Nashville chamber retracts support of controversial state planning bills

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 4:14pm

Following a groundswell of Metro-led opposition, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has retracted its support of controversial state development bills that critics fear would undermine local planning and zoning authority.

Previously lobbying for the Republican-backed legislation, the chamber is now “neutral,” Marc Hill, the Nashville chamber’s chief policy officer, told The City Paper Tuesday.

“We’re now re-focusing our efforts to solve as many of these challenges as we can at the local level over the remainder of the year,” Hill said.

“The legislative environment is a dynamic one,” Hill said when asked to explain the new stance. “There’s constant changes — not only every day but every hour. The important thing is to address the problems that businesses face. You can do that in a variety of ways.”

At issue are three Rep. Jim Gotto-sponsored bills that the Republican lawmaker from the Hermitage area says are designed to remove the layers of “bureaucracy” that planning and zoning regulations place on private business. “They’re all about job creation,” he said in a City Paper story that first reported the proposed bills.

The bills, HB3694, HB3696 and HB3698, are set for consideration in the House State and Local subcommittee on Wednesday, according to Gotto. A fourth related bill, proposed by state Rep. Glen Casada (R-College Grove), requires the written consent of all affected property owners before the rezoning of private property.

The Nashville chamber, openly supporting these bills just days ago, have now followed the footsteps of other large Tennessee chambers of commerce in Memphis and Chattanooga, which both withdrew support last week.

Collectively, the state bills would broaden so-called “grandfather” protections for property owners, shielding them from local zoning laws enacted over time. Gotto and chamber leaders both said the legislation grew out of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s “Red Tape” statewide tour, which identified zoning hurdles as hindrances to business.

But critics, who include Mayor Karl Dean and many Metro Council members, have said the bills go too far, threatening the autonomy of local governments and gutting the influence of existing zoning overlays approved over the last decade. Dean, usually an ally of the Nashville chamber, was standing opposite of the chamber in this instance.

“[The mayor] cannot support anything that limits the power of local governments to protect neighborhoods and the quality of life of our residents,” Dean’s spokeswoman Bonna Johnson had said in a statement.

In addition, 22 council members signed a letter that was sent to Republican state leadership last month opposing the measures.

“Local governments in Tennessee should have the freedom and authority to make decisions that are solely applicable to their communities without state interference,” the letter states.

4 Comments on this post:

By: jonescry on 3/7/12 at 7:02

So glad to see an organization that I have respected for years do the right thing. Capitol hill needs to understand that Knoxville, Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis will not abide these self-evident attempts to erode their authority. For those that do not like ordinances past by these locales you have two choices - get involved in local government or move. It is called taking personal responsibility and enjoying your freedom - something that Republicans believe in and are supposed to support.

By: Moonglow1 on 3/7/12 at 8:53

Moonglow1: Enough aleady about "job creation. " These bills have nothing to do with job creation and everything to do with cronyism and advancing a developer's interest over a residential property owner. Zoning gone wild just like our legistature.

By: pswindle on 3/7/12 at 9:49

I believe that the National, Nashville and other Chambers have forgotten their roll. Are they working for what is best for a comminity, state, country or have politics totally taken over?

By: Ask01 on 3/8/12 at 4:48

So, in a nutshell, The Chamber (sounds like a subversive secret organization, doesn't it?) seeks easier avenues for businesses to obtain rezoning to allow transforming residential areas into industrial parks, is that essentially correct?

All for, what is that new catchphrase, "job creation?" Note to business community and those claiming special preference because they create jobs: you need to actually create some jobs since many people are beginning to see through the facade.

That The Chamber advocates for businesses is not surprising, as such is their mission being the "Chamber of Commerce."

However, the following quote does worry me; "Following a groundswell of Metro-led opposition, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has retracted its support...." I foolishly believed Metro Council was supposed to support the interests of citizens and the community.

I suppose we could, however, attribute this change of heart to local officials resentment to state government trying to interfer in local governments corporate and business welfare contributions.

After all, where does the state get off trying to protect citizens from their local government?