Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Southeastern Legal Foundation’s Director of Litigation Braden Boucek to the newsmaker line to explain Metro Nashville’s sidewalk laws that are creating havoc for Nashvillian’s wallets.
Leahy: On our newsmaker line now, our very good friend Braden Boucek, who’s the director of litigation for the Southeastern Legal Foundation, previously with The Beacon Center. Good morning, Braden.
Boucek: Good morning. It’s great to be back on.
Leahy: This is a topic that I didn’t know this was such a big deal, but apparently there’s an issue regarding sidewalk laws. Sidewalk laws? Tell us all about this, Braden.
Boucek: Yes. If you didn’t know it’s a big deal, then you obviously are not one of our many Nashville tourists who seem to enjoy nothing more than taking photographs of Nashville’s ridiculous sidewalk schemes, which are a literal Reddit and TikTok theme out there on social media.
If you’ve been to Nashville for any length of time, what you’ve noticed is Nashville has the craziest collection of sidewalks.
We’ve got sidewalks that disappear in the middle of nowhere. We’ve got sidewalks that go into telephone poles. We’ve got zigzagging sidewalks, and we’ve got mismatched sidewalks.
And most people just think it’s silly and ridiculous, but it’s actually a product of a bad Nashville law from 2018 that has everything to do with Nashville’s terrible financial situation.
Leahy: You have piqued my interest here. What a great setup. So tell us about the law and tell us why we have unusual sidewalk structures here in Nashville.
Boucek: Sidewalks are public infrastructure. If you’ve got them in a city, you don’t think about them. What they are is your taxpayer dollars go to fund them and the city builds sidewalks.
If you’ve got a sidewalk in your yard, it’s actually something owned by the government and maintained by the government. So it’s a public good. That’s fine. We all like sidewalks. The problem for Nashville is that sidewalks are very expensive.
And the other problem for Nashville is that Nashville is broke. In fact, a recent assessment of Nashville’s finances had us as a bottom-five sinkhole city along there with the likes of Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, which makes no sense at all given Nashville’s growth rate.
It’s purely a function of bad fiscal planning on behalf of leadership. So when Nashville suddenly decided in 2018 that it wanted sidewalk schemes because all of the people moving here from out of state wanted to find a way to get tapas at 10:00 at night, Nashville had a problem. (Leahy laughs)
Leahy: That is funny, Braden.
Boucek: They had to figure out, Nashville had to figure out how we were going to pay for these sidewalks, and they don’t have any money. What they decided to do was what governments always do when they run out of money, take something that belongs to someone else.
And so what Nashville did is decided that you can’t have a building permit for a new home unless you agree to pay for city sidewalks.
Leahy: I think I heard something like that. And I think people are trying to say what? What are you talking about here? So how has this all worked out?
Boucek: It’s worked out terribly. So we’ve actually sued the city over this. We represent two Nashvillians. And these are actual Nashvillians, one of which is a senior citizen who has a small property over there on Acklen [Park Drive], and it’s a vacant lot. There’s nothing on it.
And he went to go try and pull his building permit when he found out that he needed to build this crazy sidewalk that would have connected to nothing. There’s not a sidewalk on either side of it.
Leahy: Sort of a variation on the bridge to nowhere, right? A sidewalk to nowhere.
Boucek: Precisely. It took Nashville City Council to come up with sidewalks to nowhere. Well, so he gets told he’s got a sidewalk to nowhere. It gets better. So he’s getting ready to build this thing because this is an investment property for him.
And city Stormwater [management] comes out and says, hey, wait a minute. If you build a sidewalk, you’re going to be filling in that culvert where the rainwater is diverted. Any Nashvillian knows most of us have culverts in our yard.
That’s what we do with rainwater in Nashville. And so if he built a sidewalk, he’d have flooded out his entire neighborhood. So he’s got one branch of the city saying, do not build a sidewalk and another branch of the city telling him he must build a sidewalk.
So he actually goes and appeals to the board of Zoning Authority, and they offered him what they considered to be a compromise, which was he could just pay the city of Nashville $9,000 and not build a sidewalk.
Leahy: So basically they’re saying, yeah, and they’ll take that money and, I don’t know, build sidewalks elsewhere. Is that right?
Boucek: That’s right. So they use the money to build sidewalks elsewhere, which is what happened to our other clients. So at the end of the day, you’ve got the city demanding people build sidewalks in their yards they don’t want that the city doesn’t want, that their neighbors don’t want, and telling them you can just give us $9,000 to pay for someone else’s sidewalk to get out of it.
Leahy: So this sounds like the city of Nashville is practicing. Wait for it – sidewalk blackmail.
Boucek: Yes. Extortion is the word we’ve been using.
Leahy: Sidewalk extortion! Even better.
Listen to the full interview:
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