After a dramatic appearance before Metro's Board of Zoning Appeals last week, Woodland-in-Waverly bed-and-breakfast operator Richard Demonbreun has filed suit against the panel. He claims it unconstitutionally violated his due-process rights when it voted on Nov. 20 to deny him a permit to host an upcoming rehearsal dinner and other scheduled events.
The lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Circuit Court, opens the latest legal front in a long-running feud between Demonbreun on one side and the BZA along with some of his neighbors on the other. Since 2002, board hearings, enforcement actions and litigation over Demonbreun's use of his historic home at 746 Benton Ave. as an event venue have led to hard feelings on both sides.
Demonbreun, who has a law license, filed the petition for judicial review of the BZA decision on his own behalf. In it, he asserts that he has met the statutory requirements for a historic home event permit. He says the board turned away his latest permit application "because of vague concerns that certain limitations imposed might be either appealed or violated in the future."
Video excerpts from the meeting last Thursday can be viewed by clicking the image below:
At the meeting, Demonbreun mounted a heated defense against opponents in the neighborhood who have complained about noise, traffic and other impacts his events have had. "Here I am with my life on the line," he said. "I have a son with Down Syndrome and an 11-year-old, and these people want to put me out into the street."
Demonbreun told the board he faces foreclosure if he is not allowed to host events. "These people will lie to do anything to put me out of business," he said. "They are going to dance around their campfire if you deny my permit today."
He accused neighbor William Cochran Jr. of organizing the opposition to his business. Cochran operates the Inn at Evins Mill, an event venue near Center Hill Lake. He spoke at the meeting in opposition to Demonbreun's request.
"I will be homeless and lose my furniture and everything I have because of the economy and the fact that my home cannot be sold for anything close to value," Demonbreun stated. "And Mr. Cochran will be at the foreclosure sale."
Board members expressed skepticism about Demonbreun's assurances that he could hold events without disturbing his neighbors. Referring to excuses Demonbreun gave for holding two events earlier this year that neighbors said were in violation of zoning restrictions, board member Elizabeth Surface told him:
"I have heard that so many times."
"Those were years ago, Ms. Surface," Demonbreun said.
The board member sighed audibly. "Those were you, Mr. Demonbreun," she said.
Five of the six board members present voted against the permit. The sixth, Rebecca Lyford, abstained.
Demonbreun posted an announcement of his legal action Monday on a Woodland-in-Waverly neighborhood listserv. He asserted that BZA Chairman David Ewing, who had a "familiarity with a certain witness and his family," should have recused himself from considering the permit.
"It is well-known," Demonbreun wrote, "that Mr. Ewing has been attempting for some time to become the second African-American member of the exclusive Belle Meade Country Club where Mr. William Cochran Sr., the father of our neighbor William Cochran Jr., happens to have a membership and significant influence."
The announcement also stated that Ewing and the senior Cochran are "members of a board" at Montgomery Bell Academy. It noted that William Cochran Jr., Metro Codes official Sonny West and Boult Cummings attorney Henry Walker (Demonbreun's next-door neighbor, who testified at the meeting) are all alumni of the boys' school.
Ewing did not attend MBA but is on an advisory board there. William Cochran Sr. is on its board of trustees. The other men mentioned did attend the school. (In the interest of full disclosure, so did the author of this article. He also rode in a hookup with William Cochran Jr. as a child.)
"The Exchange Club of Nashville is also a player in this most interesting social scenario with these men," Demonbreun added, without elaborating.
Ewing today told NashvillePost.com he could not comment on the Demonbreun case because of the pending litigation. "I take my job as chairman of the Board of Zoning Appeals very seriously," he said. "My vote is based on the facts presented and the circumstances of each case."
According to the Demonbreun House Web site, Richard Demonbreun is a great-great-great-great-grandson of French-Canadian fur trader Timothy Demonbreun, who settled at what is now Nashville in the 1760s.
The home, built in 1906 and formerly known as Robincroft, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. This NashvillePost.com article from 2000 offers more details about the property.