Murfreesboro’s new guidelines limiting sewer connections outside city limits has led to a lawsuit, with a developer claiming breaches of contracts.
The city has tightened its guidelines for approving sewer allocations to developments, especially those outside the city limits, as it faces the prospects of a finite capacity to treat sewage. The city’s Urban Growth Boundary has “much more area than can be served” by Murfreesboro Water Resource Department’s wastewater capacity, according to September 2019 City Council documents.
Charles R. Farrer Partnership v. City of Murfreesboro, Case No. 20-CV-805, is before the Rutherford County Chancery Court. The city was served in the case on May 29, according to court documents. There were no pending hearing dates as of press time, the court office said.
During a July 23 City Council meeting, City Attorney Adam Tucker asked for guidance on how to pay a legal bill from the lawsuit. The city hired outside firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings of Nashville to represent it.
Tucker told the Murfreesboro Post the legal bill so far is $3,875.65.
During the meeting, officials discussed whether to pay the bill using funds from the city’s general fund or the Water Resources Department’s budget. Mayor Shane McFarland advocated for paying from the water department’s budget, while Council member Ronnie Martin called for using the city’s general fund since the lawsuit arose from a decision made by the council, he said.
“It’s easy to dip into enterprise funds and pull those out because – they’re there, and it’s convenient, and it’s a lot harder to discipline ourselves and pull that from the general fund because that’s just harder to do,” Martin said.
The council voted 5-2 to pay the bill from the general fund, with McFarland and Eddie Smotherman voting “No.” The council will have to make another decision again if the bill reaches $25,000.
According to the property deeds, attached to the court filing, the partnership consists of Fred H. Farrer and Charles R. Farrer. Charles R. Farrer, age 82, died Dec. 22, 2019, according to his obituary.
Neither Fred Farrer, nor his attorney, George A. Dean of Nashville, responded to requests for a comment.
The land in question is at the Buchanan Interchange of Interstate 24, the court complaint says. In 2000 and 2003, the complaint says, Fred and Charles Farrer as Farrer Brothers entered into two contracts with the city, with the city agreeing to extend a sanitary sewer trunk line from a pump station on Stewart Marples’ farm to the interchange and to create a Buchanan Interchange Special Sanitary Sewer Assessment District. The district was created on July 18, 2001.
The brothers formed the Charles R. Farrer Partnership entity in 2015, documents say.
The Post emailed Tucker a list of questions for clarification of the case and to get the city’s side. The questions and answers follow.
Q: Am I correct that this suit was filed by developer(s) upset over now limited access to sewer outside the city limits? Has the city totally stopped such access now?
Answer A: In part, yes. Among other things the lawsuit is seeking a judgment requiring the City to provide sewer service to property owned by the plaintiff near the I-24 Buchanan interchange.
Answer B: No. The City is still providing sewer access to sites outside the city limits if the site is eligible for and recommended for annexation. If the site is not recommended for annexation, the City, in its sole discretion, (underline added by Tucker) may grant access to sewer service to: 1) properties within the Buchanan and Elam Road Interchange Sanitary Sewer Assessment District; and 2) properties such as schools and parks where the public benefit of providing sewer is significant but nonetheless does not justify annexation of the property into the City.
Q: What is the exact bill at this point for Bradley Arant Boult Cummings? Was there a particular reason the city sought outside counsel vs handling in-house?
Answer C: The total amount of the bill was $3,875.65. The primary reason the City sought outside counsel is that the City’s in-house attorneys were already working at near full capacity.
Tucker added, “The City disputes the claims that the Plaintiff asserts in the complaint and denies that the Plaintiff is entitled to any of the relief it has requested.”
The plaintiff alleges the city breached its side of the contracts and asks for: a judgment concerning the rights and obligations of the parties; a judgement requiring specific performance by the city requiring that it provide sewer services; a determination that the time frame with which to repay a loan to the city be tolled pending the end of the litigation; and other relief.
In return for formation of the sewer district, the partnership agreed to pay $2 million of the construction costs of the sewer trunk line, to obtain at no cost to the city the easements and to provide a first lien deed of trust on about 130 acres of their property known as the Lemon Farm to secure the contract’s obligations. Payments were arranged for 20 years at a minimum of $100,000 per year, and all payments have been made. The council approved the contracts, the complaint says.
The trunk sewer line has been built and is ready to be used, the complaint says. The plaintiff is ready to develop the property.
“The contracts recognized that 2000 or more lots might be developed by the plaintiff’s predecessors in title,” the complaint says. “The plaintiff’s predecessors in title agreed to develop the property in the Buchanan District in accordance with the city’s subdivision regulations and the city zoning and building standards. The plaintiff stands ready to proceed in accordance with the agreement.”
The plaintiff’s complaint alleges that the city has refused to approve any connections from their property to the trunk line. The complaint says the city has changed its priorities for properties outside the city limits to only make exceptions for projects that are already approved or ongoing.