Removing Red Bank From The Federal Black List

  • Monday, October 3, 2022

[4th in a series]

In the heart of Red Bank sits an empty 12-acre public green space, where the former high school and middle school stood for more than seven decades.  This property has been empty and idle since 2013, when the old middle school was demolished.

When a new middle school was needed, the city decided in 2011 to build it on 14 acres of Morrison Springs Park, which had been funded by a federal grant through the National Park Service.  The city signed a land-swap agreement with the NPS, agreeing to mitigate the loss of federally funded park acres by designating and developing tracts of comparable value and usefulness elsewhere in Red Bank as public parks, within a 3-year deadline.  The city failed to follow through on its obligation, and thus was declared in summer 2020 to be out of compliance with the federal government.  Thus, Red Bank is indefinitely blacklisted from the nation's biggest source of grant funding for acquiring and developing public parks.

The fate of the former middle school property has become a top issue for the 2022 election for three seats on the Red Bank Commission, sparked by a below-the-radar effort by the city in late 2020 to dispose of the public property for private development and private profit.  

The local citizens’ group, "Save Red Bank Central Park", formed in 2021 with a mission to:  (1) stop the city's attempted sale of the public property, and (2) dedicate the property permanently as an epic public park that will reinvigorate our city and provide long-term benefits for the people.  SRBCP has succeeded in raising public awareness of the issue, stopping the sell-off by the city, fostering continually increasing recreational and leisure use of the green space by the public, and elevating the issue as the most urgent question facing the city and the six candidates for three positions on the Board of Commissioners.  The authority and opportunity to decide the fate of the property will be in the hands of the new Board of Commissioners that emerges following the Nov. 8 election.

The SRBCP group composed and conducted a parks and recreation survey this month of all six candidates for the Red Bank Commission, to promote an informed Red Bank citizenry prior to the upcoming election.  All six candidates responded to the five-question survey.  SRBCP thanks the candidates (1) for participating in our city's democratic process by running for elected office, and (2) for their time and effort in providing thoughtful answers to its questions.  The entire survey responses can be viewed at https://www.saveredbankcentralpark.org/voter-information-for-2022

Question 4 of the SRBCP survey explored the six candidates' depth of understanding and ideas regarding the City's land swap noncompliance problem, and recommended solutions:

Question 4.     How do you propose to resolve Red Bank's out-of-compliance status with the National Park Service regarding the 2011 land swap agreement?

District 1 Candidates

Hollie Berry:
The simplest and most logical solution is to fulfill the currently assessed $1.45M land value we owe the National Park Service by dedicating no less than half of the former Red Bank Middle School property, presently valued at $3M, as a publicly-owned park in perpetuity.

Dari Owens:
Thankfully we do not need to swap acre-for-acre, only for an amount equal in appraised value.  We need to do another appraisal of the old middle school property on Dayton Blvd., and swap based on that amount.

District 3 Candidates

Jamie Fairbanks-Harvey:
I can’t resolve this issue.  There should be collaborative, consistent and constant discussions among commissioners and other entities about how to best become ready for a transition for the land.

Lawrence Miller:
In a letter dated May 22, 2020, The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation stated that the National Parks Service found the city of Red Bank to be in non-compliance and rejected a proposal for three non-adjacent properties for consideration, citing their lack of public access and the failure of the city to develop these properties for park use.  The original land swap was approved by NPS in 2010, with a 3-year deadline for Red Bank to complete acquisition and development of the replacement parks.  The city has missed opportunities to resolve this issue.
I am not an attorney, but to me it seems that to be compliant, Red Bank needs to submit a new proposal that meets the requirements first established in 2010.  That original proposal included three acres of the school property at 3715 Dayton Blvd. and two parcels on Stringer’s Ridge.

I suggest that the best approach to resolve the land-swap issue is to designate the former school property as the replacement property.  There is a two acre difference from the school property and the original 14.6 acres that the Park Service deeded to Red Bank. Perhaps if the city’s plan were very well developed with specific commitments to a timeline that would complete the development of a publicly accessible park with recreational opportunities.  It is conceivable that an additional 2 – 3 acres could be purchased from adjacent property at 3645 Dayton Blvd. 

Remember that the city of Red Bank currently owns the former middle school property.  Conversion of the land to a park would have some costs.  Obtaining additional space (behind the existing buildings at Plaza North) would also be a cost.  I believe that Red Bank could work with non-profit organizations such as The Trust for Public Land to obtain the bulk of the necessary funding for completing a park and achieving compliance.

At Large Candidates

Jeff Price:
Based on the most recent appraisal of the land used for the new middle school it would take approximately 4.5 acres of the appraised land value from the old school property to fulfill the NPS obligation.  This would leave us approximately 7.5 acres of property to evaluate for best use as outlined in question 2.

We need to update the appraisals, submit our solution and get it done.

Hayes Wilkinson:
This is a very complex situation, but the root issue is that the city of Red Bank owes the NPS at least $1.45 million in land value as well as an active recreation component (i.e. basketball courts, soccer fields, a skate park, etc.).  The reality is that the city of Red Bank does not own any land (outside of this property) or have the capacity to acquire any other land that would come close to that $1.45M appraisal value.  So, the easiest and most effective way to fulfill our agreement with NPS is by using the publicly owned Former Red Bank Middle School Property at 3715 Dayton Blvd to create Red Bank’s own Central Park.


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