Originally created 01/16/97

County talks with bank in zoning dispute



Days before a scheduled hearing Tuesday in superior court, Columbia County hopes to settle a rezoning dispute with First Union Bank to avoid any such proceedings.

County Attorney Doug Batchelor said Wednesday he will talk with the bank's lawyer about ending the case.

"I really don't think there's going to be a hearing," Mr. Batchelor predicted. "It's going to be a non-event."

The bank sued the county after commissioners in August denied the rezoning of 1.95 acres for commercial use.

First Union, which owns the parcel on Columbia Road near Heritage Hills subdivision, alleges the county's refusal to rezone prevented the bank from selling the land to Heilig-Meyers Furniture Co.

However, last month the county reconsidered its decision and began the process of rezoning the property for commercial use. Planners recommended the property be rezoned in hopes of appeasing First Union.

"I'll probably be talking with Mr. Batchelor," said Byrd Warlick, the bank's attorney, adding he didn't know if the matter would make it to court Tuesday or not.

Mr. Warlick, while aware the county is in the process of rezoning the property to C-1, said a C-2 rezoning - with broader development potential - would attract more lucrative offers from buyers. He said he plans to ask the county for a C-2, rather than C-1, rezoning.

If the case does make it to court, the bank is asking Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. to rule the county's denial of the rezoning unconstitutional and order the county to rezone the property to C-2. The bank is also seeking damages.

The bank's original request was consistent with other zonings in the area and the county's Growth Management Plan, according to planning officials. The planning and zoning commission unanimously recommended rezoning.