One of the most interesting cases recently decided his a case from Williamson County released by the Tennessee Court Of Appeals last August. In Save Rural Franklin v Williamson County, 2016 WL 4523418, the Tennessee Court of Appeals does an interesting overview of the subdivision process as mandated by the Tennessee subdivision statutes, Tenn. Code Ann. §13-4-301 et seq. Although it is interesting generally for the overview that it provides concerning the subdivision process, it is even more interesting because it finally resolves a very significant question concerning appeals from decisions of Planning Commissions relating to subdivisions.
In a very rough way, the work of a Planning Commission with regard to subdivisions can be summarized as being tripartite: generally speaking, most local subdivision regulations require that a concept plan be submitted, that a preliminary subdivision plat be submitted which must be approved, and a final subdivision plat which will be recorded and based on which the lots may be sold. The heart of the process is the preliminary subdivision plat: that’s when the majority of decisions with regard to the layout and design of the subdivision are made. Furthermore, since the preliminary subdivision plat, once approved, forms the basis for the construction of the required infrastructure for the subdivision, and has always seemed to me that an appeal concerning the subdivision must be taken from the decision with regard to the preliminary subdivision plat. If for example, a group of neighbors weights until after the preliminary plat has been approved and substantial work completed with regard to the infrastructure, water and sewer, sidewalks, roadways, and so forth, an appeal from the decision with regard to the final subdivision plat, even if they might be right, the developer has spent a very significant amount of money based on the approval of the preliminary subdivision plat. As a general rule therefore the appeal should be taken from the action taken by the planning commission on the preliminary plat.
Unfortunately, we have never had any case law that directly looked at this issue. The Williamson County case finally does address it, and concludes that the approval of the preliminary plat is final for purposes of appeal. In the Williamson County case, a group of neighbors waited until the final plat had been approved to challenge the decision of the Planning Commission. The developer had already spent significant sums in order to provide the infrastructure required for the development. The court concluded that approval of the preliminary plat was final for purposes of appeal.
That’s not to say that an appeal from a final plat would not be appropriate under some circumstances. For example, if the final plat differed significantly from the preliminary plat, then a challenge to the approval of the final plat might be in order based on the lack of consistency. But in general, most of the time, on appeal from a Planning Commission decision concerning a subdivision, the appeal should be taken within 60 days of the decision concerning the preliminary plat.
This case is very interesting, and well worth study by attorneys working in the area of land use planning.