Nashville Property Owners Sue the City Over Law Holding Building Permits Hostage

Nashville, Tennessee: Today Southeastern Legal Foundation teamed up with Beacon Center of Tennesee and plaintiffs Jim Knight and Jason Mayes to file a federal lawsuit challenging Nashville’s unconstitutional law that holds building permits hostage until private property owners agree to foot the bill for the City’s unrelated sidewalks.

The City of Nashville is once again holding building permits hostage until private property owners agree to foot the bill for publicly owned infrastructure, namely sidewalks throughout the city. Nashville has decided sidewalks are a priority. The problem is that Nashville does not know how to pay for them. Looking for a source of funding, Nashville has resorted to using its building permits as currency. Not only is this not good public policy, but it is also unconstitutional because building a house in one part of Nashville does not create a need for sidewalks across town. 

“It makes no sense to demand sidewalks in exchange for a building permit. It is also unconstitutional,” Braden Boucek, SLF director of litigation explains. “According to the U.S. Supreme Court, local governments cannot use their permitting authority to exact financial concessions unrelated to the intended use of the land from property owners. But that’s exactly what Nashville is doing with sidewalks.”

Neither plaintiff seeks to change the zoning of their property. That is, both of their properties already permit building single-family homes. Both parties only intend on doing something they are fully allowed to do under Nashville’s residential use rules. SLF attorney Cece O’Leary explains, “This is significant because they are not adding density to Nashville or increasing pedestrian traffic and the demand for infrastructure.”

Kimberly Hermann, SLF general counsel, discusses the lawsuit and staets, “We will challenge the latest version of Metro’s sidewalk law as an unconstitutional taking of property in federal court. We will seek a declaration of unconstitutionality, an injunction discontinuing the law’s enforcement, and restitution for return of any funds paid by our clients. We may also argue under state law that the law is an instance of unjust enrichment, and an illegal way to garner revenue since it is neither a tax nor special assessment.”

Nashville has been warned, encouraged to address legal takings issues, and offered solutions to change its ordinance that clearly violate fundamental constitutional private property rights under the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions and state law,” said Hermann continues. “They refused to do so, and we have joined with The Beacon Center of Tennessee to challenge this illegal government action.”

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