LAWRENCEVILLE -- Judges have forced Gwinnett County officials to buy eight times more land than was needed for a road project, four years after the district attorney stepped in to question the deal.
The Georgia Court of Appeals recently ruled that the county had to comply with a settlement offer extended in 2009 to Old Peachtree Partners in a condemnation case, even though the Board of Commissioners denied the approval in a public hearing.
The case involves land along a now-complete extension to McGinnis Ferry Road. The owners reneged on an original deal to sell 1.867 acres for right of way and easements at a cost of $1.1 million. After learning of plans to install a forced main sewer across the property, the owners said that would result in an inverse condemnation and asked the county to buy the remaining 14 acres of the property.
According to court documents, it was commissioners who offered the settlement of purchasing the total of 16 acres for $5.3 million, but District Attorney Danny Porter publicly chastised the board for the proposal.
Porter threatened a grand jury investigation just months before a special grand jury began meeting to discuss other land purchase controversies, eventually leading to the indictment of a commissioner and the resignation of the chairman.
Commissioners ultimately rejected the settlement in a public hearing, but the Court of Appeals said the public approval was not expressed as a condition of the settlement.
"... while a vote in a public meeting was a required formality to effectuate the purchase of the property, the Board's failure to complete that formality in good faith when voting in the public meeting cannot destroy an already existing settlement agreement," the order said.
On Tuesday, an entirely new set of commissioners approved the settlement without comment, although Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said after the hearing that the county was left with few options when the Georgia Supreme Court declined to consider the case.
"The county had exhausted its appeal process," Nash said. "The fact we are doing this to comply with a court order puts us in a difficult situation."
An email sent to District Attorney Danny Porter late Tuesday was not immediately returned.