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Golf battle takes turn
Class status again denied
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Forsyth County News
The attorney for a group seeking to stop the residential development of Lanier Golf Course said it may fight a judge’s recent decision to dismiss the lawsuit and deny class-action status.

Bob McFarland Sr., who represents Michael Peck and about 120 other landowners adjacent to the course, said they are “strongly considering” appealing the ruling. He said the legal battle could go as far as the Georgia Supreme Court.

“The basic problem in this case is we can’t get to the main issue in this case,” McFarland said. “And the main issue in the case is whether there’s an implied easement in the golf course.”

The group contends there is. At least two judges have disagreed.

Cherokee County Superior Court Judge Frank Mills signed the most recent order Oct. 2.

Lanier Golf Club owners Jack Manton and George Bagley Jr. said in a statement Monday they were “extremely pleased with Judge Mills’ order, especially with the great detail outlining the facts of the case and its legal precedents.”

According to Mills’ order, four requirements must be met to establish class-action status. One requirement is that at least 25 people be involved.

Mills agreed there are enough landowners in the case to establish status. However, he wrote, “no written, recorded document expressly restricting the Lanier Golf property to use as a golf course has been found.”

The judge’s ruling goes on to say that Michael Peck, who serves as the class-action representative, failed to prove he is a member of the group and that he was promised a membership or the right to use the course.

The case was originally assigned to Senior Superior Court Judge Albert Pickett of Augusta, who denied class-action status in September 2008.

In June, however, the State Appellate Court ruled Pickett’s decision had to be sent back because it had been based only on the merits of the request for class status and failed to address whether each factor of Georgia’s class-action statute had been met.

Pickett was assigned the case after both local Superior Court judges recused themselves.

Further clouding the issue, Pickett’s involvement in the case ended when the budget crisis forced the state to suspend its practice of using senior judges to help clear court calendars and preside over trials.

It was then assigned to Mills.

The site is at the center of a separate legal battle between the county government and Manton and Bagley. The commission denied their request in 2007 to rezone the property, which would have allowed them to sell it to Wellstone LLC.

The company wanted to build a 772-unit residential development that would have included a 300-unit continuing care retirement community.

Wellstone initially joined Lanier Golf Club in the suit, but dropped out earlier this year when it relocated to Texas.  

Monday’s statement from the club owners goes on to say that a motion hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 17 in their suit against the county commission.

“We believe the evidence in this case will clearly show that the commissioners do not have the right or power to require the owners of Lanier Golf Club to operate a golf course on its property.”

Included in the complaint against the county are arguments that the commission’s denial of the rezoning was unconstitutional and was “in order for Forsyth County to purchase the property at less than its fair market value.”

While officials have not publicly admitted they were interested in acquiring the site, the county has spent nearly $24,000 on multiple appraisals of the golf course in the past year.

County documents obtained by the Forsyth County News this past summer under the state open records law showed that the 170-acre property off Buford Dam Road has been appraised five times and several different ways since June 2008.

It is not clear how the county, which is in a budget crisis, would pay to acquire the site or whether it wants to preserve it as green space or operate a golf course.