Many land-use disputes wind up in court after the municipal government agency with jurisdiction over the property in question issues a ruling with which the property owner or another party disagrees. A classic example of this phenomenon was presented to district judge J. B. Cox on Feb. 14, 2023, when he heard arguments concerning the proper use of a tract of land adjacent to other land owned and used by Jack Daniels for construction of whisky barrelhouses. The judge’s order was handed down on March 1.
In 2012, Jack Daniels’ parent company, Brown-Forman, purchased a tract of land whose address is 844 Lynchburg Highway. At the time, Nashville did not have an effective zoning ordinance, and no permits were required for construction. The City’s Planning and Zoning ordinance was adopted in 2014, but according to trial testimony of the Building Inspector, the ordinance “didn’t go live” until May 1, 2019. After that date, buildings in the city required building permits.
Brown-Forman began construction of eight barrelhouses on the 844 Lynchburg property in 2018, before the effective date of the zoning ordinance. Construction of eight barrelhouses began in 2019, and the city granted building permits for all nine proposed barrelhouses. The owner of the adjacent tract on Lynchburg Highway (referred to in the court’s order as “the LLC”) commenced a lawsuit requesting a writ of mandamus directed at the city and requiring it to enforce the terms of its now-effective building code. (A writ of mandamus is a court order directing a government official or agency to take a specified non-discretionary action.)
The court’s order
Judge Cox found that the LLC lacked standing to complain about the barrelhouses built before 2018 because it could not show that it suffered any injury prior to that date. However, the court ordered the city to rescind the building permit that had been retroactively issued on Feb. 13, 2023 and further ordered the city to reconsider Jack Daniels’ application for a building permit on the 844 Lynchburg site. The court also found that the plaintiff’s claims were more akin to a nuisance claim than a suit brought to compel the city to obey one of its legal duties.
The judge took care to note that the LLC’s site plan had not been considered or approved by the Planning Commission and that the city could not act on the request for a building permit.
Solid legal counsel
This case demonstrates the complexities that ensue if a city does not properly enforce its zoning code. In addition, the media report appears to fault the lawyer for the LLC for failing to commence the property type of legal proceeding to obtain relief for their client. Anyone involved in a multi-party land-use dispute would be well advised to retain an experienced real estate attorney.