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The saga of the Swingzone and the PPA

Written by Pegram Preservation Association President Nathan Dohse

When the first zoning signs went up on the property at Beverly Hills and Highway 70, it took our small community no time at all to organize. Everyone went to work researching the proposed project, but certain details were exceptionally hard to find. Our first question was, “How could a for-profit business possibly be built inside a residential neighborhood?” That’s when we started to uncover that this project had been in the works for a while in a different location and had already hit quite a few road bumps. It became very clear that the challenges we would face in confronting this development were not exclusive to our neighborhood of Dreamland Estates. And so, on January 7, 2024, we formed the Pegram Preservation Association.

Our first course of action was to request all public records, and members of our group diligently poured over them to sort out what was taking place in our town. All this information culminated in our first mailer, which was sent out in late February pointing out:

Ordinance 2023-158 was passed by Pegram’s leadership to give one of Pegram’s aldermen the ability to construct a “for-profit” development project in Pegram’s zoned residential areas. Since the ordinance passed, he has made several applications to move forward with this project. So far, each attempt has been thwarted by citizens, but this fight is just beginning.

That’s when things got interesting.

Our mailer did the trick. Residents of Pegram, all unaffiliated with the PPA at the time, showed up to the next Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting asking all the right questions and getting very few answers. Although the zoning issues were not on the agenda, Mayor John Louallen asked the city attorney Martha Brook Perry to give an explanation during her verbal report. Our email list exploded with sign-ups after the mailer, residents looking for info they could trust. The following day, we distributed our update from the BOMA meeting and our concerns about the verbal report that was issued:

The explanation given by Ms. Perry is that the ordinance was passed to clean up discrepancies the Planning Commission noticed as a result of Randy Howington's request. Martha Brooke Perry explained that the new ordinance moved "(previously only nonprofit) Recreational Centers and Gymnasiums" to a category of "Intermediate Impact Facilities" in the Pegram Zoning Code, to provide a higher standard of review by the Board of Zoning Appeals because previously, a "high impact" facility like a YMCA would theoretically be permitted as a special exception in a residential area under the existing zoning code.

What we would've liked to have heard was an explanation of how it was decided to expand the "Recreational Centers and Gymnasiums" category to include "for-profit" and how that was of benefit to the Pegram community in the short-term and the long-term.

While the most diligent and educated members of our group were poring over legal documents, my goal was to make sure that we really understood what people in this community loved about our little town. While others were researching the proposed development, I started to research Pegram itself, launching the Pretty Little Town of Pegram blog where I was able to interview long-time residents in the area. It was amazing to connect with so many people who have lived here for many decades. People who made this town what it is and have a real sense of pride in Pegram, even with all of its challenges and tragedies over the years.

Hearing these stories is what brought me to remember why my family came here in the first place. We had just finished looking at a nicely redone cottage-style home in Bellevue when our realtor asked if we had considered looking at anything in Pegram? We drove past what would eventually become Sperry’s Mercantile and down along Highway 70 past Eddie’s Market turning onto Beverly Hills Dr. As we pulled up the hill and made our turn onto Scenic View Dr., I looked at my partner and said, “I think we’re going to buy this house.” And we hadn’t even made it to the property yet. We moved our small family into our new home in Pegram on April 1, 2020, right when we were told we couldn’t go out into the world anymore. Well, that was fine by us. We planned on staying put right here in this beautiful new house in a wonderful sanctuary up on the ridge. What we didn’t know at the time was how wonderful the neighborhood of Dreamland Estates was, and how close we would eventually become with all our neighbors. I’ll never forget the first 4th of July in Pegram with all our neighbors down there with us, and we all sat together in the parking lot of the Fiddle and Pick, my young daughter running around with sparklers for the first time.

Pegram became my safe place. It was my sanctuary. A place where I could find peace.

A search for peace is something I found that everyone who came to Pegram, whether it was in the 1970s or in 2023, had in common. But I also found there was something many other folks in Pegram and Cheatham County had in common: an absolute love for baseball. These two desires would find themselves at the center of the argument over future developments in Pegram.

