Harding Demolishes Homes

Tuesday, June 5, 2007 at 3:14am

Private K-8 school Harding Academy has demolished nine homes on a 3.7-acre plot of land it owns across the street from its main campus where it intends to open a public park it will use for school activities.

The action follows a recent Tennessee Supreme Court ruling permitting the demolition, which had been fought for years by Metro and a local neighborhood group.

The homes were demolished Monday.

Ian Craig, Harding Academy’s administrator, said the school has yet to set a timeframe for opening the park.

“We haven’t even gotten that far — we need to look at the landscaping and get the houses trucked out of there. That will take a couple weeks. … We’ve been working so hard on just getting the houses down in the first place.

“We’re obviously excited by the Supreme Court decision, and we’re eager to put the legal aspects of this behind us and move forward to develop something that will be advantageous to both the school and the neighborhood,” Craig said.

The situation began in 1991 when Harding began purchasing residential lots across from its campus, between Windsor Drive and Harding Place, with the ultimate goal of creating athletic fields on the 3.7 acres.

Harding backed away from building structures on the land after strong neighborhood opposition arose but still intended to keep the land a public park, which it plans use for some school activities.

On May 8, 2003, a few days after the Metro Codes Department issued the demolition permits, the department withdrew them, citing a “pending legislation” doctrine and noting the legislation for the conservation zoning overlay — which was supported by a local neighborhood association — was moving through Metro on its way to an ultimate vote in the Metro Council.

In April 2006, Harding seemed to have won the demolition case when the Court of Appeals ruled Metro Codes had erred when it withdrew the permits.

Harding was then set to demolish the homes, but Metro filed for a restraining order in May to prevent this, pointing to a footnote in the Court of Appeals ruling. It said although Harding was entitled to the demolition permits, it also needed to obtain permission from the Metro Historic Zoning Commission to destroy the homes because they were sitting under a conservation zoning overlay, which demands Commission approval.

So Harding appealed to the Supreme Court to have the footnote invalidated, saying it had applied for the permits before the overlay was created.

Finally, in mid-May, the state Supreme Court ruled that Metro, in 2003, unlawfully revoked the demolition permits to demolish homes.

On a tangent, in July last year, Metro ordered Habitat for Humanity to cease salvaging building materials from the vacant houses, saying it had to apply for a demolition permit to do so.

Harding, meanwhile, has confirmed that it recently purchased an 8-acre property south of its campus along Highway 70, just past the Highway 70-100 split, which the school intends to use for interscholastic sports fields.

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