A group of neighbors opposing a cluster of tiny homes for the homeless in Woodbine are fleshing out their legal argument against the project. In a new court filing, they say the non-religious organization behind the homes is unlawfully skirting zoning laws with the religious land use act.
Marshall Albritton, the lawyer hired by the small group of vocal neighbors, says building 22 micro homes for the homeless is not a religious exercise, despite its claims. He outlined his legal argument at a community meeting.
"The law is designed to protect religious groups. And not just general nonprofits," Albritton said.
Open Table Nashville, a nonprofit, serves homeless and low-income people. It partnered with Glencliff United Methodist Church on the project. And while the church petitioned the city under religious land use laws, Albritton says it has no other involvement.
"The lease shows all the church is doing is letting Open Table use its land, that's it," Albritton said. "The church is not helping design the project. The church is not helping build the project. The church is not helping operate the project."
The church disagrees with Albritton's assessment. "This is very much a project of the church," said Lisa Carson, a lawyer representing the Methodist Church. "This is a way that we can live our religion." She added that Open Table Nashville is simply working with the church to fulfill its core mission.
Albritton's brief, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, also challenges why Glencliff would need to skirt zoning laws in the first place. Since building fewer, more traditionally sized homes wouldn't pose a 'substantial burden' on exercising one's religion, as federal law says it must.
"It's very apparent to anybody who's looking that this is what it could be, is an encampment with a little bit better living quarters," Albritton said.
Carson said they plan to file a responding brief by November 17. A court date is set for early January. Meanwhile, Open Table is moving ahead. It broke ground on the project earlier this month.