Members voted by a 7-3 margin to approve structures that are already at the Murfreesboro-Rutherford County Quarry, most of which were built in 2006 without the proper permits.
“We have had administrative situations in the past when we have discovered buildings that were not permitted,” said Commissioner Rhonda Allen, who represents a portion of Smyrna.
“If there were no litigation involved and this was not a rock quarry, this conversation would have lasted five minutes,” she said. “We do administrative cleanup from time to time, so what is complicating this is that there is a lawsuit and this is a quarry.”
Since 2008, the Rutherford County Commission has been in litigation with the Rogers Group Inc. over discrepancies in the 1984 zoning resolution, which has since been replaced with a new ordinance that will go into affect in January 2013.
At issue is the setback requirement for resource production and extraction. In the current resolution, quarries must be set back at least 1,500 feet from surrounding homes zoned for residential use.
Complicating matters further is the fact that Rutherford County officials believed for years the area was zoned for industrial use.
However, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit found that there was no supporting documentation that the County Commission ever repealed the setback requirement for Stone Man, which owned the property until the Rogers Group purchased it 12 years ago.
The rock quarry was originally opened in the mid-1980s after the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the County Commission was required to approve a conditional-use permit for Stone Man to excavate at the quarry in the Blackman community.
“There were no setback requirements when it was initially approved,” said Doug Demosi, director of the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission. “In 1988, a few years later, the Stones Man Group filed to rezone 2.5 acres to industrial to create asphalt.”
In the 1980s, the Planning Commission approved the conditional-use request, but the County Commission later denied the rezoning, he said.
“For some reason, the map depicted those acres as being industrial when in fact it was not ever zoned for that use,” Demosi said, “but the site plan does not address those issues. The proposal is a snapshot of what is already under operation at the site ... it only applies to existing structures and equipment, not additional digging.”
Given the situation, Commissioner Steve Sandlin, who represents part of the Blackman community, said he found the timing suspicious, and he questioned the motives behind the proposal.
“This lawsuit has not been finalized,” said Sandlin, who voted against the site plan. “I think we have a lot of uncertainties, and I just do not feel good about this request.”
When asked how the approval or disapproval of the site plan could affect the lawsuit, attorney Josh McCreary said there was no restraining order preventing its consideration.
“As a general rule, any property owner would have a right to file a site plan under the zoning ordinance, and the Rogers Group is no exception,” said McCreary, who serves as an attorney for the Rutherford County government.
However, he declined to comment on how a decision could affect the pending litigation.