Planned Unit Developments

Union Station
Nashville, 1996
Union Station
circa 1900

PUDs are development plans for relatively large areas of land. The idea is that by requiring the applicant to submit detailed plans to the Planning Commission, that proper design will ensure a more efficient layout and design, promote consistency with the surrounding community and the adjacent land uses, and also permit a small density bonus. The community gains; the applicant gains. In addition, usually, if the neighborhood cannot reach a reasonable accomodation, the Council member will see to it that the council bill fails. The application process is complicated, but it does allow for flexibility in negotiating design details so that both sides are reasonably satisfied.

PUDs are roughly akin to zone changes except for one small but critical difference: because the rules governing PUDs are supposed to be formulated in advance of consideration of any individual PUD, if the pre-set rules are not followed, the action of the Council can be challenged. This is true because ordinarily before the proposal gets to the Council, the Planning Commission must review it and must approve it before the Council even looks at it. There is, therefore, good grounds to contend that a denial by the Council if not supported by some other evidence, is arbitrary.

A recent case reiterating this difference is Davis Group MC v The Metropolitan Government. In Davis, the Metro Council denied a PUD application which met each and every requirement of the Metro Zoning Ordinance. The denial, based purely on political pressure, was contrary to the express recommendation of the Metro Planning Commission. Council concurrence was required by the Zoning Ordinance and as a result the denial by the Council prevented the operation of the development.

On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that the decision of the Metro Council was arbitrary and capricious, and reversed. There was not one stitch of evidence in the record which justified the denial of the application. Without such proof, the decision of the Council was entirely arbitrary.

The applicant for a PUD must ensure that all the conditions for approval are met. If the government fails to grant the permit under those circumstances, appeal and reversal are entirely likely. Opponents to a PUD must review the application, and present credible proof based upon which the local legislative body (or whomever) can deny the applicaion. All too often, the opponents simply show up in force and yell: "Not in my backyard!" This is not enough. The opponents in order to avoid being reversed in court, must present real proof tending to show that the applicant has not complied with all the local requirements.

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