Man battles Metro over eminent domain: Nashville (TN) City Paper, 5/31/06

By Bill Harless

A Nashville man whose used car lot Metro took through eminent domain in 2001 to replace with a condominium development is continuing a legal battle against the city to regain his property, on which the condos now sit.

Oral arguments at the Tennessee Court of Appeals are scheduled for June 27.

Kenneth Eaton owned the Eaton Auto Village on Eighth Avenue North along with his wife Toni for more than 20 years.

The lot, according to a court brief filed by Metro in February, was a “junk car lot in a blighted area,” although Eaton maintains he intended to redevelop the property but that Metro refused to give him the chance.

“They violated that law by not allowing me to redevelop my own property — therefore they took my property illegally, and we’re asking the Appeals Court to reverse the decision,” Eaton said in an interview Tuesday.

After acquiring the property, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MHDA), in partnership with the nonprofit Affordable Housing Resources, built the Row 8.9n condominium development on the site.

The project has been hailed as a major success of the affordable housing movement, intended to provide modern, affordable housing within the central city.

The project sits just north of the Nashville Farmers’ Market, on the other side of Eighth Avenue.

Eaton cries cronyism
Eaton, however, says the land grab stinks of cronyism because Steve Neighbors, president of the homebuilding branch of Affordable Housing Resources — called The Home Company — is a former campaign treasurer for Mayor Bill Purcell.

Neighbors on Tuesday, however, flatly denied any patronage, noting the nonprofit has built several other projects in the area.

In his legal argument, Eaton claims that section 13-20-105 of the Tennessee Code prohibits Metro from condemning a property for the purpose of reselling it if the property owner himself intends to redevelop the land. Eaton also claims that MDHA has tried to strip him of his means of appeal.

In a Court of Appeals brief filed by his attorneys in December last year, Eaton claims that MDHA crafted an amendment to the plan for the Phillips-Jackson Street Redevelop-ment District — the legal district giving Metro the power to use eminent domain in the area — for the purpose of circumventing his appeal and to rewrite the plan to bypass 13-20-105 regulations.

In its counter brief, however, MDHA maintains 13-20-105 applies only to what are called “urban renewal plans” — not to “redevelopment districts” — which are defined in separate sections of the Tennessee Code.

MDHA: Amendment is irrelevant
Further, MDHA claims the 2001 amendment is “irrelevant” to the Eaton case given that the Davidson County Circuit Court ruled on June 25, 2001 — before the amendment was crafted in the fall — that Eaton had no grounds for appeal.

Eaton has said that when Metro took his land he was in talks with two fast food companies to redevelop the property. MDHA, however, maintains it gave Eaton ample time to redevelop the land in conformance with the redevelopment district guidelines, beginning in 1993, and says Eaton gave no indication he would do so.

Eaton, meanwhile, is not letting the case restrain his other ambitions.

He said Tuesday he intends to run for mayor in 2007 to rid Metro Government of waste.

Nashville City Paper: http://www.nashvillecitypaper.com