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Suwanee-Developers Case Takes New Turns Again

A surprise witness and mediation show the intensity of both sides.

The continuing legal battle between the and land developers Settles Bridge Farm LLC took interesting turns Friday in Gwinnett Superior Court -- for both sides -- before the judge even took the step of ordering mediation.

The city, contesting a $1.8 million jury award to the developers, produced an unexpected witness -- Public Works Director James Miller. This matter was just disclosed to the developers' attorney the day before.

After the developers' attorney objected, Judge Warren Davis ordered a recess to do legal research. He then would not allow Miller to testify, but let attorney Laurel Henderson give a summary as to what Miller would have testified to.

Welcome to a multi-million dollar case where, after three years, no one still can find any middle ground.

The issues are clear: money and power.

As for money, the developers lost a potential multi-million dollar land deal that began in 2008, and they say the city's efforts doomed their project.

As for power, the city contends its "police power" gives it the right to regulate growth and development anywhere within the city limits.

One thing that apparently will go unchallenged in this issue is the power issue. The case already has passed the jury phase, and the only remaining issue is money.

As for the disallowed witness, money was the subject there, too. Attorney Henderson told the judge Friday that Miller would have testified that the city would have had to make up to $3 million in improvements to roads in the area if a large school was built there.

But the fact that the city only disclosed this witness to the other side the day before the hearing shows how seriously they take this case. Miller never testified in the jury trial.

City officials are firm in their belief that they properly used their regulatory power in this case. When they learned that a Duluth school wanted to build a large campus in a residential area that enjoyed its rural feel, they felt they needed to act. They left the door open for the school, but on terms the city felt would be compatible with that area.

The developers were not happy over eventually losing an $8 million deal, and exercised their right to due process of law. However, the actual lawsuit was filed in 2008, and the sales deal was not cancelled until 2010. The school never actually applied for a special-use permit in Suwanee, feeling their efforts would do no good.

These issues will not go away soon. These same developers have another lawsuit pending over the same failed land sale.

But it shows that sometimes the issues and positions are so strong that even a judge can't resolve it.

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