preliminary SP and a final SP plan.
My first bill I passed was to cancel an outdated development plan that would have allowed ridge top development to create 900 multi-housing units on 245 acres. I’ve worked with the developer, the surrounding neighbors, and the planning staff to reduce the size of the development to 360 units on a limited 14 acres keeping more than 200 acres as open and natural space. Also, I added that the final plan was to be reviewed by the Metro Planning Commission as one of the Specific Plan conditions.
Because of this specific condition, I was able to meet with the development team, the planning staff and community members to make sure the final plan captured precisely what we had agreed on during the preliminary plan discussions four years ago. Typically, the final SP plan is reviewed by each department and approved by the planning staff. No other final SP plan is reviewed by the full Metro Planning Commission. However, history was made, and the final SP plan was approved by the full Metro Planning Commission on August 22nd.
Experience and knowledge
Much of a District Council member’s work is dealing with zone changes and zoning policy. Zoning and community plan policies are not black and white or simple numbers. It requires comprehension of all the technicalities and nuances of our zoning code.
I have demonstrated during my first term how appropriate development plans can fit into our community and make it even better by working together and rejecting plans that do not fit. I am committed to protecting and preserving our wonderful neighborhoods, and to working with you to enhance them. However, I can only continue my efforts with your support and your vote for me for District 23 Metro Council. Early voting for the Runoff Election runs through September 7, starting at Belle Meade City Hall on Friday, August 30. Runoff Election Day is Thursday, September 12, 2019. Please cast your vote for Mina Johnson.
Mina For Council https://www.minaforcouncil.com/
What are short-term rentals, anyway? It is an alternate lodging option other than hotel and motel rooms where people can book rooms using online booking tools such as Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO etc.
Why is it so controversial and complicated? Prior to 2015, there was no law to regulate short-term rentals in Nashville. I attended several meetings about proposed short-term rental regulations in 2014 and shared my concerns on enforcement with the bill’s sponsor CM Burkley Allen. Over a yearlong community engagement, the first short-term rental ordinance, BL2014-951, was passed by a previous Council in February 2015 with good intentions.
However, almost from day one, Metro had no way to fully enforce the regulations that were approved in 2015, and a huge STR industry exploded in Nashville, causing some residential neighborhoods to be overrun with tourists and party houses. That was the unforeseen and unintended consequence.
To address unintended consequences, several ordinances have been approved since 2015. One of the latest bills was BL2017-608. I co-sponsored this bill in order to ensure preservation of the neighborhood while bringing back the original intent of short-term rentals as a home-sharing business model.
BL2017-608 created two types of short-term rental permits; one is Owner-Occupied and the other is Non-Owner Occupied. An owner-occupied permit can be obtained in any zoning district as an accessory use to residential uses, while a non-owner occupied permit is considered as a commercial use and allowed only in certain zoning district with conditions. You can read more about my reasons for supporting and sponsoring this bill in my January 5, 2018 newsletter, https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/TNNASH/bulletins/1d0cba8.
Unfortunately, we are still facing another unintended consequence. Under the BL2017-608, non-owner-occupied permits are allowed in RM zoning - Residential Multifamily, that includes apartments, condominiums and townhouses. Over the years there have been problems, and complaints have been lodged. Many of these condos are owned by long-term residents who are now finding an STR on the other side of a common wall being occupied by different transients several times a week. The added noise, overflow parking and not knowing who is occupying a nearby unit are not what the condo owner bought into. In addition, some long-time apartment dwellers are finding their leases not being renewed in order for the owner of the apartments to transform the building into STRs.
Substitute BL2019-1633 currently under consideration
To solve problems in RM zoning, BL2019-1633 was introduced with good intentions. It would have prohibited issuing new permits in RM zoning while aligning the language in Metro’s regulations with the language in the Short-Term Rental Unit Act of Tennessee. Not only would this have protected long-term residents, but would have also provided additional housing options for the many new residents moving to Nashville.
However, this abrupt change in STR permits in RM zoning created great concerns from developers, investors and realtors who are in the process of acquiring properties for short-term rental purposes. Based on the feedback, the sponsor of the bill made several concessions, and on July 2 introduced a Substitute Bill BL2019-1633.
This substitute bill added the following:
Section 3 of the substitute bill specifies special conditions as to how and until when non-owner occupied STR permits in RM zoning can be obtained. It extended the date the permit can be obtained to January 1, 2022. The original bill would have prohibited issuing non-owner occupied STR permits in RM zoning on October 1, 2019.
