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Suwanee to pay $1.8M for land deal

Photo by Jason Braverman

Photo by Jason Braverman

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A Gwinnett jury has ruled the city of Suwanee owes $1.8 million to landowners who lost an $8 million deal with a private school when the city intervened in 2008.

Jurors in the civil trial deliberated about five hours, returning Friday evening convinced that city officials took action specifically to block the sale of 36.5 acres of undeveloped land to Notre Dame Academy, said Gerald Davidson, an attorney for plaintiff Settles Bridge Farm.

The settlement amount represents how much jurors determined the property's value has diminished between 2008 and post-recession 2011. The undeveloped acreage sits near the intersection of Moore Road and Settles Bridge Road, a residential area in Suwanee.

"The city never offered to pay one penny as compensation to Settles Bridge Farm, so an award of almost $2 million is satisfying, even though we did ask for more," Davidson said Saturday.

The landowners had planned to develop a 41-lot subdivision before they were approached by school officials. The school had been scouting locations in Suwanee and found it appealing that the city's zoning ordinances -- at that time -- would allow a school to be built there without approval or action from the city.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said city officials hastily called a meeting within 48 hours of learning of the plans and instituted a moratorium on building permits for large projects in residential areas, fearing outrage from citizens in the area.

Three months after the moratorium, the city approved a special-use permit amendment to the city's zoning ordinance, which would require the school to have such a permit to develop the property. Davidson said that loophole killed the project's chances.

The next day, the school terminated its contract with Settles Bridge Farm, a move the plaintiff's attorneys said could cost the business $4 million, based on the land's value before and after the recession.

Davidson said he was unsure what coffer the city planned to pull funding from to cover the $1.8 million settlement. The city's attorney in the suit, Laurel Henderson, could not be reach for comment Saturday.

During the weeklong trial, Henderson had argued the city's actions did not specifically target the school project. She pointed to a yearlong study that gathered public input and showed strong community support for barring high-traffic projects from single-family residential areas.

The ruling marks the second settlement Suwanee has had to pay in the land disagreement, and it closes the second of three related suits.

In August last year, the city settled a separate lawsuit with Notre Dame Academy for $257,000 that reimbursed the school for all out-of-pocket expenses.

Another suit pits the Settles Bridge Farm businessmen against the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and its vice president of economic development, Nick Masino, a former Suwanee Mayor.

The plaintiffs claim Masino and chamber officials sabotaged the deal because the surrounding community would be outraged.

Both Masino and the chamber have denied those allegations in separate responses.

Comments

BufordGuy 2 years, 7 months ago

Maybe that same jury needs to look into Mr. Beaudreau's handling of the cell phone tower case on Hurricane Shoals.

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Judy 2 years, 7 months ago

A small price for preservation of our community. Good for Suwanee for standing up for itself. Looks Like another Gwt Co bailout of developers this time courtesy of our court system.

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Maurice 2 years, 7 months ago

See if I got this right: the Catholic school sued the city becuase they desperately wanted to buy a $3 million property for more than $8 million? Typical of developers, suing government for their own mess- they were all set to rip off the school for 2X what the land was worth but instead got caught. Suwanee just defending its neighborhoods.

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SuwaneeResident 2 years, 7 months ago

Isn’t it magnanimous of Judy to determine that it was in the best interests, of all Suwanee residents, for the city to engage in an illegal activity? Outside of a small, well organized group of Moore Road area neighbors there are no Suwanee residents who came out ahead. Not only did we lose an opportunity to gain an outstanding school, whose dedication to community service would have made them an exceptional neighbor, residents will have to deal with the implications resulting from the city having to pay out $1.8 million, which represents over 15% of the city’s annual operating budget of $11.8 million. I’m sure somebody will point out that this will be covered by the city’s insurance carrier however, much like homeowners who make large claims against their homeowner’s insurance policy; the likely result will be the carrier dropping the city or raising their rates. As a result city residents can expect a significant tax hike. Maurice, as for your note, the school agreed to the purchase price BEFORE the collapse of the real estate market. You are right that property would no longer be valued @ the agreed upon price but that was the appraised value @ the time of the agreement.

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WantingFacts 2 years, 7 months ago

Could someone from the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce please explain to me why preventing a school from being built in Suwanee is considered “preserving the community” and “saving our neighborhoods” so that residents will not “go nuts”; but opposing the “second Atlanta airport” in Lawrenceville is “standing in the way of progress” and residents who don’t want 737s flying over their homes are considered “nuts”?

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WantingFacts 2 years, 7 months ago

I have a great proposal for the City of Suwanee and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce: Why don’t we settle the lawsuits for you by agreeing to pay the damages to Settles Bridge Farm, if you will agree that the school will be built in Lawrenceville and the “second Atlanta airport” will be built in Suwanee? Because the taxpayers in Gwinnett County, including those who live in Lawrenceville, are forced to pay the Gwinnett C of C a large sum of money each year, I believe they owe taxpayers an explanation for their support of the commercial airport in Lawrenceville.

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tim1sby 1 year, 11 months ago

Think Nash. the behind the scene secratary who voted herself a +$100,00 per year pension. now she is the comish, who speaks to those in charge(on the airport deal), doesn't bother me, could become a big employment incentive, if an MRO opened there also. As for the Idiot who talked and closed the deal on the school, there is a big one,NGH, not two miles away, a school seems like as good as 41 new homes, more tax base, and in light of the housing bust seemed to me to be a good deal. Sorry these few people(who have yet to be named) seemed to be able to block this. This would be just like the elementary school over by edinburg sub. Those found culpable while in public office should have to pay the fine back to the City.

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