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.