Columbia County commissioners and the owners of an Evans development suing them announced Thursday that a multimillion-dollar settlement had been reached.
Columbia County has agreed to buy 26 acres of the 57-acre site for $6.25 million to settle a $57.5 million lawsuit first filed last year by Marshall Square developers.
The deal came five days away from a deadline faced by developers to pay off a $7.5 million note on the property between Evans Town Center Boulevard and North Belair Road to Queensborough National Bank.
"It (the settlement) will allow them to relieve some funding obligations and allow them to breathe and plan," Commission Chairman Ron Cross said.
Property co-owner Joe Marshall said he and his partners were making arrangements to pay off the note, but the county's deal seemed the most equitable.
"We feel, in the reality of the real estate market today, this was the best option," Marshall said.
The developers filed suit after commissioners limited the number of apartments that could be constructed at the site.
The initial zoning for the multi-use development in 2004 allowed for 459 apartment units. When developers tried to change their site plans, commissioners limited apartment construction to 189 units.
In court documents, developers called the limitation "overly restrictive" and "unduly burdensome."
Developers suffered another blow in April when Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet denied them a motion for partial summary judgment. Developers were seeking an immediate payout of $10.3 million to cover infrastructure, engineering and other development costs.
The lawsuit will be dismissed once officials close the deal Friday.
The terms of the agreement give the developers first right of refusal to buy back the land on resale and prevents any plans for residential development on the entirety of the land.
The settlement will be paid for using money from the county's reserve fund, which will later be replenished with 1-percent sales tax funds earmarked for land purchases or from the resale of the land.
Officials said they might develop a master plan for the property to better guide future development. In the meantime, Cross said the land would be used as a substitute park once construction work starts this fall on the neighboring Evans Town Center Park.
Marshall said the settlement benefits both the county and his partners in that officials agreed to make infrastructure improvements, such as extending Ronald Reagan Drive to North Belair Road, which might cost as much as $2.5 million.
Marshall Square attorney Bill Trotter called the settlement the "most unusual thing I have participated in in 40 years of practicing law." Rarely, he said, will both parties feel content after settling a lawsuit.
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