Section 14 of the substitute bill allows the right to transfer an STR permit only in RM zoning if conditions in section 3 are met.
Section 15 of the substitute bill specifies no permit shall be issued if an STR permit in RM zoning has been revoked.
Concerns with Substitute BL2019-1633
I believe any regulation change will have to be fair and reasonable. In that sense, stopping the issuance of STR permits in RM zoning after October 1, 2019 will create great harm to those who are currently in the process of obtaining a building permit, or going through a zone change. Although I am not promoting non-owner occupied STRs in RM zoning, it will not be fair to abruptly interrupt their plan and cause harm in the middle of their project.
My biggest concern is section 14 providing transfer rights. STR permits are meant to be a one-year renewal permit issued to the property owner, not to the property itself. By allowing transfer rights to RM zoning, the permit is now tied to a specific property, not to the property owner. I can see unintended consequences by allowing permit transfers only in RM zoning. How can we be sure someone won’t challenge Metro to allow the transfer rights for non-owner occupied STR permits in R and RS residential zoning? If that happens, all our past efforts to protect residential zoning from commercial activities will go out of the window.
My proposed changes to Substitute BL2019-1633
I am sponsoring two other substitute bills to BL2019-1633 that will be introduced at the next Council meeting on August 20th.
The first of my substitutes is to bring back the BL2019-1633 to its original intent to eliminate non-owner occupied STRs from RM zoning, but with a reasonable timeline. It will bring the current language in Metro’s STR regulations into compliance with the State’s Short Term Rental Unit Act, as well as adding a provision for current STR permit holders of Horizontal Property Regime (HPR) property, more commonly called duplexes, to continue their permit in order to prevent further lawsuits.
The second of my substitutes is simply bringing the current language in Metro’s STR regulations into compliance with the State’s Short Term Rental Unit Act, as well as adding the provision for current STR permit holders with HPR property to continue their permit. It will not affect the multi-family building owner’s ability to apply for and receive non-owner occupied STR permits. Nothing major will change under this second substitute.
Experience and Knowledge with STRs
STR issues and regulations are complex. I don’t know how Council will vote on CM Allen’s Substitute Bill BL2019-1633 (as amended), or one of my substitute bills. It may be necessary, in order for us to get it right, for the next Council to take up this issue and take the time to meet with all stakeholders to come up with the best possible solution for everyone.
Under the strict guidelines of the State bill, the Short Term Rental Unit Act, I believe there are ways we can better enforce our regulations. Lack of staffing and resources in the Codes Department has hampered that effort. However, I am committed to continuing to find ways to allow short-term rentals to operate in our city without disrupting the lives of our residents.
I can only continue my efforts with your support and your vote for me for District 23 Metro Council. Early voting for the runoff election begins on August 23 and runs through September 7. Runoff Election Day is September 12.
Mina For Council, https://www.minaforcouncil.com
Thank you for your votes and encouragement to advance me into the runoff election! I am grateful to gain the endorsement and support by the general election candidate Rob McKinney for the runoff election.
One of the frequently asked questions during my campaign for the general election was, why did you reconsider and decide to run. One might ask why did you flip-flop? That is a fair question, it is human nature to be curious. At various events I have answered that question, but apparently word has not spread. In fact, someone will still say “I thought you were not running.” The day I announced I would not seek re-election must have been a slow news day; the Tennessean ran my announcement on page 3 under Governor Bill Lee. Unfortunately, the day my press release went out announcing I had re-considered and would now seek re-election did not even make print news at all.
I made an announcement in January 2019 in order to provide plenty of time for the candidates to prepare for the general election. My decision at that time was purely based on a personal reason. My husband accepted a job in Atlanta, Georgia a couple of years ago. We had hoped his work would eventually bring him back to Nashville full time, but that had not yet happened. I was traveling to Atlanta on weekends when I did not have Council business. I thought it would have been nice not to drive four hours each way and be able to spend more time with my husband after my first term was completed.
After the announcement was made, it caused quite a concern for many of my constituents, colleagues and several department heads in Metro. I received many e-mails and telephone calls urging me to reconsider. There is not one specific issue that drove me to reconsider. Instead, it was the continual presence of my constituents with concerns that projects I have been championing, but not quite completed, may be dropped or forgotten. Plus, issues where I have been a strong advocate, like transparency and accountability in government, protecting environment and preserving open and natural space, may not be a top priority without my leadership.
