by Councilman Bill Summers
Clarksville, TN – The city held its regular first Thursday of the month council session this evening.
It was a long session with several important votes.
Rudolphtown. The first topic out of the chute was a rezoning request for two lots in the Rudolphtown neighborhood on Pond Apple Drive. The current owner/developers wanted to change the current residential lots from R-1 to O-1 (Office building). This request has come before the council twice before and been denied each time. Tonight, in the first reading, the council voted FOR the rezoning request. The vote was 6 -yes & 4-no. I voted no. Councilman Burkhart abstained due to business interests with the requesting developer and Councilman Wallace abstained due to his legal firm working the legal restrictions revisions for the homeowners.
There is a history on this rezoning. When the current lot developers bought into the 10-lot neighborhood, all lots, by deed restriction, were to be single-family homes. By the legal recorded restrictions, no changes could be made to the restrictions unless 70% of the property owners agreed. In 2006, the developers/owners owned 7 of the 10 lots and changed to restrictions to exclude two lots from having to be single-family homes. With that, these series of attempts to change the two lots to office zonings began. An office complex was built across the street and it has been the intent of the developers to jump the street and add two additional lots to the office complex. Although the neighboring lots are all residential and the two proposed new office lots are physically separated from the rest of the office complex, the owners/developers are more intent on making the higher profits that result from office land parcels versus residential. Several weeks ago, as the rezoning process began, seven of the current 10-lot owners hired an attorney to reverse the restrictions and include the two lots back into the residential requirement. The restrictions were legally revised, signed, notarized and placed on file with the county Register’s office.
Thus, by the actions taken, it would appear that the owner/developer is now in violation of restrictions. The lawyer representing the owner/developer tried to present doubts that such action was legal. This was a “red herring” to try and throw off the council. I joked with Councilman Wallace that the legal firm he worked with was, in so many words, being called incompetent since they were the ones who had handled the restrictions update for the current 70% of the landowners. Although it will take another vote to make the rezoning official, it is disturbing that the council, with the restriction information, would support the rezoning.
Councilman Burkhart made a statement inferring that this rezoning case and the residents fight against it were in common with those residents that were fighting the East-West corridor. Since I have been a supporter of the East-West Corridor, I saw where this was going. I countered that the two had no correlation at all. The efforts affecting the Pond Apple rezoning are due to the profit motivations of a developer. The actions related to the East-West Corridor are directed to addressing the multi-million dollar transportation needs that taxpayers and this city will face when its population doubles in 20-30 years.
It must be noted that neighborhood restrictions and by-laws are not legally binding directives for a governmental entity to follow or enforce. If violated, remedy is gained by the homeowners taking the violators to civil court. From zoning rewrite meetings that I was involved with, I learned from experienced lawyers that the courts treat such restrictions and by-laws as legal documents that need to be followed and enforced. Although the city does not have to worry about enforcement or abiding by such restrictions in its zoning decisions, it makes little sense to me to further inflame a sensitive topic by allowing this rezoning, thus essentially ignoring what civil courts will likely enforce. I will attempt to overturn this decision at the next council meeting, since two votes are required. If I am unable to defeat this rezoning at that time, homeowners will have to proceed with civil action to overturn the council decision.
In addition to my concern on the restrictions, I am very concerned about an email response that a council member made to some of my constituents. These constituents had contacted council members to express their concerns about the rezoning and request their support to defeat the rezoning effort. This council member inferred that my lack of support on issues of concern to that member would incline them not to support my constituents or me for that reason alone. Council decisions need to be made on an analysis and impact of the best information made available and with input of residents within that ward and the city. I can say with 100% certainty that any decision I have ever made on the council was made with that process. Decisions are NOT to be made due to some personal vendetta or hurt feelings on losing a previous vote or votes. I believe this runs counter to proper ethics and will investigate this further.
This topic came up for its second and final vote tonight. The moratorium was passed by a 7-yes & 4-no vote. Councilman Grubbs, as in past votes, abstained due to family involvement in the issue. The same questions and debates as to why should we do this were again addressed with the same answers. One council member wanted to give a tax break to the affected property owners and had to have the city attorney explain several times as to why that could not happen due to being illegal. The council will await the engineers and planners report, which is due to the council in March.
The final decision to press ahead with the road will be based on that report at that time.