Developers sue county for millions

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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.

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patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 05/20/09 - 03:55 am
0
0
Discouraging the development

Discouraging the development of "affordable" housing seems like a good goal for a county council. $7 million to clear, grade and make improvements sounds like poor management.

Purelaughs
0
Points
Purelaughs 05/20/09 - 04:15 am
0
0
I wonder what the word

I wonder what the word "affordable housing" means in this situation. If they are wanting to build more subsidized housing and turn central CC into downtown Augusta I'm against it.

beenhereawhile
0
Points
beenhereawhile 05/20/09 - 04:50 am
0
0
That is exactly what you will

That is exactly what you will be getting. The CC Commission seems as though it has been on this never ending "build it, they will come philosophy." Apartments are not all bad, but they do permit a more transient type of citizen. Col. Co. already has subsidized housing in the form of Section 8. Just call the large complex across from Mullins Crossing to inquire of their rates and ask if they accept Section 8 vouchers. The answer more than likely will be yes. After having owned apartments in Richmond County for 15 years I do understand how this works. Section 8 is not project housing, but it is subsidized by the government. The Commission does need to slow down the approval rate in the County, but this may be too little too late. The commissions have been playing a very dangerous game in trying to rapidly grow the county and create for themselves a legacy. The Marshall developers have called their bluff. What was once a large, wooded lot has now turned into a $7 million cleared cut through to Kroger and the library. Don't forget the cost incurred to redraw and redesign North Belair and install the new traffic lights to accommodate extra traffic. I'm concerned!!

ColCo
927
Points
ColCo 05/20/09 - 05:16 am
0
0
So we've gone from luxury

So we've gone from luxury apartments to affordable housing. Once again the Marshall's have changed directions. This project has been a boondoggle since the beginning.

potaters
0
Points
potaters 05/20/09 - 05:45 am
0
0
The Marshall's are just

The Marshall's are just [filtered word] that someone said NO to their project. They don't care about "quality of life", just making a buck. Good for the the CC folks for stopping this mess before it got started.

dhd1108
1
Points
dhd1108 05/20/09 - 06:22 am
0
0
final nail in the coffin for

final nail in the coffin for a plan that would've incorporated upscale apartments with small business and created an interesting faux downtown for Evans. Now it'll end up being a Costco or something equally disgusting. Another sea of parking lots to increase those storm water fees everyone out in egypt whines about.

ripjones
2
Points
ripjones 05/20/09 - 06:40 am
0
0
I do not think there is much

I do not think there is much merit in filing this lawsuit. The developers knew upfront what the zoning restrictions were -- they have not changed since the project was begun in 2004. Since I was in attendance at the last meeting, I NEVER heard the word "affordable". I did hear "high end finishes", and "premium rental rates". I was really excited about the original plan. I'm sorry that the developers felt the need to "stray" from the original plan. It would have a Columbia County version of the nice development in North Augusta.

Riverman1
94237
Points
Riverman1 05/20/09 - 06:46 am
0
0
There are counties losing law

There are counties losing law suits all over the country from trying to keep out affordable housing. The courts invariably rule it is discrimination against low income earners. That's why the term "affordable" is being used now. Many envisioned that piece of land as the center of "downtown" Evans and want to build a model town there. The problem is that those visionaries don't own the land. Residents in downtown areas are usually considered a plus. The residents of Northwood would love to see it left an empty field. They don't want any development there is the truth of the matter. Ron Cross saying the county gets sued from time to time for various matters is an attempt to trivalize the lawsuit, but this is serious with the county likely on the short end of millions of dollars in compensation.

colcamp1
10
Points
colcamp1 05/20/09 - 06:49 am
0
0
I hope they win. Just echoing

I hope they win. Just echoing the cheers that I read on here, every time someone sues the Richmond County government. Whether you know all the details or not, the majority just assume the RC is wrong, so why not assume that CC is wrong?

750
Points
Barry Paschal 05/20/09 - 06:49 am
0
0
FYI: The Marshall Square plan

FYI: The Marshall Square plan has not changed to "affordable housing" (however you want to define the term). The suit says the county's decision "discourages the development of affordable housing in the community and effectively excludes persons of low or moderate incomes from the community. As such, the rezoning decision has a de facto discriminatory affect on racial minorities." The suit is saying the county's decision applies to ALL developments in the county, not specifically to Marshall Square.

