Is the long-running feud between Harding Academy and its neighbors over? Not quite. But the thing that started it, all those years ago, is on the verge of coming to closure.
But first, a little background. The story goes back all the way to 1991, when Harding Academy began buying homes in Belle Meade between Harding Place and Blackburn Avenue, also known as the Belle Meade Links triangle. It has been no secret that the school wished to place athletic fields in the location.
There has been an ongoing battle ever since with neighbors who were not quite so keen on the idea. It has been in and out of court for years, most recently in 2004 concerning a conservation overlay shepherded through the Planning Commission and Metro Council by Councilwoman Lynn Williams. This battle recently went to the TN Supreme Court. For over 15 years, a battle royale has ensued between the elite K- 8 school, and the equally well-financed Belle Meade neighbors. It ceased being about the athletic fields years ago.
Now, for some more, unrelated history. Another zoning battle has been going on for well over 30 years, just 1.8 miles away. This is a battle I am quite familiar with. There is a 7 acre plot of land, VERY close to where I live, nestled between Highway 70 and Brookmont Terrace (the road where Wessex Towers sits). The land is zoned for 7 single-family homes on acre lots. The owner of this property, a Mr. Eatherly, has been trying to get this very valuable property rezoned for as long as I can remember. His intention has been to sell to developers of condos, apartments, or retirement homes. In the latest attempt, he entered into a contract with a company that owns assisted living facilities throughout the country.
This attempt almost passed muster with the very persistent West Meade Park Neighborhood Association. But, negotiations soured late last year, and on February 7th, the assisted living company lost its bid to renew its option on the property. Which leads us to today.
Shoot The Moose has learned that Harding Academy has made an offer for the Eatherly property, and the offer has been accepted. This has been verified by Harding Academy headmaster Ian Craig. In an email sent to WMPNA members, association president Kip Kirby says the following:
“It has been a roller coaster from start to finish, but it appears the end is in sight.
On February 7, Sunrise Assisted Living lost its bid to renew its option on the Eatherly property.
Instead, a firm bid to purchase the acreage with no contingencies was made by Harding Academy. We understand this offer has been accepted. This means that Harding Academy will own the property outright.”
She then quotes WMPNA task force committee member Gavin Johnson:
“The property at the entry to West Meade Park is now under contract by Harding Academy, a local private K-8 School, for the purpose of constructing athletic fields.
“The proposed plan consists of a limited use K – 8 athletic field to include outdoor facilities for soccer, football, track and field, and baseball-related athletics. The Task Force has reached agreement in principle with Harding Academy, calling for reasonable limitations on entryway, lighting and aesthetics as well as future use, division and/or types of negative development.
We intend to ensure that this usage has a positive long-term impact on our neighborhood and our property values.
We are in the process of forming an agreement with Harding Academy on the specifics of the project, to ensure our neighborhood’s best long-term interest and future support for the project…”
Of course, this is still in the very early stages, and all of the details have yet to be worked out; Harding Academy still has to come to agreement with the West Meade Park Neighbohood Association. But what we do know is that an offer of purchase has been made and accepted.
Does this mean the long-running feud between Harding Academy and its neighbors is over? According to Mr Craig, the “historic homes” battle is an completely separate issue. Harding Academy now plans on making that area a public park, not just for the school, but for the neighborhood.
It must be said that Mr. Craig was very nice and very forthcoming about the plans for the Eatherly property. He was very excited and is looking forward to presenting his proposal for use to the WMPNA. It must also be said that I heartily endorse this plan as it stands. It is a win/win for everyone, and far better than the apartments and condos that have been proposed time and again.
Also, when Lintilla talked to him, she did so as a concerned member of WMPNA. We are now passing that information along to you. I was asked by WMPNA to get confirmation before publishing this story. As I thought of all kinds of sleuthing ideas, Lintilla, being the practical kind, asked, “Why don’t we just call them?” So we did.
How close is this property to my house? Well, if this goes through, if any of you, a few years from now, wants to watch a junior high football game between Ensworth and Harding academy, come on over and watch from my front porch. My house is somewhere in the Google Earth photo above.
And that’s what all the fuss was about. It’s a big deal around these parts, at least.