Thursday, February 23, 2012

A radical restriction on local planning and zoning authority pending


Planning and zoning and land use are topics that will put most people to sleep until they think they may want to develop their land or put an addition on their home or paint their house a certain color  and then find that what they want to do they are not permitted to do. Or, planning and zoning is really boring until someone next door to them does something with their property such as build a home that is out of character with the neighborhood or turn a residence into a business or do something else that lowers their property values or interferes with their enjoyment of their property. If either of these happen then zoning and land use planning is very important.

This past Tuesday, in addition to all the suspense about whether or not Brady Banks would attend the Council meeting and the discussion of the two memorializing resolutions concerning County Court Clerk John Arriola, there was another memorializing resolution that Councilman Phil Claiborn attempted but failed to get considered as a late resolution. (See 31:17 in the video).

The memorializing resolution would have put the Council on record in opposition to four bills being considered by the State Legislature that would effect the ability of Metro and all other local governments in Tennessee to exercise authority over certain zoning and land use planning policies. The bills were to be considered in a Senate Committee today.  To consider the late resolution would have required a suspension of the rules and there being an objection to suspending the rules the late resolution could not be considered. Anticipating the objection, Councilman Claiborn had prepared the resolution in letter form and invited all Council Members who so wished to sign the letter.

Here is essentially what these bills would do:

HB3694: This bill would allow the owner of a non-conforming piece of property to continue the right to use the property for its current purpose even if the owner stopped using it for that purpose.  The owner would always have the right to do with that property what they had the right to do with it at the time it became non-conforming. Also before any property could be rezoned the current owners would have to be notified by certified mail.

HB3696 would grant vested rights in development permits. As far as I can tell, what this means is that if someone had an approved Planned Unit Development or approval of a subdivision plat or other part of a development plan and then let it sit for years and years and in the meantime the zoning or development standards had changed they could still develop the property according to the plans that had been approved years earlier.

HB3698 concerns the right of the owners of on site business signs and if you really care you can look it up.

HB1345 is similar to HB3694 but would prohibit the rezoning of any property without the express written consent of the property owners. It would also apply to overlays such as community development guidelines or history zoning or conservation zoning overlays. Some properties have clouded titles or owners cannot be located, so in effect a lot of property could never be rezoned. This would essentially prohibit large scale multi-parcel rezoning.

The amount of authority that a community should have to tell another what to do with their property is a question open to debate. Libertarians tend to believe that no one should have any right to tell another what  to do with their own property. Everyone else sees zoning and planning and land use policy as an attempt to strike a proper balance between the good of the community and the rights of the individual property owners. 

These measures, the first three of which are sponsored by Representative Jim Gotto and the last one sponsored by Representative Glen Casada, seem to be a pretty radical departure from what local governments have up until this point had the authority to do. I am unsure what is behind this. I don't know what prompted it. If the current authority exercised by local government has resulted in unreasonable loss and hardship to property owners then maybe the current authority of local government should be restricted.

Jim Gotto is my friend and I have admired his record of service to our community, but at this point I do not think such a radical departure from current policy should be passed without more debate. I would like hear the arguments as to why these restrictions on local government are needed. Until a convincing argument is made that these new restrictions are warranted, I think these bills should be deferred and openly debated.

I would like to extend to the sponsor of these bills the opportunity to explain why he is proposing them. Also, any other Council Member or knowledgeable person who has an opinion on this issue is invited to send me an essay arguing either side of the issue and I will post it.  I will try to find out the status of the bills.

Additional updated information
In a discussion with Jim Gotto, the sponsor of the three of the bills in question, I learned that these bills have not been acted upon and were not scheduled to be acted upon on Thursday as stated by Councilman Claiborn when asking for an suspension of the rules.  This bills have been sent to a special committee to consider these bills along with other related land use bill. The other side of the story of why these bills are considered necessary will be presented in a follow up post.

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