LAWRENCEVILLE -- The settlement of two lawsuits with the government means a billboard will be replaced and the county will pay 25 percent more for land, documents reveal.
Commissioners approved settlement terms last week on the two cases, although officials were slow to reveal details.
In one agreement, commissioners said they would pay $1.75 million for land condemned in 2009 for the replacement and widening of the Ga. Highway 324 bridge over Interstate 85 in Buford.
While county spokesman Joe Sorenson said the land appraisal was restricted information, the county previously paid $1.37 million into court for the property, located on the south side of the bridge in the area of the relocated Morgan Road. The county needed about 5.62 acres of right away with a total of 3.76 acres of permanent and temporary easements. A barn had to be removed as part of the acquisition of the property once owned by Brenda Ruth Pruitt Griffin.
The second settlement is expected to end federal and state lawsuits filed after the county denied five billboard applications from Olympus Media in 2011. The Zoning Board of Appeals upheld the denials, which were not detailed in the county's settlement documentation. But the company sued alleging infringement of its rights to free speech and due process.
The agreement does not obligate the county to pay any money, but it does allow the company to upgrade one of its existing billboards along Interstate 85, south of Jimmy Carter Boulevard, placing LED faces to allow for digital images.
The stipulations include making the billboard available for Amber Alerts, disaster information and other uses, allowing the county to advertise at certain times and prohibiting the advertisement of tobacco, hard alcohol and strip clubs or other adult establishments.
Chairwoman Charlotte Nash declined to discuss the cases specifically but gave some thoughts on why she considers settlement in some cases.
"Sometimes the legal precedent that could be set by a case is so important that I look primarily at the legal issues involved, with the help and advice of legal counsel," she said. Usually, though, it is a matter of weighing off the risks and costs of an adverse decision in court against the cost of settlement. In some cases, I may look at it as a business decision where we look at the cost of pursuing the case as opposed to the cost of settling."