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‘Greenbelt’ Law Benefiting TN Millionaires, including Bredesen, Frist, Hyde

The News Sentinel and the Commercial Appeal, in a joint review of “Greenbelt Law” records, report some of the state’s wealthiest individuals are getting big tax breaks under a program designed to help farmers preserve their land for agriculture.
The 1976 Agricultural, Forest and Open Space Land Act, or “Greenbelt Law,” is subsidizing estates and hobby farms of business icons such as AutoZone founder J.R. “Pitt” Hyde, a Memphis multimillionaire, and some of the biggest names in country music, Wynonna Judd among them. Former University of Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer qualifies by baling hay on his $2.8 million, 47-acre Maryville estate.
Generous farm and forest tax breaks are in force for estate after estate along Nashville’s tony Chickering Road, though official paperwork at the Davidson County Assessor’s Office at times provides little evidence of how the properties qualify. Among the recipients: former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a wealthy health care entrepreneur; and billionaire Thomas Frist Jr., co-founder of Hospital Corp. of America.
Even Knoxville’s private Cherokee and Holston Hills country clubs have been sheltered under the “open space” provision of the law.
In some instances, the law is actually subsidizing the land speculation it was created to combat.
In 2009, for example, Shelby County’s Johnson cut 97 percent from the value of an East Memphis field for sale for commercial development and surrounded by a 127-room Hyatt Place Hotel, ServiceMaster offices and a strip shopping center. Annual taxes on the $2.99 million, 65-acre site owned by Forest Hill Associates loomed at more than $48,000 if taxed at fair market value, yet fell to less than $1,000. Now, an apartment complex is under construction there.
“We’ve done what’s right within the law,” said co-owner Charles Wurtzburger.
Maybe so, with many saving big on this huge break many others are carrying the tax load.