Jefferson City enacted an ordinance that prohibits the manufacture or sale of fireworks within its city limits. Jefferson County, however, does not prohibit the manufacture or sale of fireworks, so SNPCO, Inc. opened a store called Salvage Unlimited within Jefferson County. The property was located on the border of Jefferson City. In 2008, Jefferson City annexed property adjacent to its borders, including the property on which Salvage Unlimited was located. Jefferson City denied SNPCO’s request to continue selling fireworks as a pre-existing nonconforming use. SNPCO subsequently filed suit against Jefferson City, alleging an unlawful taking without just compensation and seeking compensation or a declaratory judgment stating that Tenn.Code Ann. § 13-7-208(b) allowed them to continue selling fireworks.
The trial court dismissed SNPCO’s complaint, finding that there was no unlawful taking and the fireworks ordinance did not relate to zoning, so it did not fall under the grandfather clause of Tenn.Code Ann. § 13-7-208(b). SNPCO appealed. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the test outlined in Cherokee Country Club, Inc. v. City of Knoxville did not apply to “determinations of whether an ordinance was a “zoning restriction”" for purpose of the grandfather clause in Tenn.Code Ann. § 13-7-208(b). SNPCO appealed.
The Tennessee Supreme Court explained that Tenn.Code Ann. § 13-7-208(b) is a grandfather clause that allows businesses that may be adversely affected by changes in zoning codes after the business has already opened to remain open under certain circumstances. The grandfather clause is to be construed strictly against the landowner because the clause is an exception to an otherwise valid land use restriction. Property owners seeking to invoke this clause have the burden of proving it applies to their business. The Court notes the grandfather clause only applies if the city enacts a “zoning restriction” or adopts a “zoning change.” The Court clarifies the “substantial interference” test from Cherokee Country Club, stating the test requires the court to determine whether the challenged ordinance relates to the city’s “general plan of zoning.” If the court determines that it does, then the second step is to “ascertain whether the ordinance results in a “substantial interference” with the use of land.” The Court notes that the challenged ordinance in this case does not refer or depend on the City’s zoning plan nor does it refer to “land, zones, buildings, lot lines, or any other terms and concepts customarily associated with comprehensive zoning plans.” It is merely an exercise of the City’s lawful police powers. Accordingly, the Court concludes the challenged ordinance is not “tantamount to zoning.” Because the first step of the “substantial interference” test is not fulfilled, the Court does not consider the second step.
SNPCO, Inc. v. City of Jefferson City, 2012 WL 987998(Tenn. 3/26/2012)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/snpcoopn.pdf
Filed under: Annexation, Current Caselaw, Non-Conforming Uses