Friday, August 15, 2014

Historic Sylvan Park Sues Planning Commission Over Overlay Disapproval

Posted By on Fri, Aug 15, 2014 at 9:34 AM

Historic Sylvan Park, and former councilman and planning commissioner John Summers, filed suit against Metro yesterday, arguing that the planning commission's disapproval of a conservation overlay was illegal.

"The decision of the [Metro Planning Commission] exceeded its jurisdiction and was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and illegal when the MPC ignored the public advice of its own professional staff and its own attorney in voting disapproval of the expansion of the Park Elkins Conservation Overlay District," the complaint, which was filed in chancery court, argues.

"The announced basis for the MPC decision appears to have been their perception of a lack of consensus among the homeowners who appeared at the MPC meeting. This does not state a valid ground for agency decisionmaking."

At issue is about 700 Sylvan Park homes that would be put into the overlay, a zoning designation which would force owners of any home built before 1945 to seek approval before modification or demolition.

The complaint argues that the overlay's application met all requirements set forth by the planning commission, and that the MPC "has approved every proposed homeowner change in the existing Conservation Overlay District. There have been no denials prior to this application."

By disapproving the overlay, the MPC forced any action taken on it at the Metro Council to receive 27 votes instead of the usual 21.

Conservation overlays are controversial.

When councilman Jason Holleman tried to push through the overlay at the Metro Council, he was met with a raucous public hearing where opponents of the overlay crowded the council chamber clad in pink. Pink flamingoes, the symbol of opposition to an overlay, still dot Sylvan Park.

Ultimately, seeing that he was not going to get 27 votes, Holleman deferred his bill, an action the complaint argues left Historic Sylvan Park with "no remedy to right" the MPC's action.

The rate of teardowns in the city has caused concern in many neighborhoods, as the Scene detailed in a cover story last December:

Citizens may be divided over whether they think the next phase in Nashville's growth will be better than the last. On teardowns, however, they seem united — in opposition. Residents argue that teardowns are affecting the rhythm and flow of streets and altering the character of neighborhoods. To be sure, not every house deserves to be saved, and new construction often helps prop up property values (along with property taxes) while attracting new investment.

But every time a bulldozer revs into gear on a quiet residential street, the misgivings get louder. So far this year, developers have spent more than $3 million to tear down 549 residential properties. That's more than double the number of demolitions five years ago, according to records from Metro Codes. Home demos started to pick up around 2011 as the economy recovered and the city licked its wounds from the 2010 flood. They've risen steadily ever since.

"We have a tremendous demand for infill development, and that reflects the changing demographics," says Rick Bernhardt, director of the city's planning department. (In other words, that means more affluent people are moving to Nashville and want to live within the city.) "Neighborhoods are changing because land is becoming so valuable."

In some ways, it's unsurprising that Summers is a co-plaintiff, given his involvement as a lightning rod in preservation fights in Sylvan Park a decade ago.

We've asked Metro Director of Law Saul Solomon for comment.

UPDATE 2:00 p.m. An attorney at Metro Legal called to say they haven't been served the suit yet and couldn't comment and likely couldn't comment on any pending litigation after being served.

Here is a copy of the suit.

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