Nov 15, 2022 - Politics

Community benefits agreements in the spotlight

Illustration of Nashville City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Debate about community benefits agreements, the sometimes-controversial negotiating tool with the potential to hold up developments, hangs over two major proposals for East Nashville.

Driving the news: Metro Council is set to decide the fate of a rezoning proposal for the Riverchase apartment complex. The plan, which is on tonight's council agenda, calls for 1,150 units including 225 affordable housing units.

  • The Riverchase developer, Cypress Real Estate Advisers, entered into a community benefits agreement with the Urban League after months of negotiating with the politically influential nonprofit group Stand Up Nashville.

Meanwhile: In pursuit of a new $2.1 billion indoor stadium, the Tennessee Titans eschewed a community benefits agreement like the one reached for the fairgrounds soccer development, instead announcing separate investments and nonprofit partnerships.

Catch up quick: Stand Up Nashville negotiated the first community benefits agreement in Tennessee history in 2018 as part of the fairgrounds soccer stadium project.

  • Stand Up Nashville opposes the Riverchase plan and has criticized the stadium proposal.

Details: A community benefits agreement is a binding contract in which a developer promises to make investments to, as the name says, benefit the community. For instance, CREA is committing to infrastructure investments, affordable housing units and providing a grant to the nearby neighborhood association.

  • Community benefits agreements are legally dicey because the Republican-led legislature passed a law making it illegal to tie a zoning proposal to such agreements.
  • Governments are also barred from directly entering into community benefits agreements.
  • Advocates say community benefits agreements are tools that help neighbors ensure they benefit from ambitious redevelopment plans.

Zoom in: The Titans say their community benefits platform is binding because it will include contracts with its various partners.

  • The team is focusing on education, neighborhoods and workforce development, including a partnership with Tennessee State University and a $5 million investment in affordable housing.

What he's saying: As a demonstration of Stand Up Nashville's influence, the group was one of the nonprofit organizations invited by Councilmember Bob Mendes to speak about the issue of community benefits agreements during a recent East Bank Stadium Committee meeting.

  • Stand Up Nashville interim director Michael Callahan-Kapoor tells Axios he doesn't think there's enough detail in the Titans' community benefits platform to say anything definitively.
  • "What's been shared on their website seems like things that a publicly subsidized corporation of their size and wealth should already be doing," Callahan-Kapoor says.
  • Stand Up Nashville invited the Titans to a community meeting to discuss how the stadium benefits the community, Callahan-Kapoor says, but the team did not attend.

The other side: Titans senior vice president and chief legal counsel Adolpho Birch says the team settled on its benefits investments after extensive meetings with an array of community groups.

  • "Ultimately, increasing opportunities for workforce and small business development, nurturing and enhancing our neighborhoods in need, and supporting education at all levels was what the community believed would be most impactful."
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