After the contentious BOMA meeting in February, the zoning application was again deferred. Yet, in the March issue of Bellevue Living magazine, the developer announced the project as coming soon…? We knew the fight wasn’t over, but for now, there wasn’t anything else for us to do but sit and wait for what happened next. With things seemingly quiet, the PPA board started discussing things we could do to be proactive in our community instead of reactive, and we set a time for our first community meeting. As if it were planned for it, the week of our community meeting we received notice of an application for a zoning exception on the portion of the Beverly Hills property that was solely inside Davidson County. Was a Pegram Alderman really going around his constituents to squeeze this large commercial development into the sliver of the property where Pegram residents’ voices would hold less sway?

With this question at the top of everyone’s mind, Pegram residents came pouring into the first PPA meeting.

We had vibrant discussions about what we hoped for Pegram. We heard from members of the South Cheatham Little League about what the needs were for the athletes and concerns that this facility would not feasibly serve the majority of these athletes, leaving the needs of the league largely unmet. We heard from members greater concerns of impropriety in local governance and a need for accountability. We heard the desires of the majority of Pegram residents for thoughtful development in the town center where, tragically, the grocery store had burned down.

These conversations sparked attendees to offer their support in launching an advisory board with members from across Pegram and committees to put on events and fundraisers that could bring the community together in many positive ways.

Most importantly, we discussed our role as citizens to participate in local government, at which point three members of the group announced they are running for Pegram Alderman. This would include the PPA’s first President, Miranda Montgomery, who stepped down from the board in order to run. And just like that, I was appointed the President of the Pegram Preservation Association.

There was one question that we couldn’t answer at our community meeting and that was, “What is the Swingzone going to be?” Because even though the application had been submitted, it was not made available properly for us to review prior to the meeting. But per Davidson County zoning policies, the developer would have to hold a public meeting with the community to answer questions, and the first time we saw any actual plans for a project that had already been announced and in process since the fall of 2023. We were all hopeful that we would get answers to our questions of safety, noise, light, and environmental issues. Not to mention impacts to property values.

During the meeting, I pressed the Alderman on why he had switched his plans from Cheatham County to Davidson County, to which I received a jumbled answer about a new survey they had, or maybe hadn't seen, when putting in their applications. No clear answer was given for the change, which ultimately left the feeling that its intent was to sidestep his own constituents. When others pressed the Alderman if the community's concerns and his role as a civil servant would impact his plans, he responded affirmatively that it would. But, the meeting was cut short when his battery died on his device, which apparently couldn’t be charged from his vehicle – since the COVID lockdown, public meetings in Davidson County can be held on Zoom or Google Meet and are not required to be in person. Since the meeting did not receive any conclusion, we asked the lawyer who remained on the call if there could be a follow-up meeting, which she strongly suggested would be possible. In the following days, zoning hearing notices were still posted to the property showing the Alderman's attention to our concerns to either be disingenuous or disregarded. The attorney also informed us that no follow-up meeting had been scheduled at this time.

The zoning hearing was announced for May 16, 2024. In the days since its announcement, the PPA has activated our community to oppose the approval with letter writing to the Davidson County BZA and councilman Jason Spain. Throughout this campaign, the supporters of the Swingzone have avidly tried to convey that this for-profit commercial development is “for the kids,” painting our group as anti-children and development, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

My desire is to spark conversation within the community on how we can create thoughtful development that serves all residents, including the many children who do not play sports, or those athletes who cannot afford private training. And to stop haphazard developments that lack a business plan, a market study, or any concern for the safety of the citizens as they commute to and from our town.

We are all for thriving businesses and planned growth for our town. But the last thing I want is for this Swingzone to potentially fail resulting in a Pegram Alderman, who is responsible for protecting our community's needs and interests, to have a 20,000 sq ft empty shop at the front door of The Pretty Little Town Of Pegram.



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