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Lutzak v. Phoenix American Development Partners, L.P.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

October 18, 2017


          Session: August 18, 2016

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Williamson County No. 43113 James G. Martin III, Chancellor

         The owner of undeveloped property sought a declaratory judgment that restrictive covenants governing an adjacent subdivision did not apply to its property. The developer of the subdivision and the homeowners' association of the subdivision filed counterclaims seeking a declaratory judgment that the restrictive covenants applied to the undeveloped property and attorney's fees and costs. On cross-motions for summary declaratory judgment, the trial court granted summary declaratory judgment to the owner of the undeveloped property. On appeal, the defendants argue that the trial court erred in finding no express restrictive covenants applicable to the undeveloped property and in refusing to enforce negative reciprocal easements by implication from an alleged common development plan. We conclude that the restrictive covenants, by their express terms, do not apply to the undeveloped property. We further conclude that the trial court properly declined to impose negative reciprocal easements on the undeveloped property. Thus, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

          Suzette Peyton, Brentwood, Tennessee, and George E. Copple, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Phoenix American Development Partners, L.P. and Spring Hill Place Homeowners' Association, Inc.

          Douglas Berry, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Dianne Elizabeth Lutzak, Trustee of the Dianne Elizabeth Lutzak Family Revocable Trust.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy J. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.





         This dispute concerns whether restrictive covenants that govern the Spring Hill Place Subdivision also apply to undeveloped property owned by Dianne Elizabeth Lutzak, as trustee of the Dianne Elizabeth Lutzak Family Revocable Trust (the "Trust"). On February 27, 2011, Spring Hill Place Land Partners Limited Partnership ("Spring Hill Partners") conveyed to the Trust 62 acres of undeveloped property adjacent to Spring Hill Place. In January 2014, the Trust applied to the Spring Hill Planning Commission for approval of its plan to develop a subdivision on the property. Spring Hill Partners and the homeowners of Spring Hill Place objected to the subdivision plan's proposed restrictive covenants, which differed from those of Spring Hill Place.

         1. The Development of Spring Hill Place

         The Trust's property was originally part of a much larger parcel owned by Saturn I Land Partners ("Saturn I") identified as "Tract 4.0, on the Tax Assessor's Map #166 of Williamson County, Tennessee." Tract 4.0 comprised 168 acres, the majority of which was conveyed to Spring Hill Partners in a series of warranty deeds under the terms of a Purchase and Sale Agreement between Saturn I and Spring Hill Partners' predecessor in interest.[1] Saturn I agreed to convey an initial parcel of 10 acres and also granted the purchaser a series of rolling options to purchase "a minimum part or all of the balance" of Tract 4.0. The remainder of Tract 4.0 was divided into subparcels representing "anticipated future development stages, " which the parties acknowledged could be adjusted from time to time.

         As part of the agreement, Saturn I required the purchaser to create "plans and other documents (the "Development Plan") necessary for the subdivision and development" of Tract 4.0 and to submit those plans to the Spring Hill Planning Commission for approval. Saturn I reserved the right to approve the plans before conveying any property. The agreement further specified that Tract 4.0 was to be developed substantially as provided in the development plan.

         Spring Hill Partners' predecessor in interest filed with the Spring Hill Planning Commission a document entitled "Master Site Plan for Spring Hill Place." The master site plan in the record is a drawing showing 376 residential lots in thirteen sections, along with roads and open spaces, on 168 acres. The Planning Commission approved a version of this master plan as a sketch plat on May 8, 2000.[2] The master site plan indicates that the drawing was revised multiple times after initial approval and was never recorded.

         The final plat[3] for the first section of Spring Hill Place, containing 25 residential lots on 12 acres, was approved by the Planning Commission and recorded in the Register's Office for Williamson County on October 12, 2001. The final plat contained a notation that the platted lots were subject to restrictive covenants "as shown in Deed Book ___Page ___R.O.W.C., TN."

         In March 2002, Spring Hill Partners recorded a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions for Spring Hill Place (the "Declaration"). The property subject to the Declaration was described as

All of the property shown on the Final Plat of Spring Hill Place Phase 1, Section 1, being Lots 1 through 16 and Lots 45-53, as of record in the Register's Office of Williamson County Tennessee; and
BEING all or a part of the same property conveyed to Spring Hill Place Land Partners, a Tennessee Limited Partnership, of record in Book 2079, page 492 in the Register's Office of Williamson County, Tennessee.

         The Declaration also permitted additional property to be added "by means of Supplemental Declaration(s)."

         Saturn I conveyed portions of Tract 4.0 to Spring Hill Partners by three warranty deeds, executed on July 15, 2003, February 27, 2004, and December 22, 2004. The recorded warranty deeds specified that the conveyance was subject to the "Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, ...

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