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.