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Planning bill would radically change how building projects move forward in Tennessee

Legislation has garnered opposition

Apr 7, 2013
Written by Duane W. Gang
The Tennessean

A bill pending before Tennessee lawmakers could dramatically alter the relationship between developers and city and county planners and change how building projects move forward.

Under the legislation, the development standards, zoning and other rules in place at the time a planning commission grants preliminary approval for a project would remain in place for as long as 15 years.

The building industry and the bill’s Republican sponsors in the House and Senate say the measure will give developers certainty and prevent local officials from changing the rules midstream. The legislation, they say, could spur development and help improve local economies.

But the bill is garnering vocal opposition from Metro planning officials and several Democratic lawmakers representing Davidson County, who say the measure would hinder the city’s ability to plan for future growth. A regional planning organization and the Tennessee Municipal League also have raised concerns.

“It really messes up our planning process in Metro Nashville,” said Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville.

Now, if a builder proposes a project and gets local approval but zoning, density or other rules change before the start of construction, developers typically head to court if they want to build under the initial set of regulations.

If a judge rules the developer already has made a significant investment, the project can continue under the initial zoning and other building standards. But the bill’s backers say the courts vary widely in how they define that investment.

The proposed legislation would alter that equation. Instead, a project would get vested under the current rules when a developer receives preliminary approval of a site plan or secures a building permit. The rules would apply for 10 years for single-phase projects and 15 years for multiphase developments. Work must begin within five years, according to the proposal.

The bill would not apply to new state and federal building standards.

Points of contention

“We think that once a planning commission gives preliminary approval, they shouldn’t be allowed to change the rules,” said John Sheley, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Middle Tennessee. “The planners think that they should be able to change the rules.”

Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, the bill’s House sponsor, agreed. “We are just trying to set up some standards across the state,” he said.

Doug Sloan, deputy director of the Metro Planning Commission, said the legislation could add costs to developers by requiring fully engineered plans at the very beginning of the process. And because the proposal includes zoning, he said, passing the law could hinder a community’s ability to decide the types of development residents feel are appropriate.

“If your local municipality decides tomorrow that it wants to limit adult entertainment in a particular area of town, then you could file legislation and you can go ahead and start the process to prevent that,” Sloan said.

“If this passes, all a property owner will have to do is go down, get a building permit and say that’s what they want to open at that location. No matter what legislation you pass after that, they are going to be grandfathered in and be able to open that adult entertainment business.”

Prickly debate

The debate between Todd and Jones before the House committee last week got testy, particularly when Jones asked that Davidson County be excluded from the legislation.

“This does not mess up the planning here in Nashville,” Todd said. “It sets up some guidelines. I don’t see where taking you out is going to do any good. It is a statewide bill.”

“It does mess us up,” Jones replied.

“No it doesn’t,” Todd responded.

“Well, that is just your opinion,” she said.

“And that’s your opinion also,” Todd interrupted.

“You don’t live in Nashville. We have a process, and we have a pretty good process that has worked well for us over the years,” Jones said. “The neighborhoods have an opportunity to work things out as our county expands and grows and things change.”

Other lawmakers said the bill could help spur development and local economies throughout the state by giving builders a level of certainty.

“If we look at any of the tax rolls in a local municipality or county, you are going to find out that builders have probably brought more tax revenue in than anybody else in a given 10-year space,” said Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby.

“Right now, it is difficult for developers,” he said. “They are scared to spend their capital.”

The House State and Local Government Committee approved the proposal, which now goes before the House Finance, Ways and Means subcommittee. The Senate State and Local Government Committee delayed action on the bill. Both committees are scheduled to take up the proposal on Wednesday.

Contact Duane W. Gang at 615-726-5982 or Follow him on Twitter @duanegang.

you may see the story directly:

Preserve Brentwood wrote a response to state legislators on behalf of the City of Brentwood

as requested by Commissioner Anne Dunn:

April 9 2013



Senator Jack Johnson

Representative Charles Sargent

Representative Glen Casada

Representative Jeremy Durham



Dear Senator and Representatives,


As residents of Brentwood and Williamson County, Preserve Brentwood supports the City of Brentwood and all City Commissioners in opposing the proposed “planning bill”, Senate Bill 0915 and House Bill 0964, and requests that as our representatives you vote and act to defeat this piece of legislation that takes authority from our city municipality. Brentwood has high standards in our city ordinances and codes to protect property owners. Our codes have shaped and served our community.  Giving developers this level of power will have a negative impact on our homes, schools, and way of life. Also, most planning commissions are appointed giving citizens less voice in the process. It is an important step for requests to come before commissions for a vote.

Preserve Brentwood is a non-partisan grassroots organization of citizens concerned with preserving the traditional vision of Brentwood, Tennessee.

Thank you for your support and giving voice and vote to our concerns. Please keep us posted on this piece of legislation.

Preserve Brentwood TN

April 19, 2013 Update
This legislation has been sent to Summer Study Session based on feedback from yesterday's city commission information meeting.  

Status:  April 11 2013 - Taken Off Notice For Cal. in: Finance, Ways & Means Comm