The Tennessee Court of Appeals has raised from the dead the possibility of a huge, Bible-themed amusement park in rural Rutherford County -- but whether the project itself will be resurrected remains to be seen.
In a ruling announced this afternoon, the court found that Rutherford officials relied on an invalid rule in rejecting the rezoning of a 282-acre parcel near the Blackman community more than a year ago. Property owners Carol D. Shelton and family had granted BPU Holding LLC, would-be builder of the first-of-its-kind Bible Park USA, an option to purchase the land.
The Rutherford County Commission voted 12-9 in May 2008 to change the zoning from residential use so the $175 million "themed story park that brings the Bible to life" could be built there. However, a little-used procedural quirk in Rutherford County law was determined by the county attorney to require a two-thirds majority, or 14 votes on the 21-member Commission.
The controversy around the two-thirds requirement led the park's developer to launch a two-state search for another site. BPU Holding went on to negotiate for property in neighboring Wilson County, but it dropped that effort earlier this year.
Its option on the Sheltons' property, meanwhile, is known to have expired last year. Whether economic conditions would allow for such a project now is unknown. Efforts to reach a representative of the developer Monday night were unsuccessful.
Writing for the court, Judge Andy D. Bennett ruled invalid a county zoning regulation calling for a two-thirds Commission vote on a change when a certain number of neighboring landowners oppose it. "This supermajority requirement is not consistent with the grant of authority included in the enabling statute," Bennett wrote.
Attorney M. Taylor "Tad" Harris Jr. of Gullett Sanford Robinson & Martin PLLC in Nashville, representing the Shelton family, issued a statement this evening.
"My clients are gratified that the illegality of Rutherford County's zoning provision permitting a two-thirds vote has been documented by the state Court of Appeals," Harris said. "Its removal by the Appeals Court order benefits all Rutherford County property owners. It is a major step in bringing the county's zoning procedures back under the law."
A separate lawsuit filed by the Sheltons against the county remains pending in Nashville's U.S. District Court.
The Appeals Court ruling is available here.