Updated 10:13 a.m., Aug. 27, 2011
A Gwinnett Superior Court jury Friday sided with a group of Suwanee developers against the City of Suwanee, ruling that a city regulation adversely affected a potential 2008 land sale.
Settles Bridge Farm LLC, a legal entity headed by David Bowling and Brad Williams, was awarded $1.8 million after a week-long trial and a three-year legal battle.
Jurors found that a special-use permit adopted by the city was a "significant detriment" to the land sale and was "insubstantial" to the public health and general well-being of residents in the area.
Brad Williams, a principal in Settles Bridge Farm LLC, said he was "pleased with the outcome."
Suwanee City Manager Marty Allen termed the outcome an "advisory opinion." Allen and Mayor Dave Williams testified in the trial.
The city has the option of appealing the verdict and is under no obligation to pay the jury award immediately.
City officials adopted a special-use permit after learning that Notre Dame Academy in Duluth was seeking to build a large facility on a 36-acre tract of land in the Moore Road area. Settles Bridge Farm LLC entered into a contract to sell the land to the school for approximately $8 million. However, material presented in court showed that market value at the time was about $3.9 million.
The jury award essentially was the difference in the sales price and the $6.2 million that Settles Bridge Farm originally paid for the land.
After the verdict was read, Judge Warren Davis denied a mistrial motion by Laurel Henderson, lead attorney for the City of Suwanee. She contended that the judge had not read proper legal instructions to the jury. The judge then officially accepted the verdict.
A key piece of evidence was a February 2008 email sent by Suwanee's Allen to City Council members after Allen learned of the school's interest in the land. Allen told council members that residents in the area would "go nuts" if a school were built in the area, which was zoned for residential development. Council members went along with his suggestion of a moratorium on new development.
Suwanee eventually passed a special-use permit regulation, but Notre Dame Academy officials testified that they felt it would be "futile" to apply under that regulation.
The school also sued Suwanee but settled in 2010. It since has cancelled the sales contract with Settles Bridge Farm.
Brad Williams confirmed Friday that his father -- Lake Lanier magnate Virgil Williams -- is involved in Settles Bridge Farm LLC.
Bowling lives in Snellville, Brad Williams in Monroe.
Another legal matter still is active involving the same failed land deal. Settles Bridge Farm LLC has sued the Gwinnett Chamber and VP Nick Masino, a former Suwanee mayor, contending that Masino tried to sabotage the same land sale with a 2008 phone call to Allen at City Hall.