A 1918-era school building in a West End neighborhood is authorized for demolition, with plans to clear the way for 11 residential homes, after a court decision guided a Metro commission’s recent approval.
The Metro Historic Zoning Commission voted Nov. 16 to grant Franklin-based developer Advent Land Co. a demolition permit to tear down the former Ransom School building near Elmington Avenue to accommodate a residential development project. The Ransom building, which five years ago operated as Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Randall’s Learning Center, is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Attorney Tom White, who represents Advent Land, said he expects a plan for 11 single-family houses at the 3501 Bryon Ave. site could be finalized this spring or summer. He did not know when the Ransom building would be demolished.
Metro Councilwoman Burkley Allen, who represents the neighborhood, said she hopes developers are “historically sensitive” with the designs of the new homes.
The City Paper was unable to reach Kevin Smith of Advent Land for comment.
The commission’s vote came nearly two years after the same board disapproved the demolition request in November 2009 by a 4-2 vote. The developer appealed the decision in Davidson County Chancery Court citing an “economic hardship” in salvaging and renovating the building for residential use.
The Ransom building is protected by a historic overlay, but an owner has the right to make a case for “economic hardship” to be exempted. A Davidson County chancellor backed the historic zoning commission’s decision, however.
Attorneys for Advent Land then took the issue to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which in May 2011 reversed the lower court’s decision.
Court of Appeals Judge Andy Bennett, opining the historic zoning commission depended on “largely speculative” information to deny the request, ordered that commissioners reconsider the applicant’s demolition. He ordered the commission take action that is consistent with the court’s opinion.
Metro attorneys had argued the development group’s economic hardship was “self-created” because it purchased land knowing various zoning restrictions were applicable.
But Bennett wrote that the plaintiff’s attorneys demonstrated the developers stood to lose $700,000 if the demolition permit were not granted. He wrote Metro Code does not recognize “self-created” hardships.
“The commission made no findings and did not present any material evidence upon which a reasonable person could rely to reach a rational decision that [the developer] did not suffer an economic hardship,” the court of appeals opinion reads. “We therefore conclude that the commission’s decision is an arbitrary one.”
Metro Historic Executive Director Tim Walker called the authorization of a permit to demolish the Ransom building “an unfortunate outcome.”
The oldest portion of the Ransom building was built in 1918, with the school expanding in 1925. In 1932, famous Nashville architecture firm Warfield and Keeble led the designs of the construction of a free-standing addition. In 1957, Ransom Elementary School became one of Nashville first desegregated schools.
“The Warfield Keeble building was in fair shape and was a great candidate for rehab,” Walker said. “I had personally hoped that at least that building would be rehabbed, even if the rest of it had been found to not be economically viable.”
In its opinion, the appeals court also ruled that the historic zoning commission exhibited bias in its initial decision to deny the demolition request in 2009.
Emails sent from then-commissioner Allen DeCuyper –– who in 2009 voted against approval of the demolition permit –– to the historic commission’s staff indicated he had already reached a conclusion regarding the developer’s economic hardship.
“While the commission is free to rely on the expertise of its members, the commissioners may not engage in any ‘conduct that would undermine the fairness of the proceeding,’ ” the judge wrote. “These acts ‘would cause a reasonable person to question the [Commission’s] impartiality.’ ”
|ByronAvenue opinion.pdf||126.67 KB|