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Golf course zoning on hold
County attorney cites lawsuit as cause for delay
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County commissioners have decided to freeze plans to rezone Lanier Golf Course until litigation has been resolved.

The commission voted during Tuesday's work session to heed the advice of County Attorney Ken Jarrard.

"The more prudent approach," Jarrard said, "is to take no action, at least for the time being" with regards to changing the course from its current classification as an activity center.

"That piece of property is in litigation connected to a zoning denial," Jarrard said. "The activity center designation is also at issue in the litigation."

Development company Wellstone, who has a contract to buy the golf course site, filed a lawsuit last fall against the county along with course owners Jack Manton and George Bagley Jr.  

Wellstone wants to build a 772-unit residential development that includes a 300-unit continuing care retirement community.

The Forsyth County commission denied Wellstone's rezoning request in September. The owners closed the course in October, only to reopen it in April.

In the suit, Wellstone and the course owners contend the county commission denied the company's request to rezone the land for a residential community "in order for Forsyth County to purchase the property at less than its fair market value."

There has been concern from some corners that the county will use green space money from the recently approved $100 million parks, recreation and green space bond to buy the golf course site.

Wellstone's lawyer, Andrea Jones, said changes to the property's designation on the future land-use map would not apply to the current situation.

"Any rule in place when the litigation began ... any designation would continue to apply in litigation," said Jones, who is with Dillard & Galloway law firm in Atlanta.

The commission did move forward with another potential rezoning from an activity center designation at Tuesday's meeting.

Staff had originally come up with two separate zonings for activity center on the future land-use map: a section along Crystal Cove Trail in northeastern Forsyth and the Lanier Golf site along Buford Dam Road.

Commissioners voted 3-1, with Commissioner Linda Ledbetter opposing and Commissioner Brian Tam absent, to go ahead with the Crystal Cove change.

Part of the motion was to table the discussion on Lanier Golf until after litigation.

In addition to the lawsuit against the county, the golf course is at the center of a class action claim filed in October against the course owners.

The suit was filed on behalf of about 120 residents who live on and around the site in an effort to restrict the property's current and future owners from using it as anything other than a golf course.

After hearing testimony in April, visiting Senior Superior Court Judge Albert Pickett of Augusta said it would likely be at least July before he determines class-action status.

The suit was filed based on the notion that the residents have an implied easement to the course. If class-action status is granted, anyone with a similar complaint against the course could join suit.

Ledbetter has been against changing anything on the future land-use map.

"This could create more problems and cost the county a whole lot of money, just by making a simple little change right now that's not really even that important," she said.

Earlier this month, the commission voted 4-1 to make about 680 changes designated as "minor" to the future land-use map following a recommendation by staff and the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center.

The changes involve using information from zoning maps and as-built maps to update the future land-use map. They did not need approval from the state Department of Community Affairs.

Major updates to the comprehensive plan, and potentially the future land-use map, are scheduled for December 2009, in which there will be full public participation.

Staff writer Julie Arrington contributed to this report.