Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 18, 2013

TN Appeals Court Invalidates Metro Council’s Denial of Special Exception To Locate Waste Transfer Station Based on Community Opposition and Nothing Else in the Record to Support the Decision

In May 2012, Appellant, Waste Connections of Tennessee (“Waste Connections”), filed an application for a special exception permit with the Metro Board of Zoning Appeals (“BZA”) seeking to locate a waste transfer station on property that was zoned “industrial restrictive.”  In its application Waste Connections admitted that it did not meet certain requirements that were found in the Metropolitan Code of Nashville (“Metro Code”). These included street standard requirements and setback requirements. Waste Connections instead requested variances to these requirements. In July 2012, Appellee, The Council of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee (“Metro Council”) voted to disapprove the application for the location.

Waste Connections then filed a petition seeking to set aside the disapproval by the Metro Council on the ground that it was illegal, arbitrary, fraudulent, and/or capricious. They asserted that the Metro Council failed to comply with the requirements of the Metro Code by making a decision, they believed, on the sole reason that local residents opposed the station, and not because the proposed use was “consistent or not consistent” with the requirements of the Metro Code. In October 2012, the trial court dismissed the petition finding that Waste Connections’s application for a specific exemption provided sufficient evidence in the record to support the Metro Council’s decision. Waste Connections then appealed.

On appeal, the court stated that when a legislative body of a county acts under its powers either to adopt or amend a zoning ordinance, it is acting in a legislative capacity. When a legislative body reserves for itself administrative decisions that could have been assigned to the BZA, the legislative body then becomes an administrative board. Pursuant to the zoning laws, Metro Council had the authority to zone areas and to make special exceptions to that zoning when it was appropriate to do so under the zoning ordinance. The Metro Council created the BZA to handle this function, with the condition that for certain uses of land requiring a special exception, which included the location of a waste transfer facility, Metro Council retained the authority to approve or disapprove the location as a prerequisite to board action. Pursuant to the Metro Code, the Metro Council had to either approve or fail to disapprove, within 60 days, the location of a proposed waste transfer facility in order for the BZA to consider an application for a special exception. If the Metro Council disapproves the location in a timely manner, the application for a special exception would never reach the BZA.

The Court explained that Metro Council’s duty under the Metro Code was to approve or disapprove the “specific location of a … waste transfer facility” by determining whether the facility “is consistent or not consistent” with the conditions in the Metro Code. The specific criteria in the Metro Code for waste transfer facilities included lot size, street standard, setback, and that all loading, unloading, compacting, sorting, processing or storage will take place within a completely enclosed building. General criteria can also be considered and these include the effect on other property in the area and compliance with other regulations.

The court reviewed the transcript of the hearing before the council on July 3, 2012 which demonstrated that there was never a discussion of any substantive issue or specific/general criteria. Also, no materials or evidence were introduced into the record prior to the vote. In fact, Waste Connections’s application for a special exception was never introduced. There were no statements or explanation as to the reasons for the committees’ disapproval. It was stated in the transcript that after several committee meetings, community meetings and several other meetings in the district, it was clear that the district residents did not want this. Waste Connections contended that the Metro Council was functioning as an administrative board and that the trial court made an error in finding that Metro Council’s disapproval was supported by substantial and material evidence. They argued that the transcript showed that the sole reason for the disapproval was the opposition by district residents, which they argued was not an appropriate justification under the Metro Code. Conversely, the Metro Council contended that they unanimously disapproved the request and that there was adequate evidence in the record to support the disapproval of the application. However, as previously noted, no factors, criteria, or reasons for the disapproval were given. The Metro Council also pointed to the application, which requested variances for three of the requirements. The court found this argument inadequate because the Metro Code provided that: “the proposed use shall comply with all applicable regulations, including any specific standards for the proposed use set forth in this title, unless circumstances qualify the special exception for a variance.” The court stated there was no evidence of a discussion by the Metro Council regarding the variances and the record did not even support a finding that the Metro Council even considered the application.

The court held that the record revealed that Metro Council made its decision solely upon the concerns of the residents. The Metro Council, however, was required by its own ordinances to make its decisions based upon the criteria set forth in the Metro Code, and to provide an administrative record that contained substantial and material evidence that supports its decision. Because the record contained neither, the court held that the decision by Metro Council to disapprove the location of the waste transfer station was not supported by substantial and material evidence; therefore, the disapproval of the location was arbitrary and capricious. The court reversed the trial court’s dismissal and remanded with instructions to set aside the disapproval and to order that the application for a special exception be submitted to the BZA for its consideration pursuant to the Metro Code.

Waste Connections of Tenn., v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson County, 2013 WL 1282011 (Tenn. App. 3/27/2013)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/wasteconections_opn.pdf


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