NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — There’s new drama surrounding the Nashville Airport Authority.

On Monday, News 2 obtained a letter sent back in June from the Airport Authority to Metro Nashville.

In the letter, the new Republican-appointed Nashville Airport Authority sent the head of the Metro Department of Codes and the Executive Director of the Planning Department a map outlining most of Davidson County.

The letter claims the board has a say in the approval or denial of building permits within the map’s boundaries if it impacts “the safe and efficient operation of the airport.”

Once public, Tennessee Democrats responded to the letter, saying it is an example of “eye-popping overreach” by state Republicans and is “legitimately insane.”

“They have decided that they are going to go ahead and make decisions about or set the stage so that they can make decisions about the land use in our city,” Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) said.

The letter said the airport board gets this authority from a new state law, the same one that removes the mayor of Nashville’s ability to appoint board members and instead gives that power to certain members of the State Republican Supermajority.

“This is really about taking control over the financial future of the city of Nashville,” Campbell said.

However, Rep. Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville), the bill’s sponsor in the Tennessee House of Representatives, called Democrats’ claims “political hyperbole,” saying the law he helped pass doesn’t let the Airport Authority have the final say on zoning decisions.

“I don’t believe the Airport Authority can veto a certain zoning that the Metro Council approves or disapproves the purpose, and I don’t believe this legislation addresses that right,” Garrett said.

Rather, Garrett said the law simply gives the Airport Authority the ability to weigh in on permitting decisions impacting BNA.

“The airport just has to be notified, so to speak, of what impact that could have from the airport purposes, and then they provide that feedback to Metro Council,” Garrett said. “Essentially, it makes them having a seat at the table.”

However, the overlay map given to Metro in the letter is substantially larger than the one Metro Nashville attorneys said was in place previously, essentially covering the entirety of Davidson County.

In response to questions as to why the map overlay’s borders were expanded so much, Garrett noted Nashville’s boom.

“This airport has grown significantly over the decades and has been in operation. So, therefore, the overlay would, I would think, increase as well,” Garrett said. “There could be a time where it could increase as much as more than the county if we were taking planes and such from continents like Asia.”

Nashville International Airport said in a statement that airport officials have been studying expanding their boundary for airport hazards, adding the new state law provides a more efficient process for regulating airport hazards and “final permitting authority remains with the counties and not the airport authorities.”

The FAA, through its Grant Assurances, requires airports to take appropriate action to assure terminal airspace is adequately cleared and protected, prevent the creation of future airport hazards, and restrict the use of land adjacent to or in the immediate vicinity of the airport to activities compatible with normal airport operations, including landing and takeoff of aircraft (FAA Grant Assurances 20 and 21).  In our case, since January 2021, the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority and its Board have been studying the need for an enlarged boundary for airport hazards to be considered when reviewing building permits consistent with growth in our area and the increased air traffic related to the Nashville International Airport and John C. Tune Airport. This provision of the law enacted by the General Assembly provides a more efficient process for regulating airport hazards by allowing applicable metropolitan airport authorities to submit a map to the relevant counties designating the area in which those counties should review building permits for height, compatible land use, and other safety issues in order to ensure the safe operation of aircraft approaching or departing airports for the protection of those in the air and on the ground.  Final permitting authority remains with the counties, and not the airport authorities.  This law does not grant airport authorities veto power over development.

-Stacey Nickens, Nashville International Airport VP of Corporate Communications and Marketing

However, Metro Nashville Attorney Wally Dietz said this gives the airport board “extraordinary powers over permitting and zoning in Metropolitan Nashville.”

Dietz went on to say, “No other local government has had this power stripped away by the state. We raised this issue with Court in our legal briefs and in our oral argument on October 6. In the meantime, we are trying to assess what the state-appointed MNAA’s intentions are.”

A copy of the letter can be found below.

News 2 has reached out to the airport authority and Mayor Freddie O’Connell’s Office for more details.