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Deadline dawns again for rezoning
Compromise appears doubtful
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Forsyth County News

The court-ordered rezoning of Lanier Golf Course is set for a vote by Forsyth County commissioners tonight, though the deal for which they’ve held out appears elusive.

The commission has twice postponed its decision in hopes of brokering a compromise between course owners Jack Manton and George Bagley Jr. and neighbors in the more than four-year dispute.

The most recent offer from the course owners has their signatures, followed by 26 blanks for those of litigants in a separate lawsuit.

According to attorney Bob McFarland Sr., who represents the group, it’s unlikely that his clients will sign on.

Their case centers on whether the residents have an implied easement to the 172-acre course on Buford Dam Road, which could stop development of the site.

Most recently, McFarland filed an appeal on the May court decision granting summary judgment to the owners.

"We believe we have a good chance of the Georgia Court of Appeals reversing the trial judge," he said.

McFarland said that case has been dragged into the rezoning discussions despite the two being "apples and oranges."

"The owners of Lanier Golf Course have decided unilaterally that if they’re going to make any kind of deal [for rezoning], they’re going to make Bob McFarland and his litigants drop their lawsuit," he said.

The compromise, which several neighbors have agreed to in principle, has been described by Commission Chairman Brian Tam as "density for acreage."

The course owners would donate a back portion of the property for green space or a golf course in return for a higher density master planned development designation on the front portion.

Forsyth County faces the court-ordered rezoning as the result of the apparent end to a separate case.

In that matter, the owners challenged the commission’s 2007 decision to reject their request to rezone the property from agricultural to a master planned district.

The men had a contract with a developer to buy the site contingent upon its rezoning.

That litigation came to a stop May 12, when Appalachian Judicial Circuit Judge Roger E. Bradley ordered the site be given a "constitutional zoning classification."

Commissioners, with the owners’ required permission, have twice obtained a court extension of the original June 26 deadline.

For another postponement, course owners will need to see some signatures on the proposal for a settlement, Tam told neighbors during a community meeting Tuesday night.

Some who are not involved in the McFarland case grew frustrated, feeling that they don’t seem to have any leverage in the issue of rezoning.

Tam also said that a July 14 meeting with McFarland’s clients to discuss the compromise had been canceled, though he didn’t know why.

McFarland said Wednesday that he sent out notice to the 26 residents involved asking if they wanted to meet with Tam.

"Nobody did," he said. "That’s the reason I canceled the meeting."

McFarland said he has met once with Tam, as have his clients.

In regards to the county’s rezoning, McFarland has declined any residents’ requests to review associated documents.

"I have one job, and it’s this implied easement case," he said.

McFarland said the owners’ proposal splits the property into a master planned district and green space, leaving a divide that won’t serve all of his clients.

"How can I, if I represent people in both areas, make some kind of deal with Commissioner Tam that would adversely affect some of my clients?" he said.

"I represent all of the clients, and I believe it’s in their best interest to get an implied easement on the golf course. I don’t have anything to do with that zoning."

For neighbors at Tuesday night’s meeting with Commissioners Tam and Jim Boff, the negotiations of the proposal have continued in hopes that a compromise could be reached.

Without a compromise, commissioners will rezone the property to whatever is necessary to meet the court order, Boff said.