Friday, April 14, 2017

Oconee County Asks Court To Dismiss Suits Filed Over Sewer Capacity Fee Refunds

Westland And Parkside

Oconee County is asking the Superior Court to dismiss the three suits filed against it challenging the county’s right to refund unused sewage capacity fees, stating that the decision to issue the refunds was in full compliance with state laws and the county’s zoning and related ordinances.

The county also claims that the actions of the commissioners in voting to refund sewage capacity fees paid developers of two large, dormant subdivisions “were a proper and legal exercise of discretion as government officials and do not breach any rights” of the property owners.

In addition, the county is claiming that the members of the Board of Commissioners, named as defendants in the suit, are entitled to “sovereign immunity.”

Buford attorney Thomas Mitchell on April 4 filed in Oconee County Superior Court the county’s answers to the suits by the owners of Westland and Parkside, large master planned residential developments that had purchased but not used sewage capacity from the county.

Suits Filed In March

The owners of the long-dormant Westland and Parkside subdivisions filed suit early last month, seeking to block the Jan. 31 decision by the Board of Commissioners to refund sewer capacity fees for the master plan developments.

Amended Complaint

In three separate lawsuits, the owners contend, among other things, that the Board of Commissioners violated state zoning laws when it voted to refund sewer capacity fees paid by the developers.

The effect of that Jan. 31 decision was to render the master plan development zoning held by Westland and Parkside meaningless, since the projects depend on sewer capacity, the suits argue.

The suits contend that the county took its action without proper hearings on what amounted to a zoning decision.

Two of the suits were on behalf of two separate owners of the Westland property. The third was on behalf of the owner of Parkside.

Parkside Amended Suit

Parkside Development Property LLC on April 10 amended the complaint it filed on March 2.

In the amended complaint, Parkside asks the court to award Parkside $16 million in damages “based on the County's unjust enrichment.”

The amended suit also seeks interest on the $16 million as well as costs and expenses, including attorneys' fees.

It also asks the court to award damages “in an amount to be proven at trial resulting from the county’s breach of the Letter of Agreement” on the capacity fees.

In the original suit, Parkside only asked for costs, expenses, and attorney’s fees.

The suits filed by the owners of Westland did not ask for specific monetary awards.

Motion On Judges

The suit by REO Funding Solutions, one of the Westland owners, has been assigned to Superior Court Judge Eric Wayne Norris.

The suit filed by Westland-TLG, the second Westland owners, was assigned to Superior Court Judge H. Patrick Haggard.

The Parkside Development Properties suit was assigned to Judge Lawton Stephens.

On March 16 the county filed a motion with Judge Norris asking that the RFO Funding Solutions suit be transferred to Judge Haggard. Judge Norris granted the motion that same day.

The county contended that the “Subject matter in the cases is substantially the same” and “many factual issues will be substantially the same.”

The county filed a similar motion on March 22 with Judge Stephens, and he granted that motion on March 29, transferring the Parkside case to Judge Haggard.

Westland And Parkside

The county approved Westland, a 443-acre master plan development on U.S. 78 near the Apalachee River, in 2003.

The project was to have 430 residential lots as well as acreage for commercial development and a condominium office park.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners approved the rezone for Parkside in 2004.

The development wraps around Northwest Woods, with entrances on Mars Hill Road and Hog Mountain Road. The Hog Mountain Road part of the project abuts Oconee Veterans Park.

The 469-acre master plan development includes 810 residential lots as well as commercial components.


Anonymous said...

Once the Calls Creek plant is expanded then these developments will have access to sewer. Instead of John Daniels working with these developers and doing what's smart with the county he has chosen to get in to multiple lawsuits with more to come. John Daniel doesn't care since he is spending our money. We as citizens need to hold him accountable and make sure he is a one term candidate. He has proven that he is reckless and incompetent. Lee thanks for keeping them honest and I hope you keep up with how much money this is going to cost us as tax payers.

Xardox said...

Some legal person please explain this to us otherwise illiterati.
Why does a company want "damages" from a refund or a defunct project?

Anonymous said...

The whole point is there is still not enough sewer after the upgrade. Reckless by choosing to refund capacity that does not exist? The problem is the previous administration worked way to well with development community. May want to check your facts. Sounds like you may be some disclosure our your connection to the two developments is in order.

Anonymous said...

If my memory is correct the ordinance clearly states that the County can exercise their ability to buy back the sewer capacity if not used within 3 years from date of application being accepted by vote of the Commission.

Anonymous said...

@ Xardox - since the partners in Westland were likely trying to sell the property, the "damages" are probably the potential loss of any potential sale as a result of having no sewer.

@ Anonymous 2:03 - I agree with you. John isn't starting off on the right foot by getting the county into multiple law suits, especially a sewer problem that he was complicit in! If he doesn't keep his campaign promise to reduce the power of the Chairman's office, he's one and done for me.

Lee Becker said...

The simplest way to put this is that the county contends it followed the law, and the plaintiffs contend the county did not. The court is being asked to sort this out.

Anonymous said...

Daniell was not in the BOC when the residential sewer gates were open. It is fine yout think the county shold stop commercial growth in order to keep the huge developments from over 10 years ago in tact. Not a good situation all the way around. I don't agree the county should continue down a path that is destructive for schools and our quality of life.

Anonymous said...

Westland was trying to sell capacity to another developer in Bogart. Now they have some big financial loss.

Anonymous said...

The county is in the right. The developers can suck eggs. It can stay tied up in court for years and by then we will have another recession which I pray will be soon.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 8:45pm - You're praying for a recession, something that would cause millions of people lose their jobs, lost their homes, and lost their retirement/savings? Whatever god you are paying to isn't the one we celebrated on Easter! Shame on you!

Anonymous said...

The BOC which Daniel was apart of had the money in the 2009 SPLOST to expand the sewer plant. They chose not to and now it is coming back to bite them in the rear. This shows a lack of planning and a reckless government on my part. I am not in favor of the developments but whats done is done. Getting in to a lawsuit it just plain stupid. But we are Oconee and the BOC thinks they can make up laws as they see fit to meet there agenda.

Anonymous said...

Yes, spend millions of dollars on a plant upgrade and the demand for water and sewer dropped from drought and downs turn in the economy. This is as the very developments you defend default on loans and rob bank shareholders of millions. Now some out of town money buys for pennies on the dollar and scream about lost profit. Appears you are upset Oconee did not follow your poor financial decisions.

rightway1974 said...

Well said and very true Anon 7:08.