Shorter public notice of zoning hearings draws questions

Update 2-17-16. I talked with Jon Cooper, Metro’s law director this morning, and he said that Metro Nashville had no plans for changing the way it gives notice for public hearings on zoning changes. Davidson County, for more than 20 years, has followed its own zoning requirements to give at least 21 days advance notice of public hearings, Cooper said. It wasn’t until last year during some research that it was realized that state law carved out Davidson County for a 30-day notice in a newspaper of general circulation, he said. The effort to change the statute was to allow for Davidson County’s own regulations, which require more notice than required by state law for other counties, he said. In addition to publishing in the newspaper, Davidson County puts signs on properties and mails notices to property owners in the area at least 21 days in advance, and posts on its website as soon as plans are filed 28 days in advance, he said. Citizens can also get on an email list to receive agendas for the planning commission automatically, he said.

Posted on 2-16-16:

A bill that would shorten the time required for Davidson County to give notice of public hearings on proposed zoning changes passed another committee today, but not before prompting two state representatives to ask questions about its impact on citizens.

The bill, H.B. 1848 / S.B. 1809, would bring Davidson County in line with the legal requirement for every other county in the state to give 15 days notice of such public hearings. Currently, the statute requires Davidson County to give 30 days notice.

State Rep. Andy Holt

State Rep. Andy Holt

“Every bill we have seen today has had some portion of it that gives more control to government and less to individuals,” said state Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden during the House Local Government Committee meeting. “We just passed a bill that is taking away the opportunity potentially for $10 million at a time of property taxes that could be used to fund our communities and counties generally. We’ve moved from two years to one year today the opportunity for property to be blighted in urban areas. We’ve gone here in this bill from 30 days to 15 days in public hearings.

“There is a snowball developing here, guys, and we’re going right along with it. And we’re taking more control away from people and giving more control to government. And I’m uncomfortable with it.”

State Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory, who is carrying the bill at the request of Metro Nashville, said he saw it as a technical bill. “I’m just asking that Davidson County be on the same level as every county in the state, including all of your district as well,” Jernigan replied to Holt.

State Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge

State Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge

State Rep. Mark Gravitt, R-East Ridge, also spoke against the bill.

“I can’t control what every other county does because I wasn’t a member of this committee or this body whenever their legislation was passed. But I agree. I think this diminishes the transparency time for adjoining property owners and surrounding property owners. I think it limits the time that the neighboring property owners can be made aware that this potential zoning change is to occur,” Gravitt said.

“Maybe that’s something we ought to look at in the future in changing the notification time period for the rest of the state. But I’ve got a problem with this one,” he said.

Jernigan noted that the change was to help developers and noted that the county goes above and beyond in notifying neighbors of potential zoning changes.  Last week, Metro’s law director testified in the House Local Government subcommittee that advertising 30 days out poses a significant delay for developers. He also noted that Nashville government publishes notice on the web, mails notices to property owners within 300 to 600 feet and puts signs on the property that is requested for rezoning.

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