Another factor in my reconsideration decision, was that Nashville is at a crossroads. This election is not just about which candidate wins; it’s about which candidate will make sure Nashville takes the right path.
Nashville is booming with development. Each day as I am out and about driving into Nashville, it is impossible not to see all the cranes in the downtown skyline. We are told that about 100 people a day are moving to Nashville and the surrounding area. Last year 15.2 million tourists visited Nashville. Nashville’s finances should be in good shape; but they aren’t as we would like them to be. When I looked at last year’s budget shortfall, the growth in our expenses continued to outweigh our revenue. Last fiscal year one dollar out of every $10 of government funds went to pay off debt. Just a few short weeks ago the Metro Council was required by Charter to approve a budget for FY2020. The Mayor’s proposed budget contained a shortfall, and the Metro Council Budget and Finance Committee Chair’s proposed budget contained a 15.8% property tax increase. Neither budget was good for Nashville.
Over the last four years, there have been some strong voices in the Council. One strong voice that I share common views with is At Large Councilman and runoff mayoral candidate John Cooper. When he announced he had decided to run for mayor, it really made me think deep and hard. If he is elected, it would be great to be back on the Council and work with him to really get some things done. We are both strong advocates for neighborhoods, and his focus has been on taking care of neighborhoods. Another thought was if he is not elected, who will be there to be the strong voice for neighborhoods and fiscal responsibility. I was unable to walk away realizing I could be that strong voice. So, I could say another big factor that made me decide to reconsider seeking re-election was John Cooper entering the mayoral race. I am happy to share that John has endorsed me and supports my re-election campaign.
John Cooper says "She is the most qualified,
informed and prepared council member."
Four years ago, when I decided to run for office, my number one priority was to preserve and protect our wonderful neighborhoods in District 23. Soon after moving to West Meade almost 20 years ago, I began my ‘volunteer’ neighborhood advocacy work. I never imagined being a Council member during my community advocacy work. I ran for office, encouraged by former Council member Emily Evans, when her term was up. Also, many neighborhood leaders involved in community advocacy work during the past 20 years urged me to run. My friends and fellow community activists have been on my campaign team since the last election. I am so proud and grateful that I don’t have any paid staff on my campaign team.
My top priorities today are the same as they were in 2015 – preserve and protect our wonderful residential neighborhoods, keep Hillwood High School property for the best use for our community, and install transparency and accountability in Metro Government.
In my first term, I was able to cancel an outdated development plan and also preserve over 200 acres of land as natural and open space by passing BL2016-86, BL2016-87, BL2017-674 and BL2017-675. On all my other rezoning bills, I averaged eight community meetings prior to any development plan and zone change requests were finalized. Some plans were withdrawn before consideration by the Metro Planning Commission due to lack of community support.
Although MNPS is the ultimate decision maker for the future use of the Hillwood High School property, I have been working with MNPS and the administration to ensure the property is retained for the best use for our community. Click Here to see my blog post on Hillwood High School Property.
Transparency and accountability were common goals among many fellow Council members during my first term. At-large Council member Bob Mendes led the effort to reforming TIF (Tax Increment Financing) structure. BL2016-157 requires MDHA to submit a detailed annual report to the Council, requires tax revenue to come back to Metro once the TIF loan is paid; and allows Metro to retain the portion of tax revenue for debt service funds for new TIF loans. BL2019-1613 amended the annual TIF report requirement. BL2019-1644 updated an implementation of the annual TIF report. BL2019-1630, currently under consideration, will increase the property tax revenue retained by Metro that is used to pay for TIF loans. I was a co-sponsor on each of these bills. We have made much progress, but our work is not yet finished. These issues are not simple; they are complicated.
I have dedicated my time and energy to represent our District. I have gained significant experience and institutional knowledge during my first term. I am the right person to continue to mandate more transparency and accountability for Metro. I am committed to continue to serve our District and Nashville.
I hope you will give me the privilege to once again represent you for the next four years by voting for me in the upcoming runoff election. Early voting begins on August 23 through September 7. The runoff Election Day is September 12. VOTE Mina For Council, https://www.minaforcouncil.com
Below is an overview of the Metro Council runoff election schedule for District 23.
Over the past decade, I have been actively involved in the development and enforcement of the West Nashville Community Plan, which represents a community policy outline for development in West Nashville, including District 23. Following the principles and policies contained in the West Nashville Community Plan is the best strategy to save the Hillwood High School Property.
