Judge: City owes landowners $1.8 million

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A Superior Court judge has ordered the city of Suwanee to pay local landowners $1.8 million after a jury determined the municipality purposely "thwarted" a land deal at Settles Bridge and Moore roads.

The decision echoes a jury's recommendation from August 2011. Jurors concluded that city officials enacted a moratorium in 2008 specifically to stop landowners Settles Bridge Farm LLC from selling 36.5 acres of undeveloped land to Notre Dame Academy, an estimated $8 million purchase.

In addition, the city adopted a measure shortly after the moratorium that required large projects be subject to a special use permit process.

According to a final judgment handed down by Superior Court Judge Warren Davis, "the moratorium and special use permit amendment arose as a result of (the city of Suwanee) learning that (Settles Bridge Farm LLC) intended to sell its property to a private parochial school to be used as a school site, a use then permitted as a matter of right under the zoning ordinance in force."

"To address this proposed use," the judge said, "(the city of Suwanee) called and held a special meeting, and in about 11 minutes, adopted a moratorium which had the effect of barring the proposed use of the subject property."

According to the court document, City Manager Marty Allen sent an e-mail on Feb. 27, 2008, to the mayor and city council regarding the subject property and a private school's imminent purchase of it. The email specifically referenced the property and purchase, stating that the community "would probably go nuts over (the school on the subject property)."

The Feb. 27 email "specifically stated that Suwanee could 'head this off' and in order to do so the city manager 'suggested we amend our zoning ordinance to require a special use permit.'"

Mayor Jimmy Burnette said Monday he was disappointed to hear news of the final judgment against the city. He said an appeal of the ruling is possible.

The ruling marks the second settlement Suwanee will have had to pay in the land disagreement, and it closes the final of three related lawsuits.

In August 2010, the city settled a separate lawsuit with Notre Dame Academy for $257,000 that reimbursed the school for all out-of-pocket expenses.

A suit against Settles Bridge businessmen and Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce Vice President Nick Masino was dismissed in December 2011. The plaintiffs claimed Masino and chamber officials sabotaged the deal because the surrounding community would be outraged.

A Superior Court Judge ruled that Masino was addressing a matter of "public concern" and not "disseminating confidential information" during a phone conversation with Allen about the private school proposal.

Staff Writer Camie Young contributed to this report.


NewsReader 3 years, 7 months ago

Another fine example of how elections have consequences.


HonestIngine 3 years, 7 months ago

So the Citizens of Peachtree Corners take note. BOTTOM LINE, JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE A CITY, DOESN'T MEAN ITS THE FINAL ANSWER. I bet the citizens of Suwanee will be having higher taxes this year as a result. The people of Peachtree Corners beware there are pleanty of rezoning issues that await you. The ex mayor and city council of Suwanee when this began are not in power to face its citizens. They don't care they got their money and are out of politics. Peachtree Corners beware, Land accross from the Forum, Day Building.... ours will come.


HonestIngine 3 years, 7 months ago

One more thing, How much did this cost the citizens of Suwanee, in legal fees, etc. just to satisify a few Suwanee politician ego's?


SteveO 3 years, 7 months ago

Your comments Honestingine are insane! It did not satisfy ego's of any politicians, they did the right thing regardless of the cost to us city taxpayers! No one wanted this school in a residential neighborhood except the Settles Bridge Farm LLC group. And just who is this group? Seems no one has the guts to expose this highly influential family! They were going to do this land deal because of greed and could care less about the citizens of Suwanee who they fly over daily in their helicopter to lake Lanier! I for one will be glad for my taxes to increase to pay for this settlement with these idiots! I for one applaud the City Council and City manager for what they got elected to do and did, protect its citizens!


HonestIngine 3 years, 7 months ago

How can you call me insane, when you will be glad for your taxes to increase..because of this lawsiut. I may be insane in your eyes, but in my eyes anyone who is happy that his local governement spent taxpayers money to fight a citizens rights, is an idiot. Good Day.


SuwaneeResident 3 years, 7 months ago

Isn’t it magnanimous of SteveO to determine that it was in the best interests, of all Suwanee residents? Bottom line is the city engaged in a clearly illegal activity (according to two judges & a jury)? 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 (actually make that more than $2 million as the city also settled with Notre Dame for $257,000), 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 but at least SteveO and his neighbors along Moore Road will be happy. Perhaps they should cover the settlement?


WantingFacts 3 years, 7 months ago

Hi SteveO: Do you agree with me that it is ironic that Nick Masino wanted to "protect" the citizens of Suwanee from the "damage" that would be done by having a school in their neighborhood, but he and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce support the privatization of Briscoe Field which will bring 737s into Lawrenceville? Apparently Nick thinks Suwanee should be protected from a school, but he thinks the residents of Lawrenceville should shut up and accept a commercial airport in their backyard, and the subsequent damage to property values and their quality of life, because it is good for the Chamber's economic development plans. Does this make sense to you?


kevin 3 years, 7 months ago

Too bad Masino did get convicted also. Now Burnette, the new Mayor, is trying to support the wrongdoers. Now you know how Burnette stands on such deals while he will be Mayor. He will do whatever it takes to stop development of what they can't get a piece of the action from. I do not believe that the majority of the residents would have been screaming over this school. Glad Masino left Suwanee. Now he can cause damage somewhere else.


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