City may face litigation if rezoning request is denied

Friday, July 27, 2007
Photo by Clint Confehr Local attorney Mike Boyd, left, confers with his lawyer, Tom Pennington of Manier & Herod in Nashville, during a recent Lewisburg Planning Commission meeting.

Lewisburg's City Council took steps on Tuesday toward being prepared for litigation if a rezoning request is denied since city planning commissioners considered the matter one week earlier.

The issue arises from 24 acres owned by the estate of William Beckham who had rock hauled from the site "from time to time" over the years, City Manager Eddie Fuller said of land where executors sought permission to build a 4,000-square-foot building.

When a rock crusher was brought in, removal of rock was seen as mining instead of excavation, Fuller explained on Wednesday, acknowledging the new owners' position that they were doing the same thing Wal-Mart did when its property was cleared.

"I don't think anybody has a problem with a 4,000-square-foot building," Fuller said. "It's the excavation of the rest of the 24 acres where there will be extensive blasting."

Local attorney Mike Boyd is one of the executors of the Beckham estate and he attended the July 17 planning commission meeting with his lawyer, Tom Pennington of Manier & Herod in Nashville.

Planning commissioners were asked to recommend rezoning of the 24 acres, but given comments from the commissioners, Boyd and Pennington said the request would be withdrawn. Fuller said, "If we did turn it down ... it's a possibility of a lawsuit."

During the planners' meeting, Boyd was asked if the land had been used as a quarry, and he replied that it had not.

Fuller has noted that there's been no proposal for a quarry.

Boyd and Pennington were asked by planning commissioners about the purpose of the proposed 4,000-square-foot building and were told that it's for potential warehousing.

Such issues were the topic of discussion on Tuesday this week during the city council's non-voting workshop where city leaders deliberated on issues in open session.

"Most of our time was spent talking about the property," Mayor Bob Phillips said of the land at an industrial park. "The owners, from their standpoint, want to clear the land for building and some of their close neighbors believe it will be turned into a rock quarry."

The complexities of property rights and land use zoning were explored during the discussion, said Phillips, who explained he's under the impression that the owners want to excavate the land down some 32 feet.

"If I had to guess," the mayor said, "the planning commission will turn it down and it will end up in court."

Beyond such attorney-client discussions, Phillips and Fuller said workshop discussion included direction to City Attorney Bill Haywood to explore city charter issues raised by Quinn Brandon, the city's first woman elected to serve on the council.

Brandon has noticed a discrepancy in the amount the municipality may fine defendants in city court when compared to recent rulings by higher courts that limit such fines, the mayor said.

Haywood is to research the issue and report back to the council, Fuller and Phillips said.

If that and other out-dated, or unused powers of the city are to be changed, the adjustment must be authorized by the state legislature, so the city must be prepared later this year to have a request of its state lawmakers.

Also, the charter continues to authorize establishment of a city school system, a proposition that Fuller recognizes as expensive.

"We want to stay as far away from that as we can," the city manager said. "The county is doing a fine job."

Phillips noted that Brandon suggested that authority be removed from the charter, but the mayor said, "I would leave it in because at some point in time, we might want one."

In other discussion during the workshop, Councilman Robin Minor raised the issue of prices at the city recreation center's concession stand, Phillips and Fuller said. Large drinks are $1 there while prices elsewhere might be 20-30 cents more.

"This is not really a big issue," Phillips said, "but we could raise the price and have more success."

Fuller indicated that perhaps the issue should be debated by the recreation committee.