Log in Subscribe

Cunninghams just want to return home

By DAVID MELSON - dmelson@t-g.com
Posted 2/11/23

A longtime North Main Street businessman says he’s not giving up his fight with city and state officials over a residence next to his business.

Lee Roy and Elizabeth Cunningham were forced …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Cunninghams just want to return home


A longtime North Main Street businessman says he’s not giving up his fight with city and state officials over a residence next to his business.

Lee Roy and Elizabeth Cunningham were forced to leave the home this week after Shelbyville Power System cut the electricity on orders of the City of Shelbyville. In order to have electricity and heat, the Cunninghams have moved back into a portion of the Bedford Motors building next door, where they’d lived for 10 years. That side of the building resembles a private residence inside.

City officials declined comment.

Lee Roy Cunningham said this week he and the City of Shelbyville are in disagreement over adjoining properties at 751 and 755 North Main St. at the Noblitt Street intersection. Cunningham has operated Bedford Motors for many years at 755 N. Main. The adjoining lot to the south (toward downtown), 751 N. Main, was for many years occupied by the couple’s large, older home which burned in 2011.

Cunningham, a former City Council member, and Elizabeth moved into one side of the auto sales building after the blaze. They purchased a new manufactured home around 2018 and parked it on the former site of the burned home.

Laws cited

But state officials told him a law prevented them from occupying the home. The law basically states a “nonconforming use” of property must be reactivated within 30 months after a disaster or it will be considered abandoned.

City officials said at the time a necessary building permit had not been sought or granted. Cunningham also says he thought the land was zoned residential/commercial.

Cunningham insists the property was not abandoned at any point.

He also disagrees with city officials over the description of the structure. It’s a “house,” Cunningham says. He said one city staff member has referred to it as a “trailer.” A brochure printed by the manufacturer describes it as a “manufactured home.”

Cunningham said he applied for a building permit and was denied. He said a former city zoning staff member told him several years ago because the Cunninghams occupied the location for 50 years, the situation could be worked out. He says a few days later, the staff member told him the existing auto dealership could be approved but not the new home.

The home sat unoccupied for three years, Cunningham says, and last September they moved in. Electricity is supplied by a pole next to the home.

“Three months later, the city sent a letter saying we had to move,” Cunningham said.


A codes inspector from the State of Tennessee said the home’s electrical hookup failed an inspection on Jan. 4, according to documents provided by Cunningham. The state issued a 30-day notice for compliance. Cunningham says the wiring in question has been brought into compliance.

Electricity was cut off Wednesday by Shelbyville Power System on what Cunningham says were orders from state codes officials. The Cunninghams have received a notice from the City of Shelbyville saying they have 30 days to move the home or it will be moved by the city.

“Jason Reese (general manager of Shelbyville Power System) said the state told him to disconnect it,” Cunningham said.

“I just want them to leave me alone,” Cunningham said. “She’s 83, I’ll be 80 this year. She deserves a better place to live before she dies. We just want to die there.”

Cunningham said he has plans to improve the property.

“I wanted to finish it up and landscape it.” Cunningham said.

Property along North Main Street is in high demand as Shelbyville grows along the corridor between North Main Street and the public square.

Cunningham said a real estate developer has offered him $1.3 million total for both lots in order to build a McDonald’s restaurant.

“They want an empty lot,” Cunningham said. “We’ve lived here the biggest part of our lives. Money can’t make you happy. So I turned it down.”

Cunningham stood on the dark residence’s front porch, looking toward several motor homes parked in front.

“Eventually I just wanted to sit on the porch and watch the cars go by,” Cunningham said.