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
“It really messes up our planning process in Metro Nashville,” said Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville.
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.
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
Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, the bill’s House sponsor,
agreed. “We are just trying to set up some standards across the state,”
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.
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.”
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.
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,
“Right now, it is difficult for developers,” he said. “They are scared to spend their capital.”
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.