Hillwood High School opened in 1959; over the 60 year-span there have been about ten additions to the school. The Bellevue community lobbied hard for a high school of their own, urging that Hillwood High School move to Bellevue. After public hearings before the Metro School Board where Hillwood and West Meade neighbors spoke passionately to keep the high school on Davidson Road, the School Board in January 2017 approved the move out of the Hillwood/West Meade area to Bellevue. The site of the new school is the old Hope Park Church site (244 acres) located at 8001 Highway 70 south in Bellevue. The original estimate for the move was $90 million, but with a land purchase price of $10.2 million, estimates now top $100 million.
For the residents of Hillwood and West Meade, there is much concern about what happens to the school property once Hillwood High School closes. Currently, Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and School Board members do not have a specific plan for the property. However, over the last few years I have been working with the community, MNPS and the administration to keep the property for the best use for the community. I have obtained a commitment from MNPS leaders and Metro administration that the community will play a key role in deciding the best use of the property. I am committed to making sure that MNPS and the administration follow through on their word when the high school closes.
Additionally, in 2009 the West Nashville community began the process to update the West Nashville Community Plan. Having extensive knowledge of the Community Character Manual and community plans, I attended every meeting and provided input based on my knowledge of District 23.
A community plan is the key planning policy guide for decision-making regarding a community’s future. To achieve this, the West Nashville Community Plan applies the Community Character Manual Policies to every property in West Nashville. The Community Character Manual Policies are designed to coordinate the elements of development to ensure the intended character of an area is achieved. These policies are the standard by which development and future zone change requests are measured. Each area is first designated as a Transect – Suburban Transect, Urban Transect, Rural Transect, Center Transect, Downtown Transect or District Transect.
Anticipating the possibility that Hillwood High School would close, we made sure the West Nashville Community Plan specifically addressed Hillwood High School as an area that needed additional guidance as a Supplemental Policy. Hillwood High School is referenced as SPA 07-T3-C1-01. What that means is it is a Supplemental Policy Area in a suburban transect (T3) designated as West Nashville Civic (C1) Area 1. The West Nashville Community Plan expressly states:
It is the consensus of the community that this SPA remain dedicated to a public use and owned by the Metropolitan Government (Metro). Were the use as Hillwood High School to cease in whole or in part, all steps should be taken to ensure continued use of the land as a school. The preference is for an elementary school to serve the shifting demographic of the Hillwood and West Meade communities. However, other levels of education should be considered provided it meets the community’s need for an academically focused institution.
In the event neither MNPS nor its partners wishes to occupy all of the property, partial use of the property for a school should be considered.
All steps should be taken to ensure the remainder of the property can be considered for park and community use subject to review by the Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation (MBPR). Consideration should be given for the way in which the property could benefit and complement the neighboring H.G. Hill Middle School use. Special care should be taken to ensure a park or community use is not overly burdensome to the surrounding neighborhood.
Finally, if neither MNPS, its partners, nor the MBPR wishes to use the Hillwood High School property in whole or in part, Metro should properly secure the buildings and hold them in reserve until such time as it is desired and possible to use as a school and/or a park and community center. Outdoor recreational areas and open space should be properly maintained and accessible to the community for its use. Demolition of the buildings, except in the case of renovation and improvement, is not desired. Sale of the property by Metro is strenuously discouraged.
As another safeguard, I have requested to re-purpose the Hillwood High School building and athletic field for use as a park, library or community center in case MNPS decides not to utilize it for a school purpose. The re-purpose request was recorded in the Capital Improvement Budget under CIB request 19DS0140; it will stay in CIB unless removed by the next Council. Please see my May 4, 2019 newsletter https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/TNNASH/bulletins/2417f1a?fbclid=IwAR3ExTM-a8V7I-LcFY2vRw1yAeFiQzEqjQppgHOtKyyOwvugWWU4zd-rEWA.
Therefore, with the assurance from MNPS and the administration, along with the Special Policy provision in the West Nashville Community Plan and my re-purpose CIB request, I am committed to continue making sure that the Hillwood High School property be retained for the best use for the community - a school and/or park and community center with outdoor recreational areas and open space accessible for community use.
In order for me to keep my commitment, I need your support and your vote to re-elect me in the upcoming runoff election. Early voting begins on August 23 through September 7. The runoff Election Day is September 12. VOTE Mina For Council, https://www.minaforcouncil.com