Suit against Columbia County commision seeks $57.5 million

Developers for a proposed multi-use center in Evans filed a $57.5 million lawsuit today against the Columbia County Commission.

 

Filed at the Columbia County Clerk of Court’s office, the lawsuit contends that conditions imposed earlier this month by commissioners on site plan revisions for the Marshall Square development are “overly restrictive, unduly burdensome, serve no legitimate public purpose and deprive Marshall Square of valuable vested rights to develop the property.”

Developers are seeking $40 million in punitive damages, in addition to attorneys’ fees, and $17.5 million in compensation for the property’s diminished value.

Commission Chairman Ron Cross said today that he expected a lawsuit from the developers, but not so soon.

“We get sued from time to time (by) people that either are unhappy with us, or unhappy with the sheriff, or unhappy with anything government,” Mr. Cross said.

At a May 5 meeting, commissioners altered a site plan revision to the 47-acre planned unit development. They said that the proposed apartment density far exceeded the 14 units per acre as allowed by law in zonings outside of developments like Marshall Square.

The commission did approve the revisions, but only after limiting the number of apartment units to 14 per acre. Such a low density only afforded developers 189 apartment units at the site. Developers were seeking 288 units.

The suit maintains that “high quality, high density, multi-family housing” has been part of Marshall Square’s original plan that was approved by commissioners in 2004. That plan allowed 34 units per acre, which equates to 459 units on 13.5 acres.

The suit also alleges that commissioners met privately before the May 5 meeting and agreed to limit the property’s residential density to 14 units per acre. It further contends that commissioners “failed to notify the public or Marshall Square of the (board of commissioners’) secret, illegal meeting on May 5, 2009.”

Following the meeting, senior developer Bill Marsh, of the Miller-Valentine Group, called the commission’s decision a “complete defeat” and said their ruling effectively killed the project.

Reach Jenna Martin at (706) 868-1222, ext. 109,

or jenna.martin@augustachronicle.com.

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