The verdict is in: East Nashville residents have won the first round in their zoning fight with prominent local Realtor Karen Hoff. On Friday, Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled in favor of the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA)—and against Hoff—on the agency’s motion for summary judgment. Hoff is still officially forbidden from running a real estate business out of the house at 1105 Holly St., as she has been since she moved in.
First and foremost, it was a zoning battle, but, like everything in East Nashville, it was so much more: a messy personal disagreement among predominantly progressive whites, a chance to bicker about who gets credit for revitalizing a cash-strapped neighborhood and, yes, a test of the city’s willingness to stand behind its planning laws. Hoff, in a nutshell, was operating her successful real estate business on a piece of property subject to the Five Points Redevelopment Overlay, which required that the property be reserved for noncommercial uses.
In May 2004, Hoff went before a meeting of the East End Neighborhood Association, held at Bongo Java East, seeking the group’s blessing to amend the overlay. Her appeal to the group was seen as self-righteous; the 40-plus members in attendance voted unanimously against her. Eventually, after much bad blood and some bad press, she took MDHA to court to settle the question of which supercedes: zoning or a redevelopment overlay? As most people predicted, the overlay won.
“I believe the outcome was much as the neighborhood believed it to be in the beginning: redevelopment zones trump local zoning,” says Lindsay Fairbanks, a past president of the neighborhood association. “I think it’s a good, solid thing for the judge to have upheld this ruling.”
Over at 1105 Holly St., the reaction is a little different. “I fought the law, and the law won,” Hoff says, quoting the good-natured ribbing of a friend. She says that business has been booming, and her attitude now is far more optimistic than it was in 2004. “Two years ago, I was hurt and upset…. I felt like people who I’d worked for over the years weren’t supporting me.” Now, she says, things are different: she’s felt an “outpouring of love” from friends and allies, and besides—she can afford to relocate her business now.
“Last year was my best real estate year I’ve ever had,” she says. “At this point, I’m really debating my options. I’m not opposed to finding something bigger.” Though she has 30 days to appeal Bonnyman’s ruling, Hoff says that she’s “80 percent sure” she will relocate her business, perhaps to a property she owns on Gartland Avenue. “I’ve grown enough now that I don’t need to fight this battle. I can go on and fight the good fight and find someplace bigger.”
According to tax records, the Holly Street house contains more finished square feet, but maybe she’s planning to finish the basement in her new digs. No matter—if Hoff relocates her business from East End (and, you know, follows the law), it will make her neighborhood happy.
And, according to Hoff, she’s happy too. “It wasn’t a personal thing,” she says. She’s looking forward to the possibility of moving to Lockeland Springs. “They’re nicer over there.”
Not personal at all.