In a $57.5 million lawsuit filed Tuesday, Marshall Square developers accused the Columbia County Commission of abusing its power to regulate land use.
The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court, alleges that conditions imposed on Marshall Square site plan revisions by the commission May 5 are "overly restrictive, unduly burdensome, serve no legitimate public purpose and deprive Marshall Square of valuable vested rights to develop the property."
Developers are seeking $40 million in punitive damages and $17.5 million in compensation for the property's diminished value.
They also are asking that the court demand that the commission reconsider the plan and work with Marshall Square developers as is "constitutionally permissible within 60 days."
More than $7 million, the lawsuit contends, has been spent by developers to clear and grade the property and make improvements based on previous agreements with the county.
The suit also called the resolution "vague, indefinite and unenforceable."
Commission Chairman Ron Cross said Tuesday that he had not expected a lawsuit from developers so soon.
"It's not unusual," he said. "People have the right to pursue their issues when they think they hadn't been treated right, and we feel like that we acted in the best interest of the people of Columbia County, and we'll defend that as we go along."
Developer Don Lawrence said he could not comment on the lawsuit.
Commissioners have said that the proposed apartment density for Marshall Square, which is zoned Planned Unit Development, exceeded the 14 units per acre allowed for apartment zoning.
They approved the revisions after limiting the number of apartment units to 189.
The planning commission had recommended 288 units for the development.
After the commission meeting, senior developer Bill Marsh, of Miller-Valentine, said that the outcome was a "complete defeat" and that their decision made the project unfeasible.
The suit maintains that "high quality, high density, multi-family housing" has been part of Marshall Square's original plan, which was approved unanimously by the commission in 2004.
That plan allowed 34 units per acre, which equates to 459 units on 13.5 acres.
The suit also alleges that the commission met privately before the May 5 meeting and agreed to limit the property's residential density to 14 units per acre.
It further contends that the commission "failed to notify the public or Marshall Square of the (board of commissioners') secret, illegal meeting on May 5, 2009."
Click here to read the complete document filed by the developers.
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