The case about whether a Wilson County woman can conduct agriculture business on privately owned property ended with a favorable ruling for Rebekah Hall, owner of Music City Riding Academy.
But the chancellor in the case didn’t stop there.
On Wednesday, Chancellor C.K. Smith issued a judgment to Wilson County calling its actions in the case “abuse of power.”
The case was originally disputed between Wilson County Board of Zoning Appeals, and property owner Julia Tidwell, whose sister, Hall, owns and operates the horseback riding academy at 4555 Hickory Ridge Road, Lebanon.
After being denied operation on grounds of zoning violations, Tidwell and Hall hired a lawyer. The case then made its way to Chancery Court, where it was heard by Smith.
The two main issues Smith saw in this case were:
Whether Wilson County, through the Board of Zoning Appeals, exceeded the authority granted to it; and whether the activities conducted on approximately 8 acres of land constituted farming, and as such a use permitted under the zoning ordinance.
Per the first, Smith applied a standard from state law denying counties the power to prohibit or regulate normal agricultural activities. He expanded on this with another state law that grants zoning powers to counties but does not grant them the power to limit, affect, or control in any way agricultural use of the land.
In laying out what constituted agricultural activity, Smith pointed to one item on the list of permitted activities as defined by Tennessee law that permits, “recreational and educational activities on land used for commercial production of farm products and nursery stock.”
Smith’s conclusion on this matter was that “Wilson County had no authority to limit, affect or control the agricultural use of land. Equine use of property is agricultural use of land.”
He went on to describe Wilson County’s overreach as an “illegal and arbitrary abuse of a power granted to Wilson County.”
Smith said that in making its decision, the Wilson County Board of Zoning Appeals didn’t even cite the correct state law as it “erroneously relied” on unrelated laws that didn’t specifically pertain to acreage limitations, but rather to how to deal with land bisected by county lines and ensuing voting implications.
Smith then disputed the 15-acre requirement by pointing to its limited scope and irrelevance to this case. The court found “there is no Tennessee law requiring property must be at least 15 acres in size before it could be considered a farm for farming operations and for production of farm products.”
Smith said that to adopt the Wilson County Board of Zoning Appeals precedent would mean “all for-profit farming activities in Wilson County on land less than 15 acres, including raising and selling beef and dairy cattle, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs, hay, fruits and vegetables would be prohibited under the presumption.”
Hall’s attorney Neal Agee of Agee and Tinsley Law Firm in Lebanon said this “was a victory for small farmers in Wilson County.”
An elated Hall said, “We are ecstatic that the law was followed and the Wilson County decisions were reversed. This case was important to the entire agricultural business/community in the state of Tennessee. Very few folks knew about it. We are thankful to the supporters who were there, Neal Agee and the Honorable C.K. Smith who ruled.”