Monday, August 2, 2010

Stoneybrook Golf Course v. City of Columbia

Stoneybrook Golf Course v. City of Columbia is an interesting new (dated July 26, 2010) zoning decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The primary issue is whether an ostensible "agreement" between a developer and a city (or rather certain members of the city council) to annex and zone property in a certain way is an enforceable "contract." Well, of course it isn't. No one who works in this area of the law would ever believe that. That's way real estate development is so risky: city council members change their minds, even if they were ever in the developer's corner in the first place.

Typically, the developer may speak to members of the city council and they may agree that the proposal sounds like a good one. But of course, once the word gets out about the proposal, and public hearings begin, the neighbors may point out problems with the proposal. Should the city be bound by such informal agreements? By a judgment made without the benefit of notice and an opportunity to be heard by the surrounding neighbors? No. And that's what the law says.

In fact, even if the government passes a zoning ordinance and then changes its mind and repeals it, even if the developer has now bought the property and is in the process of developing it, the law says that the government may change the zoning without harm. Only if the developer has obtained a building permit and substantial construction has taken place is there any issue of vested rights which might preclude the zoning change. Frankly, in 30 years of practice, I've never seen a case of substantial construction. It is very difficult to argue vested rights in Tennessee or elsewhere.

This case also has an interesting section about general or comprehensive plans.

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