It appears it was personal after all.
So say Tennessee Court of Appeals Judges Patricia Cottrell, Andy Bennett and Richard Dinkins, who this week affirmed a lower-court that the Metropolitan Board of Zoning Appeals overstepped its authority in denying a special-events permit to Richard Demonbreun, the operator of a Woodland-in-Waverly bed and breakfast.
Demonbreun and the BZA have clashed repeatedly over the years over his use of the Historic Timothy Demonbreun House on Benton Avenue. At a contentious hearing in late 2008, Demonbreun claimed several BZA members — especially Chairman David Ewing — were biased against him because of various ties to one of his neighbors, who runs a B&B in Smithville. The board in turn said Demonbreun had repeatedly violated regulations in hosting events at his home and said they were tired of having to address his legal challenges to their rulings.
After the board denied Demonbreun’s application for a new permit, he filed a petition for judicial review, claiming his due-process rights had been violated. After Davidson County Circuit Judge Joe Binkley had reversed the BZA’s decision — saying it had acted with ulterior motives — Metro Legal appealed the ruling in the spring of 2009.
In their opinion, Cottrell, Bennett and Dinkins come down hard on the BZA, saying Demonbreun’s previous violations — most of which had occurred in 2001 and 2002 — could not be taken into account. Pointing out that Demonbreun had been issued new permits since those incidents had been reported, they said there are no grounds to again address them later.
“Because of the generality of the BZA’s statement of reasons for its denial, we must assume these incidents entered into its denial decision,” they wrote.
But any permit denial, they clarified, should be based only on how Demonbreun’s proposed activities might harm public health and safety.
“Nothing in the record before us demonstrates that the decision to deny the permit herein was based upon the application of appropriate standards to the facts presented,” they wrote.
In also affirming the reasoning behind Buckley’s decision, the judges took the unusual step of not remanding the case back to the BZA, as is custom.
“This case presented the sort of extraordinary circumstances that called for the broader exercise of the court’s authority,” they wrote.
Brooks Fox, a member of the Metro Legal team that represented the BZA, said his group is still reading through the 25-page opinion — you can browse it here — to see what its options might be. Metro has until Aug. 9 to apply for an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Also representing the BZA were Metro Law Director Sue Cain and attorneys Christopher Lackey and Elizabeth Sanders. Demonbreun, who has a law license, has represented himself throughout this case.
- ALEX B FRUIN INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDACE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDANCE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; FRUIN, ALEX B TRUSTEE; FRUIN ALEX B INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC, CANDACE F TRUSTEE; STEFANSIC CANDACE F INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC CANDANCE F INHERITANCE TRUST
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- COOKE, ETHEN LANYARD TRUSTEE; COOKE, ETHEN LEWIS ESTATE
- JACOBS, JESSICA ALEXANDRA; JACOBS, ERIKA BESS