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County to press on
Judge sided with owners last month
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Forsyth County News
Forsyth County wants a second shot at a lawsuit involving Lanier Golf Course.

Phillip Friduss, the attorney who represented the county in the matter, has asked the state Court of Appeals for a new trial and that Appalachian Judicial Circuit Court Judge Roger E. Bradley be recused from the case.

According to documents filed last week, Friduss contends Bradley “undertook an independent, unsolicited and undisclosed” visit to the golf course the night before he issued his decision June 29.

Bradley sided with the owners of the course, ruling that the 172-acre golf course’s agricultural zoning was unconstitutional.

The judge announced in court, after closing arguments and after being invited to the site, that he had already been there.

In an affidavit submitted to support the county’s request, Friduss contends that while he didn’t disagree that the visit would be a good idea, “I would not have acceded to an independent investigation by the court of the evidence outside the presence of counsel.”

Jack Manton, who owns the course along with George Bagley Jr., said he thinks Bradley gave both parties a fair and impartial trial.

“That issue was raised and discussed and we feel that the evidence is so overwhelming against the county that the Court of Appeals would find that not to be a reason to overturn the case,” he said.

Manton and Bagley filed suit in 2007 against the county after the commission denied their request to rezone the course from agricultural to a master planned district.

Commissioners cited traffic issues, as well as the proposed development’s inability to comply with the county’s comprehensive plan and unified development code, for their decision.

In their suit against the county, the plaintiffs argued that the denial of the rezoning was unconstitutional and was “in order for Forsyth County to purchase the property at less than its fair market value.”

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

In a response signed late Friday, Manton and Bagley’s attorneys, Marion T. Pope Jr. and Andrea Cantrell Jones, maintain that Friduss, Pope, Bradley and Doug Dillard, who also represents the course owners, had a discussion June 28 about Bradley going to the site.

The response also asserts: Friduss did not object to the idea; the request for a new trial is premature; and Bradley did not act inappropriately.
According to the response, “Defendants acceded to and waived their right to complain of the court’s independent investigation. The motion to recuse does not support a charge of bias sufficient to warrant recusal and recusal is not the proper remedy in the case.”

Bradley gave attorneys for both sides until July 20 to submit orders for him to consider in making his decision on what relief to grant the plaintiffs.

An amendment to the suit includes the allegation that the denial constituted an inverse condemnation of the property, which according to Georgia law, requires compensation.

It appears the inverse condemnation claim is a separate matter, which Manton has said will likely be decided later by a jury.

According to court documents, the plaintiffs estimated damages of about $100 million as a result of the denial.

They had a contract to sell the site to Wellstone LLC for $35 million, contingent upon its rezoning. The company wanted to build a massive residential development on the site.

Another issue involving the course is the fact that some Forsyth officials have expressed interest in having the county purchase the course.

While the county commission has considered a proposal to buy the course for $12 million and then lease it for 99 years to a company that would maintain and operate it as a golf course, no final decision has been made.

After Bradley’s ruling last month, Manton said he hopes they can come to an agreement with the county on the property’s future.

He said the price range for what he and Bagley would be willing to accept for the property starts at $120,000 to $135,000 an acre.