The Tennessee Office of the Attorney General intends to intercede if a controversial Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ property, zoned for commercial use, is sold for anything other than church use or purpose.
In a letter to the Tennessee Preservation Trust (TPT), a nonprofit group that advocates for preservation issues throughout the state, the attorney general’s office said it is aware of a deed restriction stating the property is intended for “church use or purpose.”
The Attorney General wrote a letter, obtained by the City Paper, to the TPT stating it would not intercede with the demolition of the building, but would do so if the property was sold for a non-church use.
“… If there is such an offer to purchase or lease the property for a use that is inconsistent with a ‘Church use or purpose’ and, therefore, in violation of the deed restriction, our Office will take whatever action it believes to be necessary and appropriate to fulfill our statutory duties with respect to charitable gifts,” the Attorney General letter from senior counsel Janet Kleinfelter states.
It is the latest potential roadblock to a sale for the Charlotte Heights Church of Christ, the newly formed church which owns the property. Charlotte Heights was formed after a merger of the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ and the West Nashville Heights Church of Christ congregations.
Earlier this year, the church had a deal in principle to sell the estimated $3 million property to a developer who intended to build a Rite-Aid pharmacy on the land.
That didn’t sit well with the Sylvan Park neighbors and businesses located around the church, who are looking to revitalize the Charlotte Avenue corridor. The neighbors, through District 24 Councilman Jason Holleman, fought to see the handsome 87-year-old property would be maintained, or at least not replaced with a commercial property that would be set off the road with a parking lot at street level.
The stink raised by the neighbors eventually played a role in the Rite-Aid developer pulling out of the deal. The church then put the property back up for sale.
Last month, the Charlotte Heights Church of Christ applied, and was approved by the Codes Department, for a permit to demolish the building.
In the meantime, the TPT notified the Attorney General that the 1921 deed restriction, which was put in place when the land was donated to the church by the Nashville Land Improvement Company, said the property was intended for “church use or purpose.”
The attorney general’s office responded that it would not be the demolition of the building, but rather the indication the property would not go towards church use, that would decide if it intercedes.
Elders from the Charlotte Heights Church of Christ told the City Paper there was no update on selling the property, adding that the church believes it can field offers to sell the land for commercial use.
Church elder Wendell Talley said there are no plans, yet, to tear down the building before the property is sold, but that could happen in the future.
Deed restrictions have recent history in Nashville. Three years ago, a court ruling said Vanderbilt University must refer to Memorial Hall as “Confederate Memorial Hall,” since that was the name applied to the building by deed restriction. The building was paid for in part by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1935. The ruling said Vanderbilt must pay a settlement with the UDC if it dropped “Confederate” from the name.
Currently, Fisk University is fighting a deed restriction in regards to the potential sale of paintings donated by renowned artist Georgia O’Keeffe in 1949.
“Deed restrictions are legally binding no matter how old they are and can be difficult to get out of,” TPT Executive Director Dan Brown said.
The Charlotte Heights Church of Christ is desperate to sell the property because it has already purchased land for a new church and is racking up interest on the loan from that deal.