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Neighbors say Belmont University should not be allowed to build an athletic facility on Metro Schools property

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Posted at 5:24 PM, Sep 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-23 19:16:40-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Edgehill neighbors are fighting back against a Belmont University plan to build a new 21,000 square foot athletic facility.

When Belmont University said it wanted to build a batting practice facility for its baseball team, a lot of people thought they knew what the private university was planning. "Everybody envisioned a chain link batting cage next to the baseball field," attorney Adam Lafevor explained.

But that's not what Belmont is building. The plans call for a two-story building: batting practice lanes on the bottom floor while on the top floor, Belmont will have a private athletic training area, locker room, and offices for its baseball and softball coaches.

Neighbors in Edgehill want the project stopped. They say they don't like what's being built, where it's being built, or how it all came about.

Avy Long of the Organized Neighbors of Edgehill said, "We have been totally locked out of the legislative process."

This isn't the first battle between the University and neighbors over new buildings; The two sides first fought it out more than ten years ago after the neighbors accused Belmont of "taking over" Rose Park. Belmont originally wanted to put the new athletic building in Rose Park alongside the baseball field, softball field, and soccer field and track placed there 10-years ago.

And some of the same critics were not at all happy to hear about Belmont's plan to add the athletic facility at the city-owned park.

"Of the 24 acres of Rose Park, Belmont has already taken over 22 of those acres. And there is very little room left for anything," King Hollands, a member of the Edgehill Neighborhood Coalition, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

They spoke up at community meetings last year and called their council members and thought they had successfully killed the project until work began earlier this summer, literally just feet away from Rose Park, on land owned by Metro Public Schools. It turns out, that after neighbors spoke out against building at the park, Belmont quietly made a deal to build the athletic facility on neighboring land that backs up to Rose Park Middle School.

Long said she was furious when she learned the Metro School Board had approved the plan at a meeting late last year with absolutely no discussion or public input. Longtime neighbors have a laundry list of concerns about the project. Among them, that a private university is once again being allowed to build on public land.

"Public property should be reserved for public use," Hollands stated.

At least one of the neighborhood groups fighting the project has now hired an attorney, Adam Lafevor.

"When you have exclusive space, like private offices that can be used to the exclusion of the public, this is public land, but we're building a facility that can exclude the public, that's when it becomes a real concern," Lafevor said.

"I'm aware that a few neighbors have some concerns, yes," Jason Rogers, the Vice President of Administration and the Counsel for Belmont, acknowledged. But Rogers insists the project will be good not only for Belmont, but the community. He said Metro high school teams will be able to use the batting cages and the downstairs area will also be used by Metro after school programs as well as the Nashville RBI community baseball program.

"I don't want to lose sight of that, that it is the children and young people of Nashville that are going to benefit from this," Rogers said.

But neighbors say they've heard that before from Belmont. "They want certain things and it seems that what the neighborhood wants is not as important," Avy Long shared.

The Metro Council was supposed to have signed off on the land deal but that never happened when the project was moved from the park to school property. That now has to happen. The issue will go before the council in the next couple of weeks.

Under the 50-year deal between Belmont and Metro Schools, the university will pay $15,000 a year to help run Metro's after school program and the neighboring Easley Community Center. Another $20,000 will go to the RBI baseball program.