The beginning of the end of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar legal battle is at hand for the City of Suwanee.
On Monday, attorneys for the city and developers Settles Bridge Farm LLC will make legal arguments to the Georgia Supreme Court in Atlanta. The case is the city's appeal of a $1.8 million Gwinnett Superior Court jury award to the developers in 2011, in a legal dispute that dates to 2008.
-- How do you think the state Supreme Court will rule in this case? Do you agree with Suwanee's initial action toward the proposed development? Tell us in the comments below.
The jury award concerns the city's actions in a proposed land sale between the developers and Notre Dame Academy of Duluth in 2008. The developers had a contract to sell 36 acres to the academy for about $8 million; the school wanted to build a larger campus in the area, which is in the Moore Road area of Suwanee.
Settles Bridge Farm LLC is led by former Gwinnett homebuilders Brad Wiliams and David Bowling.
When the city learned of this development, it felt that residents in the area would object, and city officials enacted regulatory procedures for the academy and developers to deal with. These parties never tested the regulatory procedures, and the developers later filed the lawsuit that eventually resulted in the jury award.
According to a Georgia Supreme Court legal summary, Suwanee's attorneys content that the lawsuit never should have come to trial, citing trial judge errors.
Suwanee contends that the developers were required to apply at least once under the regulatory procedure before pursuing a lawsuit. “It is analogous to a local government being sued for denying a rezoning when no rezoning application was ever submitted or heard," Suwanee's attorneys said in the legal summary.
Also, the city said the trial judge erred "by improperly inquiring into the City’s subjective motives for enacting the amendment rather than objectively assessing the relationship between the amendment and the policy interests it served." Suwanee noted that its 2030 Comprehensive Plan called for the area to remain residential.
The developers' attorneys contend that applying through the regulatory process enacted in 2008 would've been futile and that the regulatory procedures had nothing to do with the comprehensive plan.
A key piece of evidence is an email by City Manager Marty Allen to City Council members after Allen learned of the initial development in 2008. It stated: “should the City wish to head this off, I suggest we amend our zoning ordinance to require a Special Use Permit review process for any large project in a residential zoning district.”
The state Supreme Court should rule by March 2013 in this case, according to spokesperson Jane Hansen.
- Developers Win Lawsuit vs. City of Suwanee