The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

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Status of Unopened Streets

Reference Number: MTAS-714
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: January 12, 2016
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West Meade Homeowners Association v. WPMC, 778 S.W.2d 365 (1989), indicates that the formal dedication and acceptance of a street may occur without the actual construction of a street. There a recorded plat showed Cornwall Drive to run between two certain lots on WPMC’s property. However, the paved portion of Cornwall Drive ended in a cul-de-sac that left an intervening space between the cul-de-sac and WPMC’s property upon which no street had been built, but which showed up on the plat as a dedicated right-of-way. WPMC wanted to develop its property and to use the intervening space as an ingress and egress to the development. WPMC argued that the City of Nashville had accepted the right-of-way. The City of Nashville, itself joined the developer in arguing that the city had accepted the right-of-way. The Homeowner’s Association argued that the right-of-way on the plat between the cul-de-sac and WPMC’s property had not been accepted by the city or had since been abandoned.

The Court held in favor of WPMC, agreeing that the city had accepted the right-of-way in dispute. It reiterated the well-settled law that establishment of a right-of-way requires both a dedication and acceptance. The dedication in this case was undisputed; it appeared on the recorded plat. A dedication could be formally or informally accepted, and in this case the city had at least informally accepted it, declared the Court, reasoning that

The evidence of public acceptance in the present record is similar to that relied upon to find public acceptance in Matthews. The disputed portion of Cornwall Drive is included on the “Official Street and Alley Acceptance and Maintenance Map.” In addition, no taxes have been paid on the right-of-way and the Nashville Electric Service has erected and maintained utility poles within the right-of-way. In Matthews this evidence was sufficient for the court to find public acceptance of an offer of dedication and we believe that it is sufficient to make the same finding in this case [At 366].

There had been no abandonment of the right-of-way by the city, concluded the Court, because the Nashville Electrical Service used it for its utility poles.

Presumably, the same rule applies to rights-of-way reflected on county road maps where territory is incorporated or annexed by a municipality.

But it does not necessarily follow that the public has a right to use a street that has been dedicated and accepted but upon which no construction of a “street” has actually occurred. The Court in West Meade Homeowners Association v. WPMC, 778 S.W.2d 365 (1989) pointed out in reply to the homeowner’s association demand for an injunction to stop WPMC’s development that the municipal planning commission had the sole and exclusive power to approve or disapprove subdivision plats for real estate developments, and that before a subdivision could be developed on WPMC’s property, the Metropolitan Planning Commission had to approve a subdivision plan. No such application had been approved or even made. For that reason the demand for an injunction was premature. While the Court did not mention the disputed part of Cornwall Drive in connection with the plat, apparently if that part of Cornwall Drive was to be used as a street it would have been required to appear on the plat of the development. In addition, a municipality has the right to determine what kind of public travel is permitted on its streets [Blackburn v. Dillon, 225 S.W.2d 46 (1946)].

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