Riverman1
94237
Points
Riverman1 05/20/09 - 06:50 am
0
0
RipJones, the restrictions

RipJones, the restrictions did change. The numbers of units allowed per acre.

Brad Owens
4914
Points
Brad Owens 05/20/09 - 06:51 am
0
0
WOW! That is pocket change

WOW! That is pocket change for Columbia County...

Riverman1
94237
Points
Riverman1 05/20/09 - 06:52 am
0
0
Sure by using the term

Sure by using the term affordable, it means this could end up in federal court which usually rules in favor of those wanting low cost housing. We are in for a long, nasty and expensive fight that the county will lose eventually.

DEVGRU
0
Points
DEVGRU 05/20/09 - 07:10 am
0
0
Any kind of apartment complex

Any kind of apartment complex has the potential of becoming a dump.

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 05/20/09 - 07:33 am
0
0
Some of you must not have
Unpublished

Some of you must not have read the article. The developers had originally proposed the 288 apartments- it was approved- then they spent 7 million to grade the land and to get prepared to build. Then Ron Double-Cross and his merry band of thieves held their secret (and illegal) pow-wow and decided to change the plans for the developers. Perhaps the developers would not have wanted to develop here if they would have had these restrictions in place to begin with. Then there's the huge apartment complex being built on Old Evans Rd (who's construction impedes traffic on a regular basis)- where's the out-cry about it??? I guess since it's not right at their glorious soon-to-be town center, or at the gates of Northwood or one of those other high dollar subdivisions they don't care.

Little Lamb
49245
Points
Little Lamb 05/20/09 - 07:45 am
0
0
I attended the Planning Dept.

I attended the Planning Dept. "working" meeting in early April, and the developers requesting to change the PUD from mixed-use (with loft apartments above retail & professional establishments) to the typical apartment complex were trying to snow the planners and the public that these apartments were to be up-scale (they even used the silly term "up-up-scale" to describe some of the planned apartments) and the rents would be set high enough to keep lower income people out of the complex. Now, here in this lawsuit, they say that the county is preventing them from developing "affordable" housing. These developers will say and do anything to prevent the law enforcement officers of the county from enforcing county ordinances.

leoswife
0
Points
leoswife 05/20/09 - 07:48 am
0
0
Marshall Square has always

Marshall Square has always been advertised as a town center with living space and business space. The 388 apartments they want are going to look like an apartment complex and not a town center. Look at the site plans and pictures and you will see that it is high end housing and way above the "affordable" housing scale. Their plan is to cater not to the average every day worker, but the retired banker, stock broker, etc. Some of you need to read the background to this situation and not just assume that the commissioners (who you elected) are not looking out for what is best for this county.

truthteller1
0
Points
truthteller1 05/20/09 - 07:50 am
0
0
These are the things that

These are the things that happen when you have a power hungrey & egotisitcal County Administrator Zeblewski who has taken over as head of the Planning & Develoment dept after he forced the previous director out along with other very Qualified directors pushed out. Zeblewski or the hwy is not getting what he reaped and deserves. Good luck Z.

750
Points
Barry Paschal 05/20/09 - 08:20 am
0
0
Little Lamb: Let me repeat

Little Lamb: Let me repeat it. The developers are NOT saying the county is preventing THEM from building "affordable housing" (though I'm having a difficult time imagining anyone clamoring to build housing that no one can afford). The suit says the county's action prevents ANYONE from building affordable housing. I know you hate Marshall Square, but you shouldn't let yourself get sidetracked on this tiny part of the legal language.

ripjones
2
Points
ripjones 05/20/09 - 08:28 am
0
0
Riverman1 - The density

Riverman1 - The density changed because the number of buildings decreased from the original 2004 site plan. Barry -- keep me honest, isn't this so ??

Riverman1
94237
Points
Riverman1 05/20/09 - 09:16 am
0
0
Rip, for whatever reason it

Rip, for whatever reason it changed to fewer units allowed per acre than in other places. So the developers are saying the county's action prevents anyone from building affordable housing anywhere in the county. When they win, they could build all cheap apartments there. By the way, no one has mentioned the secret meeting in violation of the "Sunshine Law." I'll bet my bottom dollar it happened. Spreads new light on why the developers seemed slightly upset dealing with the Commission at the last meeting.

