She Fights City Hall 

Lawyers are now involved in Karen Hoff's battle against city officials and her East Nashville neighborhood

Lawyers are now involved in Karen Hoff's battle against city officials and her East Nashville neighborhood

A friendly man and his adorable son drop by the home of Andy Roddick, a 27-year-old East Nashville resident who is not to be confused with the top-ranked American tennis player. The gentleman asks the young resident if he'll sign a petition supporting Realtor Karen Hoff, whose bid to operate an office out of her East Nashville property has just been turned down by the local neighborhood association. Roddick is familiar with the intricacies of the dispute but keeps silent as the gentleman at his door makes the case for the real estate agent.

"He didn't realize that I knew what was going on. He made Karen into the victim and said that she wanted me to sign a petition. I said, 'you're out-of-your-mind,' " Roddick recalls, saying that he believes the Realtor is trying to enlist the support of people who haven't heard the neighborhood's side. "This petition is proof positive about how sneaky she really is," he says. "She is trying to get her docket through, and she is preying on the uninformed."

Welcome to the latest ugly chapter in the Karen Hoff saga, in which the beleaguered Realtor is preparing to take the city to court and draw the eternal wrath of her Five Points neighbors.

First, a quick recap of the events so far: Last May, Hoff needed the permission of the all-powerful East End Neighborhood Association to continue operating an office from an old quadplex she purchased and renovated on Holly Street. She asked the group to recommend amending the Five Points Redevelopment Overlay that regulates development to the now thriving neighborhood. Only with their approval would Metro Council member Mike Jameson ask the council to allow her to continue operating her office.

But when Hoff went before more than 40 members of the group at the East Nashville Bongo Java, she allegedly gave a self-absorbed talk in which she took credit for East Nashville's revitalization. That didn't go over well. Her pitch flopped like a Ben Affleck movie. The neighbors asked Hoff to leave the coffeehouse so they could deliberate privately. Then they unanimously rejected her request, touching off a dispute that has yet to wane.

"I am very shocked at how I was treated," Hoff told the Scene last month. "I can't stop my business; it would financially devastate me. If somebody does stop me, that's when the legal process will begin."

She was right about that. For weeks now, lawyers for Hoff and the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) have exchanged letters about how to interpret the overlay. Dick Cheney and Patrick Leahy will make up before Hoff and Metro do. There's simply no compromise in sight. We'll spare you the boring legal details of this dispute and sum it up simply. Hoff's lawyer basically says that a loophole in the plan allows her to operate an office on the property after all. MDHA's lawyer counters flat-out that Hoff's abode can only be used as a one- or two-story residence. The agency doesn't offer much hope for middle ground.

"Our intent is to enforce our redevelopment plan, which does not allow a commercial office there," says Joe Kane, MDHA's acting director of development.

Hoff's counsel, Shawn Henry of the firm of Tune, Entrekin & White, still holds out hope that some sort of compromise can be reached. If not? "Our only choice will be to seek judicial intervention," he says. Henry says that he and his client probably will ask a court for a declaratory judgment—a quick ruling on the interpretation of the redevelopment plan.

"My client isn't interested in protracting this matter," Henry says. "My client intends to protect her rights."

Even so, if this goes to court it could last for months—even years. Meanwhile, Hoff still doesn't have a permit to run a real estate office in the East End neighborhood. MDHA won't sign off. In theory, at least, that means she's violating the law by meeting with real estate clients on her property.

"The next thing that is going to have to happen is we're going to issue a citation and have her come to court," says Sonny West, the zoning administrator for Metro Codes.

West acknowledges that while he could have issued a citation earlier, he waited to see if the neighbors and Hoff could arrive at a compromise. But that's not going to happen. Jean Harrison, the president of the East End Neighborhood Association, says that her group was willing to let her operate an office out of the Holly Street home so long as she was looking at relocating to a more suitable area. But Harrison says the agent didn't see that as a solution. So the seven members of the East End board voted unanimously—Hoff doesn't seem to have an ally in the bunch—to ask that the city enforce its zoning regulations and issue Hoff a citation. (Hoff did not return repeated calls for comment.)

"Karen's insistence that the overlay doesn't apply to her is telling about how she feels about the neighborhood," Harrison says. "That overlay has led to the remarkable renaissance of our neighborhood, and if she was truly concerned about its welfare, she'd want to see it enforced as it was written."

In the meantime, Hoff is trying to go around the neighborhood association and enlist the support of residents who are not active members of the group. This doesn't seem to be working either. East End resident Scott Moffett says that Hoff dispatched a man to his home to lobby on her behalf. The man asked Moffett about Hoff's request to operate the office, and the resident replied that he didn't support it. "Do you realize how much good she's done for the neighborhood?" the Hoff advocate asked.

Having failed to win over the neighborhood association and some of her own neighbors, Hoff now will await on the judgment of the courts. She doesn't have any other recourse. And even then, she won't be winning any popularity contests at Five Points.

Jean Harrison also met with an emissary of Karen Hoff's. He came to her father-in-law's house and even gave her a Karen Hoff pen as a parting gift. "He said he was conducting a survey to see if the neighborhood association was representing the interests of the neighborhood," Harrison recalls. "At that point, I decided that Karen Hoff wanted to go to war with the neighborhood. She wanted to undermine our association and create dissension among our residents."

If anything, she seems to be bringing them together.


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