Planned tiny home village for Nashville’s homeless notches legal win

One city leader is challenging a Nashville church’s controversial plans to add a micro home village for the homeless to its property. Holly Meyers/USA Today Network – Nashville

A South Nashville church and homeless advocacy organization won support this week from the Tennessee Court of Appeals in a two-year legal battle with neighbors to build a village of tiny homes for homeless people.

But neighbors vowed to advance the fight to the state Supreme Court.

The 22 houses, at 200 and 400 square feet, would sit on Glencliff United Methodist Church’s six-acre parcel and serve as transitional housing.

A rendering shows the Village at Glencliff planned on the campus of Glencliff United Methodist Church.

(Photo: Centric Architecture)

Neighbors argue the village would cause safety and security problems in the community, and that it should have to conform to zoning rules.

The Metro Board of Zoning Appeals, Davidson County Chancery Court and, now, the state appellate court have overruled their arguments.

The courts and regulatory body agreed that the project qualifies as a "reasonable accommodation" under a federal law that protects churches from restrictions on their worship activities as a result of zoning rules.

"Helping the poor, housing the homeless, and feeding the hungry is an important component of the Methodist Church," said Lisa M. Carson, attorney for Open Table and the church. "I’m certainly hopeful that we’ll be able to move this forward now. To work with people who are really trying to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world is certainly a rewarding experience."

Open Table Nashville Executive Director Ingrid McIntyre speaks during a ground breaking ceremony for The Village at Glencliff at Glencliff United Methodist Church in Nashville on Oct. 4, 2017.

A group of about two dozen neighbors who oppose the plan say it’s unfair to allow them to bypass zoning rules designed to maintain a cohesive community.

"What happens in this case is so important. Not only to us, but to all of Tennessee," neighbor Dayle Ward Frost wrote in a Facebook post on the Neighbors Concerned About Glencliff Village page. "It will set the future case law on how this religious law really is allowed to be used."

L. Marshall Albritton, attorney for the neighbors in opposition to the project, called the appellate decision a disappointment.

A rendering of the Village of Glencliff micro-home community planned on Glencliff Road.

"We’re not asking the church not to minister to homeless people or house homeless people. We just say the design has to be in accordance with planning and zoning rules," Albritton said. "They say they want to build 22 micro homes. But they can come back and build more. Can a group get an unlimited pass to have their designs approved?"

Private sponsors, including the Rotary Club of Nashville, have donated funds to help develop the houses.

A groundbreaking took place more than two years ago on Glencliff Urban Village, and infrastructure work began before the legal fight ensued.

The homes at 2901 Glencilff Road must still conform to Metro Codes rules and have buffer space between each one.

People gathering for a ground breaking ceremony for The Village at Glencliff at Glencliff United Methodist Church in Nashville on Oct. 4, 2017.

Residents would be prohibited from inviting guests and using drugs or alcohol. They would be connected with service workers to help them get back on their feet, and security patrols would take place at night.

The project is in response to dwindling availability of low-income and transitional homes in the Nashville area, as housing prices have increased significantly in recent years.

Green Street Church was the first in the Nashville area to take up the idea of building micro-homes for the homeless in 2015. They operate six units for transitional housing that are smaller than those planned at Glencliff United Methodist Church.

"I’m relieved that this was the decision and that the original ruling from Metro Zoning has been upheld," said Open Table Nashville Executive Director Ingrid McIntyre. "We can continue to serve in the world. That’s what we’re called to do."

Sandy Mazza can be reached via email at smazza@tennessean.com, by calling 615-726-5962, or on Twitter @SandyMazza.

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