The meeting, hosted by the Tea Party of Bradley County and the Liberty Coalition, served as a time for residents to become informed and ask questions about plans being discussed in the area.
Many residents present feared the city would take their property through eminent domain as part of the plan to redevelop the former Whirlpool site.
Although the Cleveland City Council and Mayor Tom Rowland were invited to the event, only 2nd District Councilman Bill Estes and city senior planner Paul Corder were present to answer questions.
Donny Harwood of the Bradley County Tea Party said the meeting served as a time to “come together and make sense of it all.”
Estes made it clear he was not speaking for the entire Council with his answers, but only for himself.
“I am not speaking here for the mayor. I am not hear speaking for the Council. I am speaking for myself,” Estes said.
Community concern stemmed from fliers distributed in the area by a then-anonymous source stating 300 homes would be included in the redevelopment as part of the central growth plan.
“When I saw the things that were in this flier I believed it wrong in the core of my being,” Estes said. “As a member of the City Council, I would not vote for these things to take place.”
Harwood said this was important information for the people to have. He also expressed displeasure at the City Council voting to find and investigate the person who distributed the flier. Harwood said he views this as a violation of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment. He also pointed out that updated drafts of the plan reword areas of concern to make it sound nicer. Harwood said the redevelopment of the former Whirlpool site would cost the city between $4 million and $10 million.
Estes explained that no plans have been approved and that the city is working with a group of consultants to develop a plan for moving forward.
Estes said the city is not in the habit of using eminent domain to take people’s land.
The councilman said developing the plan was a process. He said he has followed the plan as it had been developed.
Residents expressed distrust of outside consultants and asked why local people who already understand the culture of the area were not being used.
“These consultants (McBride, Dale and Clarion Associates) are helping us put together a grant application for a quarter of a million dollars,” Estes said. “We can’t do anything to Whirlpool (the former site) without testing the soil, without seeing what’s there, what can and can’t be developed. The EPA will not let us do anything to clean it up or move a piece of it until we know what’s underground. These consultants are specialized on helping us get federal dollars.”
How to redevelop land on the former Whirlpool site is still in the information-gathering phase. Several meetings were held to get community input. Community members present at Tuesday’s meeting said the public gaherings held to gather input for the plan were on the north side of town. Many questioned why such a meeting could not be held in the neighborhood that was actually being affected.
Estes said having a public forum on the plan in the neighborhoods addressed in the central growth plan could be arranged. He also explained the public input meeting had dealt with gathering ideas for various development plans across town. Bradley Square Mall had been used because it was deemed a central location, Estes said.
Other community members said they had not known the input meetings were taking place.
Dan Rawls of the Tea Party of Bradley County said that meetings need to be better publicized.
“If you don’t show up, shame on you. If they don’t tell you about it, then shame on them,” Rawls said.