AG says Charlotte church must remain church use

Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 2:43am

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.

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By: bnakat on 12/31/69 at 6:00

We urge Councilman Holleman, his minions, and the TPT to purchase the disputed property for the $3 million, plus added ongoing expenses, unnecessarily incurred by the church. The church fulfilled the purpose of the original land grant and any subsequent agreements by keeping its charge to develop the property, and serve the community for well over 100 years. This latest maneuver by the TPT has the councilman's DNA, and the fingerprints of his cartel all over it. If the TPT sought an opinion from the AG, one would think that preservation of the property was its goal. However, razing of the building is allowed, but future use of the land is to be restricted. This is nothing short of government encroachment into church business, and is probably unconstitutional. The church has a building and property that are daily depreciating.(Land cannot be depreciated for tax purposes, but certainly can in actual selling value.) The building will continue to deteriorate, and eventually crumble and fall. During this period, some basic maintenance expenses continue. If the church proceeds with executing the destruction permit, a barren corner property will enhance the councilman's and hand full of disgruntled neighbor's corridor. This totally unnecessary debacle is the   product an ever increasing secular society provides. The once rich heritage of Nashville as a bastion of the "Bible Belt" continues to vanish. The enemies of the church will reap what they sow. 

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

bnak, you're all over the place on this one, although it's clear you're one of those 'land rights' guys. Churches get alot of breaks with their zoning which this churh could still use. There is even a church somewhere with a cell tower hidden in the steeple, and several mega-churches have commercial entities on their grounds. It is almost impossible to deny them zoning (for use as a church) as a byproduct of the separation of church and state. This issue here is just the other side of the coin. This building will not 'crumble and fall' anytime soon, I would dare say it will outlast two thirds of the surrounding properties if properly maintained. But the situation is a reversal of what preservationists want if I'm reading correctly. They want to save the building whatever the use whereas the church is allowed to knock the building down as long as they build another church.Still trying to figure out how an insistence that the property is used as a church is the work of 'enemies of the church'.

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Based on what I have read it would seem to me that the church elders have no choice but to demolish the building.

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Based on what I have read it would seem to me that the church elders have no choice but to demolish the building.

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Based on what I have read it would seem to me that the church elders have no choice but to demolish the building.

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Based on what I have read it would seem to me that the church elders have no choice but to demolish the building.

By: tim4wsp on 12/31/69 at 6:00

A deed restiction is a deed restriction - in other words, a legally binding contract. bna kat - you are a moron.

By: 3sides on 12/31/69 at 6:00

bnakat-I find your comments on the article to be quite appalling and full of misinformation. Your claims of a "small handful of neighbors" and a crooked Council is unfounded and divisive rhetoric. And to use religion as a bludgeon in order to demonize neighbors and council members is malicious and offensive.Doesn't seem very Christian to accuse as such.

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 6:00

there are 4 outcomes to this:1. TPT can put its money where its mouth is and buy the property.2. The church can tear down the building and give the property the brownfield pall the TPT so richly deserves.3. The church can board up the windows and doors and let it rot, "improving" the neighborhood with its rich history as it decays and crumbles. Why do the history nuts still attack the Sylvan Park area with such vigor? Are they not tired of losing every hysteric zoning law they ever try to IMPOSE there.

By: bnakat on 12/31/69 at 6:00

All of my statements and accusations are well founded. This is far more than an opinion. As usual, liberals are big on rhetoric, minuscule on facts. I seriously doubt if triangle knows the meaning of Christian. Please furnish the misinformation, item by item, and I will respond.A moron was at one time defined as a person with an IQ of 68 or less. I believe I score a bit higher than that. Name calling and labels are handy when factual information is lacking. None of you astute bloggers , with the exception of Mr. Brown, seem to be even remotely aware of the intricacies involved here. Yes, the deed restriction is a significant obstacle, but not insurmountable. Any and all of you that have a vested interest beyond aesthetics in this matter, please step forward with something other than shallow comments.If you actually want to read the sole, objective article written by any media outlet, search for one by Richard Lawson in this paper a few weeks ago. All others have been either poorly researched, or superficial. Any public statements by the councilman are cloaked in political posturing. In business meetings with church representatives one finds an obstinate power-monger. Once again, triangle, you vastly overstate matters about which you know little or nothing. I did not issue a blanket indictment of the council.

By: bnakat on 12/31/69 at 6:00

To JeffF: Your insightful entry was not posted when I began the recent one. Hats off to you!

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 6:00

thank you, but obviously how insightful can I be when I have trouble counting to three?

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Here we go again, blaming everything on 'libburls', 'enemies of the church' and 'history nuts'.Frankly I don't see a good outcome here because the deed of restrictions puts the church in a bind with no good outcomes for preservationists or the property owner other than to sell to another church (Iglesia Espanol?). JeffF is usually all for knocking down historic buildings as long as the replacement tacky franchise structure doesn't ask for TIF money. But his option 1 is the only one that could save the building IMO.

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I think many people in Nashville are confusing "historic" with "just plain old" again. I am all for protecting historic structures in Nashville (provided the owners want to preserve it of the takers want to buy it at fair value). Unfortunatly, we get caught up instead with preserving crappy honky tonks (from encroaching tall buildings?), old churches of little to no HISTORIC value, and rotten corpses of homes not occupied for decades. Also unfortunate is that the TPP sees every "old" building (those built before 1950) as historic and has to be preserved instead of concentrating on the real jewels of actual historic importance.