Marshall Square developers intend to amend their claim for damages against the Columbia County government after withdrawing a claim for $40 million in punitive damages last week.
The claim was part of a $57.5 million lawsuit in which the Marshall Square developers contend the county unfairly restricted development of the property with a May 5 vote to further limit the number of apartments that could be part of the project.
The 57-acre mixed-use development was approved by the county in 2004. The developers contend the original plans allowed 338 apartments on the site, and that the county's vote last year limited that number to 189.
Reducing the residential density to that level rendered the project economically unfeasible, the developers said.
The withdrawal of the claim for punitive damages came just days after Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet presided at a hearing on a motion from the plaintiffs seeking partial summary judgment in the case. Overstreet has not yet announced a decision or said when one is expected.
Regarding the punitive damages, Marshall Square attorney Bill Trotter said the plaintiffs agreed to the county's motion to dismiss the claim after failing to prove county officials violated the state's open meetings law prior to their final vote on the project.
"The punitive damages claim was predicated on the Marshall Square claim for violation of the open meetings act," Trotter said. When the suit initially was filed last year, the plaintiffs had "compelling evidence" based on comments of a unnamed county commissioner that the law had been violated, which would have entitled Marshall Square developers to punitive damages, Trotter said.
But during depositions in the case, all county commissioners denied violating the law, Trotter said, leading to the dismissal of that portion of the claim.
The suit still seeks $10.3 million from the county to cover infrastructure, engineering and other development costs paid by the developers based on a project with a higher number of apartments. According to the lawsuit, the developers also have spent more than $7 million to clear and grade the property.
"We still have our basic claim for damages pending at $17.5 million," Trotter said. "We also are going to amend and refine that claim. It's certainly safe to say the number will be higher than that."
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