Sunday, February 26, 2012

General Assembly is picking winners and losers with planning bills

Emily Evans
by Emily Evans
Rod is right. Planning and zoning issues can be pretty dull. The language of setbacks, variances, accessory uses and bulk regulations can turn the most interesting person into a dullard.

Planning and zoning is also uniquely local in character. Each county or region emphasizes what is important to them. In Williamson County, historic zoning, which has turned into the goose that laid the golden tourist egg, is pretty important. In Knox County they seem to work hard to protect their sweeping views of the majestic Smokey Mountains. In Davidson County, our zoning regulations reflect the urban hipness that comes with being a center of culture and learning.

The introduction of HB3694, HB3696, HB 3698 and HB1345 which have been promoted by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce serve as a radical departure from the legislative scheme that is the state zoning law. For the most part the zoning law in the Tennessee Code Annotated is permissive. It tells us we can zone land for different uses. It tells us we need to have a plan around which we make zoning decisions to avoid arbitrary decisions. It tells us to have a process for appeal. The law refrains from a specific list of do’s and don’ts for the simple reason that what is a “do” in Davidson County might not fly in Williamson.

Take the zoning ordinance that applies to signs, for example. In Nashville, we are pretty permissive. We have LED billboards, tri-face billboards, and regular billboards. We have on site signs and off site signs. We have big tall signs, low monument signs and some in between. In Williamson County, they have monument signs and not too many of those.  Why the difference? Williamson Countians decided a long time ago they didn’t like all our signs. So, they passed a law that limited them. Davidson County came to a different conclusion. Has it made a difference in how prosperous each of those two counties are? Clearly not. 

If the Tennessee General Assembly gets its way Williamson County and Davidson County will have to comply with the same sign law even though there is clear evidence we don’t want or need the same rules.

There are other aspects about these bills that fly in the face of fairness and good government. One of the bills sets rules for properties whose use is not the same as its zoning. The jargon for that situation is “legally non-conforming use.” But is has another set of rules if you happen to be the owner of a car lot.  I guess car dealers let their Chamber membership expire. In another bill, there is a set of rules for what regulations would apply when you develop land unless you happen to work in Pigeon Forge. The General Assembly is picking winners and losers in the real estate development business.
Please support your Metro Council and pretty much every other legislative body in the State of Tennessee and ask your State Representatives to vote “no” on HB3694, HB 3696, HB3698 and HB1345.

Emily Evans is a Member of the Metro Council representing District 23. I appreciate her contribution to this discussion. Opinions expresses in a guest editorial are the opinion of  the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of A Disgruntled Republican.

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