Beacon Impact

Make Your Elected Leaders Vote by Rejecting the Pending Ordinance Doctrine

Imagine if every bill that was introduced by Congress or the Tennessee General Assembly was enforced without the duly elected legislators ever voting on it. As crazy and un-American as it sounds, that happens here in Tennessee at the local level. Local governments use the “pending ordinance doctrine” to deny building permits or revoke previously issued permits based on pending zoning or ordinance changes introduced for consideration, but that have yet to be voted on—and may never be voted on—by the local government’s elected legislative body. By utilizing the pending ordinance doctrine, local governments circumvent the legislative process and deny permits to landowners that otherwise would be approved under the existing law.

Under this doctrine, a change to a land use regulation is “pending” once the local government provides public notice of its intent to simply consider the amendment. Unlike other forms of government that are required to pass legislation before enforcing it, local governments are able to arbitrarily deny or revoke permits without ever having to take a vote on the pending ordinance.

The judicially-created “pending ordinance doctrine” does not provide Tennessee property owners with the consistency and due process that is needed when they apply for a building permit, and it should be abolished by the legislature. Local governments’ duly-elected legislative bodies should have to vote and pass any ordinance before it is enforced, just like we do at every other level of government.

Beacon Impact’s legislation would simply eliminate the judicially-created “pending ordinance doctrine.” A local government’s legislative body regularly votes to amend its local code. Requiring it to take a vote on land use regulations operates no differently and requires nothing more of the local government than providing notice and due process to its citizens.

Status Update: In 2023, the General Assembly passed Beacon Impact’s legislation doing away with the pending ordinance doctrine in Tennessee for good, providing clarity and predictability for property owners. We would like to thank Representative John Ragan and Senator Paul Rose for sponsoring the legislation on behalf of Beacon.

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