NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — Nashville has lost a major court battle about forcing residents to build and pay for their own sidewalks.
The federal court of appeals ruled it is a violation of the United States constitution to force people building homes to pay for a traditional city service.
FOX 17 News first brought you this story four years ago when The Beacon center of Tennessee and the Southeast legal foundation said it was extortion.
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Big city bullies were pushing people into paying for their own sidewalks. Strong language, sure. But language echoed by the federal court.
They called them sidewalks to nowhere. FOX 17 News was the first television station to show how making new home builders pay for their own sidewalks didn’t always make sense.
In fact, it often created a kind of Labyrinth to nowhere. But beyond, its practicality is its constitutionality.
Two Nashville men decided to fight Goliath: Jason Mayes and Jim Knight.
Both men said this is wrong and begged anyone to look at it for themselves.
“We could build...it would terminate in a driveway here, and on this side it basically goes into a drainage ditch,” said Jim Knight.
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Jim’s nonsensical sidewalk is now history. The federal court of appeals didn’t side with the city on any part of it.
“The ruling represents total victory with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals finding that Nashville has been unconstitutionally extorting our clients. Jim and Jason to the tune of millions of dollars by requiring them to pay for sidewalks that belong to the city,” said Braden Boucek from the Southeast Legal Foundation and formerly legal counsel for the Beacon Center of TN.
Now, you might remember a couple years this case lost in local court. Metro Councilwoman Angie Henderson, the sponsor of Nashville’s sidewalk legislation, quickly emailed her reaction.
“Nashvillians should be proud of our city's sidewalk requirement legislation, which has already withstood several rounds of legal challenge," Wrote Henderon. "Cities across Tennessee and the United States have long required sidewalk construction as part of land-use regulations for development and redevelopment. Nashville's sidewalk requirements are constitutional and effective policy."
Now, that the federal court has ruled, Councilwoman Henderson has ignored FOX 17 News' emails for comment.
On Twitter, she has invoked Tom Petty’s “I won’t back down” but she won’t explain to FOX 17 News what that means, or how a Tom Petty song helps her case.
Boucek says not only does Nashville have to back down, it has to pay up.
“Nashville needs to figure out what its future is going forward," said Boucek.
And I hope Nashville realizes that if the city wants sidewalks, the city needs to figure out how to pay for them rather than asking regular Nashvillians to bear the costs for things that Nashville can’t afford.
So what happens next? That’s a good question. We know the sidewalks don’t connect, and we know there is a federal ruling. Nashville could try to go to the Supreme Court to modify the law.
What are the proper steps forward without stumbling into Jim Knight’s ditch?
“I feel like it’s a victory for all of Nashville, really, that if you get away with something like this that is totally unconstitutional, what else might you also do? The implications are vast,” said Knight.
FOX 17 News is still waiting for a response from Nashville. After spending thousands of dollars in taxpayer money fighting this lawsuit, and maybe spending hundreds of thousands of dollars making it right, don’t you think taxpayers deserve an explanation? We do.
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