Marshall Square developers drop claim for $40 million in punitive damages from Columbia County

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Marshall Square developers have withdrawn their claim for more than $40 million in punitive damages against the Columbia County government, county officials confirmed Monday evening.

Assistant County Administrator Scott Johnson and Commissioner Scott Dean said they received notice from Chris Driver, the county's defense attorney, that at least part of the lawsuit had been dropped by the plaintiffs, whose $57.5 million lawsuit claimed county officials had restricted development of Marshall Square.

The 57-acre, mixed-use development was approved by the county in 2004.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet made no decision in a hearing related to the lawsuit. Arguments for punitive damages were to be heard in a later hearing.

"My understanding is that the Marshalls have dismissed the punitive damages," Johnson said. "Our attorney filed a motion to dismiss the punitive damages, so I'm not sure if they felt they needed to withdraw because of our motion."

The lawsuit stems from a decision commissioners made in May to limit the number of apartments in the development to 189, down from 338. Reducing the residential density made the project unfeasible and halted work, according to the developers.

Beyond the initial claim for $40 million in punitive damages, the developers also sought $10.3 million to cover infrastructure, engineering and other development costs. More than $7 million was spent to clear and grade the property to make improvements, according to the lawsuit.

Dean said he has not been informed of any changes in the lawsuit beyond the punitive damages.

"I know that a portion of the Marshall lawsuit has changed," he said. "The $40 million has been waived or withdrawn."

Bill Trotter, the attorney for the Marshall family, could not be reached Monday night.

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Little Lamb
48858
Points
Little Lamb 03/30/10 - 06:58 am
0
0
Here is a good business model

Here is a good business model for future developers to learn:

1. Get approval from county officials to build a wonderful project that is high-dollar, attractive, and good for officials' re-election.

2. Build the infrastructure only (clearing, grading, storm drains, sewer pipes, water pipes) and leave the parcel bare.

3. Ask the county for permission to build what you really intended to build all along, as what you intended was not high-dollar, not attractive, and not good for officials' re-election.

4. Sue the county for the cost of your infrastructure when they deny your petition.

Said business model has taxpayers paying for infrastructure that is supposed to be paid by the developers. It's a neat trick if you can buy a judge to make it happen.

Local Interests
40
Points
Local Interests 03/30/10 - 10:03 am
0
0
I just hope that their

I just hope that their pulling of this portion of the suit is their recognition that it was without merit and was only costing them legal fees. I'm more afraid that they think the judge is more likely to grant actual damages if punitive is off the table. I certainly hope the judge is smarter than that.

While I don't particularly like driving past that open parcel every morning (it was much more pleasant looking holding a stand of trees), it is much better than what these seedy developers had in mind.

Riverman1
93232
Points
Riverman1 03/30/10 - 06:50 pm
0
0
If Judge Overstreet does give

If Judge Overstreet does give them $17 million, Columbia County is in BIG trouble with the current budget short millions already. But there is no way he could have given them $57 million. That would have destroyed the county. $17 million will allow us to survive.

This is like the radio commercial where the woman asks if anyone else sees the comet about to hit. This is serious stuff.

Little Lamb
48858
Points
Little Lamb 03/30/10 - 07:28 pm
0
0
Don't worry so much about the

Don't worry so much about the $17 million. What is worse is the precedent that would be set for future county development. If the county denies your re-zoning request or your variance request, file a lawsuit and the judge will be bound by the precedent in this case.

Riverman1
93232
Points
Riverman1 03/30/10 - 08:04 pm
0
0
There's already lots of law

There's already lots of law out there on the federal level along these lines. A county can't limit apartments just because it wants to. The decisions were based on the evidence it discourages low income people from living in an area.

$17 million is going to be a major hurt if Judge Overstreet allows it. I suspect the Marshall's dropping the $50 million is a thought out and possibly discussed move by all parties so Overstreet could give them something without destroying county govenment.

Little Lamb
48858
Points
Little Lamb 03/30/10 - 09:54 pm
0
0
Frankly, I have no problem

Frankly, I have no problem with Miller-Valentine Group building an apartment complex on the Marshall Square site. My only complaint is that if you are going to build an apartment complex, you must obtain AR zoning and follow the county's zoning ordinances that the other complexes have followed.

The new apartments on Old Evans Road near Lowes (the two complexes are next door to In Focus church) show that the county is open to apartment complexes and will approve them.

The Marshalls are trying to use the courts to get special favors not afforded to other developers who follow the rules.

Little Lamb
48858
Points
Little Lamb 03/31/10 - 10:26 am
0
0
Ha, ha, RM, that was a good

Ha, ha, RM, that was a good one. Riverman said:

A county can't limit apartments just because it wants to. Those court decisions were based on the evidence it discourages low income people from living in an area.

I was at the Planning Commission meeting where the Miller-Valentine spokesman in the Armani suit promised that the apartments they proposed to build would be up-scale, with a portion of them to be up-up-scale (yes, he actually used that term). Of course, you cannot trust him to actually build what he promised, because he has already reneged on the overall project scope.

735
Points
Barry Paschal 03/31/10 - 04:18 pm
0
0
Actually, LL, the part you've

Actually, LL, the part you've consistently missed is this: In the original, 2004 approval, the county agreed to allow density of 34 units per acre within a portion of the PUD zoning. The developers built that portion of their business model, including installing the infrastructure, based on that density. They county then, last year, reneged on that density and said the developers would have to max out at 189 apartments instead of the 338 the county agreed to five years earlier. Thus, the county devalued their property, and Columbia County taxpayers are going to be on the hook for it.

Little Lamb
48858
Points
Little Lamb 03/31/10 - 09:20 pm
0
0
I see it differently, Barry.

I see it differently, Barry. The original 2004 approval from the county (with the density you posted above) was part of a PUD and was contingent upon the project being built as approved (with retail, professional offices, restaurants, hotel, loft apartments, and condominiums). When the developer said he wanted to build only apartments, the county was correct in denying approval unless the apartments meet requirements of AR zoning. If they build only apartments, they do not meet the agreements of the PUD.

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