Developers sue county for millions

Developers of the proposed multiuse Marshall Square development in Evans filed a $57.5 million suit Tuesday against the Columbia County Commission, saying the conditions it imposed are "overly restrictive, unduly burdensome, serve no legitimate public purpose and deprive Marshall Square" of its rights to develop the property.

The lawsuit called the commission's decision an abuse of power that "discourages the development of affordable housing," effectively excluding low- and moderate-income residents.

On May 5, commissioners decided on a site-plan revision that limited the number of apartments that could be built to 189. The developers had proposed 288.

The suit alleges that commissioners held an illegal secret meeting beforehand and agreed to limit the property's residential density.

Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he expected the legal action, just not this 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," he said Tuesday afternoon.

The developers are seeking $40 million in punitive damages, in addition to attorneys' fees, additional damages and $17.5 million in compensation for the property's diminished value. They also want the court to order commissioners to reconsider the plan and work with developers.

The lawsuit says developers have spent more than $7 million to clear and grade the property and make improvements.

Developer Don Lawrence said he could not comment on the lawsuit.

Reach Jenna Martin at (706) 868-1222, ext. 109, or jenna.martin@augustachronicle.com.