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Course conflict turns toward court
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Forsyth County News

Barring any sudden developments, it appears the legal battle between Forsyth County and the owners of Lanier Golf Course could play out in court as early as this spring.

The Georgia Supreme Court decided last week it would not hear the county’s appeal of a lower court judge’s decision to not dismiss the case.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Roger E. Bradley denied the county’s motion for summary judgment in December.

Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard said a trial date has not been set.

“The court obviously retained its discretion to hear this sort of appeal and they have exercised their discretion to not hear it and the county respects that,” he said.

Club owners Jack Manton and George Bagley Jr. sued the county in 2007 after the commission denied a request to rezone the golf course from agricultural to a master planned unit.

Wellstone LLC wanted to buy the 172-acre site off Buford Dam Road, 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 early in 2009 after moving its headquarters to Texas.

Manton said he is pleased with the high court’s decision.

“We were very confident that we’re entitled to a trial, and we know now that that decision guarantees we’re going to trial in the next few months,” he said, adding that their attorneys are working on a trial date.

“For us, the sooner the better,” he said.

The course is in County Commissioner Jim Boff’s district.

He and fellow Commissioner Jim Harrell have negotiated a deal with Affiniti Golf Partners of Alpharetta to buy the site for $12 million.

Though no deal has been signed, the proposal shows the county would pay $9 million and Affiniti would put up $3 million and then lease the course from the county for 99 years.

The proposal also shows the deal would be made with an entity known as Affiniti Lanier LLC, whose principals it does not name.

Boff has said the lawsuit would go away if the deal goes through. He also said that Affiniti would be responsible for the site’s “maintenance, upkeep, profit and loss.”

During a recent town hall meeting on the issue, many residents supported the deal while others questioned whether the county should buy the course.

Charles Meagher, a former member of the Forsyth County Board of Tax Assessors, said the property is valued at $3.6 million.

Harrell countered that the county buys properties based on their highest and best use.

Manton said Friday that the amount Meagher quoted is based on the property being restricted to use as a golf course.

“The problem with it is that it’s not a restricted property,” Manton said.

While the site is zoned for agricultural use, it is designated by the county’s future land-use map as an activity center.

According to the county’s comprehensive plan, that designation means a development on the property could consist mostly of commercial use, with residential structures such as apartments or townhouses mixed in.

Manton said as an activity center, its highest and best use, the property could be worth $25 million to $35 million.

Included in the complaint against the county are arguments that the commission’s denial of the rezoning was unconstitutional and was done so the county could buy the property at less than its fair market value.

While a specific monetary amount is not listed, the course owners have asked for attorney’s fees and “just and adequate compensation to plaintiffs for the property rights taken and damages to plaintiffs’ property as a result of the violations of the United States Constitution and the federal Fair Housing Act.”