Local Interests
40
Points
Local Interests 05/20/09 - 09:25 am
0
0
Actually, Mr. Paschall,

Actually, Mr. Paschall, everyone should be VERY wary of "this tiny part of the legal language". What you are seeing is the truth behind this development. The developer originally sold the idea based on the concept of "high end" development. However, as soon as the economy took a dip, the tune began to change. The developer wanted higher density apartments, which very clearly suggested that these were going to be of a lower rent variety.

We're talking about a group of people who have a track record of heavy-handedness. The Marshall kids have spent a lifetime suing each other over their inheritence. The developer made threatening phone calls to those expected to speak out against the plan (if you doubt me, call and ask them). Marshall "threatened" to just leave the land undeveloped (nice member of the community that he is). Now we have the CC News editor, who has been against apartments, fully supporting a developer that has clearly shown he will change the plans in a heartbeat.

Riverman1
94237
Points
Riverman1 05/20/09 - 09:29 am
0
0
Let's see....Possibly

Let's see....Possibly Marshall calls certain officials BEFORE the meeting and is told the decision has already been made. Think a secret illegal meeting happened?

imdstuf
10
Points
imdstuf 05/20/09 - 09:39 am
0
0
They need affordable housing

They need affordable housing here, because most of the jobs are low income jobs. We have call center jobs, retail jobs, but not many professional jobs, and right now the factories are probably limited in their hiring, so besides the established existing workers younger people are not going to find many choices of well enough paying jobs here for the ridiculously high apartment prices. That is why they end up going ahead and trying to buy houses they cannot afford, and why they get foreclosed on when they lose their low paying Augusta job.

750
Points
Barry Paschal 05/20/09 - 10:57 am
0
0
Local Interests: A little bit

Local Interests: A little bit of information is dangerous, and it's pretty clear a very tiny amount is all you have. The fact is that the original, unanimously approved 2004 plan for Marshall Square called for "high-density, multi-family housing" at 34 units per acre. The county in the 11th hour CHANGED their previous approval to impose 14-units-per-acre AR zoning restrictions on the Marshall Square PUD zoning. By the way: Next time you build something on YOUR private property, feel free to change your plans as much as you want - as long as you obey the law, which the Marshall Square developers have done all along.

AAQueen
18
Points
AAQueen 05/20/09 - 12:18 pm
0
0
Because it's EVANS everyone

Because it's EVANS everyone is whining but if it was Richmond county no one would say a word.

Local Interests
40
Points
Local Interests 05/20/09 - 01:11 pm
0
0
Barry Paschal: No, I am very

Barry Paschal: No, I am very comfortable with the information I have. Everything I said was true.
The only problem with the commissioners is that they used to be too trusting of developers, which is why the zoning was worded too vaguely. I am quite happy that Ron Cross (of all people!) is pushing to clean up the zoning language.
CNT's own archives from the initial proposal makes NO mention of apartments. They were talking high-end condo's.
Zoning is an appropriate tool for county planners. The developer should not be able to build anything he wants because it may have an adverse affect on the surrounding area. In the same way, I can't build anything I want on my property because my homeowners association effectively controls the neighborhood zoning.
All the problems started when the developers switched from condo's to apartments. Columbia county zoning language did not adequately differentiate and they are having to get a quick fix in. I, for one, fully support the fix.
The sad part is that the economy is starting to improve and the original condo idea will likely be viable by the time they would get anything built, anyway. That's much better than being stuck with section 8.

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 05/20/09 - 03:01 pm
0
0
AAQueen- If it were Richmond
Unpublished

AAQueen- If it were Richmond county it would be an upgrade for 80% of it.

Frankie-B
48
Points
Frankie-B 05/23/09 - 10:55 am
0
0
Originally pitched as a more

Originally pitched as a more upscale version of the Surrey Center (where I don't recall seeing any sort of living space), this whole thing is an utter fiasco. And frankly, the Surrey Center is pretty much a bore. Frankly, I'd prefer a COSTCO if it were developed properly, and if CC would get the green space behind Kroger turned into the long-promised park. Or a nice waterpark, a bowling alley, putt-putt, or something fun and family friendly and with minimal snooty-factor.

Regardless, I think the MSQ developers have erred here. They should have gotten a copy of the Planning Commission public meeting recordings (as all sessions are recorded) prior to filing their suit, as their representative clearly stated, on record, that the rental rates they were proposing would keep Section-8 applicants out. As a matter of fact, they were so high that citizens stated concerns because the rents were higher than mortgage rates for single family homes, and there was doubt they could be rented out given the current economy. Their lawyer showed their true colors at the last meeting, though, and this suit is no surprise.

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