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County wants golf suit pitched
Judges ruling may take months
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Forsyth County News
The next step in the legal battle between Forsyth County and the owners of Lanier Golf Club (click for map) likely won’t be known until next year.

Attorneys for both parties said it could be months before Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Roger E. Bradley decides whether to dismiss the lawsuit.

Bradley presided over a hearing Tuesday in Ellijay on the county’s motion for summary judgment.

Lanier Golf Course owners Jack Manton and George Bagley sued the county in 2007 after commissioners denied a request to rezone the 170-acre property off Buford Dam Road from agricultural to a master planned unit.

Wellstone LLC wanted to buy the site, contingent upon its rezoning, and build a 772-unit residential development with a 300-unit continuing care retirement community on the property.

The company joined Manton and Bagley in the suit, but dropped out earlier this year after moving its headquarters to Texas.

Citing financial woes, Manton and Bagley closed the course shortly after the commission voted against its rezoning. They reopened it in April 2008.

According to the motion, the county contends that Lanier Golf Club has failed to show it has suffered a significant detriment and that Wellstone’s proposed development did not meet the county’s requirements for a master planned district.

The county also has questioned whether there was evidence worthy of reversing the commission’s decision.

The county also alleged that in the 30 days between the county’s denial and the lawsuit, Manton and Bagley solicited an offer from another buyer for the course, though Wellstone already had a contract for the site.

The course owners had no intention of selling the property to the other buyer, according to the county.

The motion states, “It is clear this was a sham and as the court will see was orchestrated as a feeble attempt to meet the legal burdens on an aggrieved zoning plaintiff.”

Andrea Jones, who represents Bagley and Manton, said she and her clients feel confident about their case.

She said the county is trying to show there is an absence of any evidence to support Lanier Golf Club’s claim that the zoning was wrongfully denied.

Jones said her clients “absolutely” have the evidence needed.

“I think it’s pretty hard to show an absence of fact,” Jones said. “We have affidavits of expert witnesses in the record and it looks to me like they create some fact issues.”

Included in the golf course owner’s suit 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.”

Using documents obtained through an open records request, the Forsyth County News reported last summer that the county has spent nearly $24,000 on five appraisals of the course since June 2008.

The documents show that the property was appraised several different ways: low-density residential; golf course; and “highest and best use.”

It is not clear whether the county wants to buy the property to preserve it or operate a golf course.

If Bradley were to rule in the county’s favor on the summary judgment, Jones said she likely would consider an appeal.

Both of Forsyth’s Superior Court judges, Jeffrey S. Bagley and David L. Dickinson, recused themselves from the case in November 2007.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Harry S. Doss was scheduled to handle Wednesday’s hearing before he was reassigned in the wake of controversy.

The embattled judge resigned earlier this month just before allegations from the Georgia Judicial Qualification Commission surfaced against him.

On Nov. 9, the commission filed charges against Doss for reportedly violating the law and code of judicial conduct, as well as willful misconduct in office.