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Tennessee Land Use Planning (1-TN-a)

Information current as of 2018
In Tennessee, land use planning is delegated to municipalities and counties. Although Tennessee law does not require local governments to create a comprehensive land use plan, the Tennessee State Local Planning Assistance Office encourages and provides technical support to local governments to adopt and maintain comprehensive land use plans. Tennessee Planning Commissioner Handbook, p. 3. The legislative body of a municipality or county has the authority to prepare, adopt and amend zoning ordinances to regulate the “location, height” and size of “buildings and other structures.” Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-101(a)(1); Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-201(a)(1).



Land Use Planning Process

1-TN-a.1 to 1-TN-a.2 – Is there a Comprehensive Land Use Plan in Place?

The developer should contact the local government to determine if there is a comprehensive land use plan in place for the site location. Although Tennessee law does not require local governments to create a comprehensive land use plan, the Tennessee State Local Planning Assistance Office encourages and provides technical support to local governments to adopt and maintain comprehensive land use plans. Tennessee Planning Commissioner Handbook, p. 3

Municipal and county comprehensive land use plans provide context for determining if the proposed development activity is compatible with the community’s overall plans for development. Tennessee Planning Commissioner Handbook, p. 3. If there is a comprehensive land use plan in place, the developer should review the plans and any accompanying maps, studies, or other information in order to determine the goals and planning strategies of the local government and to ensure the proposed project is in compliance with the plan. If there is no comprehensive growth plan in place the developer should still review any applicable local government regulations that could restrict the proposed project.

1-TN-a.3 to 1-TN-a.5 – Does the Municipality or County Have Zoning Regulations?

Tennessee law empowers but does not require local governments to develop zoning regulations to promote the “health, safety…and general welfare” of the public. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-101(a)(1), 103; Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-201(a)(1). The developer should first determine whether the municipality or county has zoning regulations. If the municipality or county does not have zoning regulations, then the developer may proceed with the project. If the municipality or county has zoning regulations, then the developers should review the zoning regulations to ensure the proposed project will comply with the zoning regulations.

1-TN-a.6 to 1-TN-a.8 – Determine Whether the Project Conforms with Local Zoning Regulations

If the locality has zoning regulations, the developer needs to determine whether the project conforms to the regulations. If the project is consistent with the regulations, the developer may continue with the project as described in the regulations. If the project is not consistent with the regulations, the developer needs to follow the local government’s process for issuing a zoning ordinance variance and/or a “special exception.” Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-106, 107; Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-205, 206. The developer may also seek to amend the zoning regulations. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-105; Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-203, 204.

1-TN-a.9 to 1-TN-a.10 – Does the Project Require a Special Exception?

The developer may request a special exception subject to the provisions of the locality’s zoning ordinance. A special exception is a “determination to allow a use that is acceptable under certain qualifying conditions.” Tennessee Planning Commissioner Handbook, p. 13. Tennessee law allows municipalities and counties to create a zoning “board of appeals,” which may, subject to the locality’s zoning ordinance, “make special exceptions to the terms of the zoning regulations in harmony with their general purpose and intent.” Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-106, 107; Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-205, 206.

The application for a special exception varies depending on the jurisdiction. A developer should contact the local zoning board of appeals with jurisdiction over the proposed project site to discuss the possibility of a special exception and the details of the regulatory process.

1-TN-a.11 to 1-TN-a.12 – Petition for Special Exception

To obtain a special exception, the developer petitions the local zoning board of appeals for a special exception. Once the developer files a petition for a special exception with the local zoning board of appeals, the zoning board of appeals holds a public hearing to gather information to make a determination on the petition. Tennessee Planning Commissioner Handbook, p. 12. The zoning board of appeals and the developer proceed with the special exception process according to the rules and procedures provided in the locality’s zoning ordinance. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-107(a); Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-206(a).

1-TN-a.13 to 1-TN-a.14 – Does the Local Zoning Board of Appeals Grant the Special Exception?

The local zoning board of appeals determines whether to grant special exception. The local zoning board of appeals may only impose conditions that appear within the zoning ordinance. Courts in Tennessee have held that denial of a special exception is arbitrary when the applicant fully complies “with the requirements of the zoning ordinance.” Father Ryan High School, Inc. v. City of Oak Hill, 774 S.W. 2d 184 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1988); Tennessee Planning Commissioner Handbook, p. 23.

If the local zoning board of appeals does not grant the special exception, the developer may appeal the decision to the appropriate Tennessee Chancery Court pursuant to Tennessee – Tenn. Code Ann. §27-8-101 et seq., Certiorari and Supersedeas.

1-TN-a.15 to 1-TN-a.17 – Does the Project Require a Zoning Ordinance Variance?

