By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A Greene County Chancery Judge has thrown out claims by a group of local residents that the rezoning of a 400 acre tract for US Nitrogen was done in violation of state law.
In a brief but decisive four-page decision Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins concluded that the actions by the regional planning commission and county commissioners were in compliance with public notice and open meeting law requirements.
Citing the testimony of local officials, Jenkins wrote, "Any public notice requirements were given for the Feb. 8, 2011 Regional Planning Commission meeting when the decision to recommend was made."
He ruled that the planning commission "did not act outside the scope of its authority," adding that he did not believe that "the Open Meeting Act was violated in this particular case."
The suit named as defendants the regional planning board, county commissioners and the county itself. The county commission approved the rezoning following the planning commission's recommendation.
While Jenkins rejected many of the plaintiffs' claims, he stopped short of acting on a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants. He ordered the defendants to make additional filings before acting on that request,
The suit had charged that there was a lack of adequate public disclosure about the actual beneficiary of the rezoning and that the meetings violated the open meeting act on several counts.
Jenkins, however, concluded that the notice requirements were not violated simply because the applicant for the rezoning, Tom Ferguson, was not the owner of the property.
The plaintiffs also charged that the open meeting statute was violated when commission members met one-by-one in secret with US Nitrogen and other officials prior to the vote.
US Nitrogen, a subsidiary of an Ohio based explosives maker, plans to produce millions of gallons of ammonium nitrate at the facility now nearing completion in Greene County.
The suit is one of several legal challenges to the US Nitrogen project now pending in courts from Greene County to Nashville.