The developer may request a zoning ordinance variance (variance) if strict interpretation of the zoning ordinance results in undue hardship to the person seeking the variance (developer). A variance is an “exception to a zoning rule in cases where a literal interpretation would result in unnecessary hardship” for the developer. Tennessee Planning Commissioner Handbook, p. 13. Tennessee law allows a local zoning “board of appeals,” to grant a variance to relieve “undue hardship” resulting from strictly applying the zoning regulations. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-109; Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-207.

The application for a variance requirements and procedural process varies depending on the jurisdiction. A developer should contact the local zoning board of appeals with jurisdiction over the proposed project site to discuss the possibility of a variance and the details of the regulatory process.

Once the developer petitions the local zoning board of appeals for a variance, the local zoning board of appeals and developer proceed with the variance process according to the rules and procedures provided in the locality’s zoning ordinance. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-107(a); Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-206(a).

1-TN-a.18 – Does the Local Board of Appeals Grant the Zoning Ordinance Variance?

The local zoning board of appeals determines whether to grant the variance. To qualify for a variance, the developer must show that due to an “extraordinary and exceptional situation,” strictly applying the zoning regulation would result in “undue hardship” to the developer Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-109(3); Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-207(3).

There are two valid reasons for granting a variance:

  • A pre-existing condition inherent in the land; and
  • A current condition inherent in the land.

Tennessee Planning Commissioner Handbook, p. 24.

The local zoning board of appeals may only issue a variance when the conditions are “inherent in the property itself.” “The exceptional narrowness, shallowness or shape of a specific property” are conditions that require a zoning ordinance variance if strict interpretation of the regulation and special exception conditions result in “undue hardship” to the owner. Tennessee Planning Commissioner Handbook, p. 24.

1-TN-a.19 – Appeal Decision (Optional)

If the local zoning board of appeals does not grant the zoning ordinance variance, the developer may appeal the decision to the appropriate Tennessee Chancery Court pursuant to Tennessee – Tenn. Code Ann. §27-8-101 et seq., Certiorari and Supersedeas.

1-TN-a.20 to 1-TN-a.21 – Does the Project Require a Proposal to Amend the Zoning Regulations?

A developer may propose to amend the zoning regulations. If the project does not require a proposal to amend zoning regulations, the project can continue.

1-TN-a.22 to 1-TN-a.23 – Contact Local Government for Amendment to Zoning Regulations

A developer should contact the local government, with jurisdiction over the proposed project site, to discuss the possibility of amending the zoning regulations. The developer can petition for an amendment to the zoning regulations.

1-TN-a.24 to 1-TN-a.25 – Provide Notice of Public Hearing

A municipality or county may not adopt an amendment to the zoning regulations without notice and public hearing. The legislative body must publish notice of the public hearing within fifteen (15) days of the hearing date. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-105(b); Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-203(a). The requirement for notice and comment is different for counties and municipalities.

‘’’Counties’’’ For counties, notice of the public hearing should include the time and place of the public hearing, published in at least one (1) “newspaper of general circulation in the county.” The county’s legislative body must also publish a “complete summary of the amendment at least once in a newspaper of general circulation in the county.” The summary must include where the complete text of the amendment is available and a description of a property to be rezoned if the amendment rezones a property. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-105(b).

‘’’Municipalities’’’ For municipalities, the legislative body must publish notice of the time and place of the public hearing in “the official municipal journal or in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality.” Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-203(a). If municipality is considering a comprehensive zoning ordinance, a complete summary is sufficient even if the municipality’s charter requires publishing the entire text of the proposed ordinance. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-203(c).

The county or municipal legislative body will hold a public hearing to consider the proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance.

1-TN-a.26 to 1-TN-a.27 – Is the Proposed Zoning Regulation Amendment Adopted?

After considering the proposed amendment or ordinance, the local government legislative body decides whether to adopt the proposed zoning regulation amendment. Before the amendment can become effective, the local government must submit the proposed zoning regulation amendment to the regional or municipal planning commission. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-105(b); Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-203(b), 204.

1-TN-a.28 to 1-TN-a.29 – Review Petition for Approval

The regional or municipal planning commission assesses the proposed amendment for approval within thirty (30) days of receiving the submitted amendment. The regional planning commission ensures that the proposed amendment does not conflict with other zoning regulations from other localities in the region. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-105(a); Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-204.

If the regional or municipal planning commission determines that the amendment does not conflict with other local zoning regulations and approves the amendment, the zoning regulation amendment will become effective. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-105(a); Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-204.

1-TN-a.30 – Does a Majority of the Local Legislative Body Adopt the Proposed Amendment?

If the regional or municipal planning commission fails to approve the amendment, a majority of the entire local legislative body must vote to adopt the amendment before the amendment can become effective. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-105(a); Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-203(b), 204.

1-TN-a.31 – Zoning Regulation Amendment

Once the amendment becomes effective, the developer may proceed with the project.


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Contact Information









Edit Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development – Local Planning Assistance Office
Communications Office 615-741-1888 ECDabbazabbaCommunicationsabbazabbaOffice@tnabbazabbagov Visit Website