Apartment developer’s lawsuit: PTC Council’s rezoning refusal is racist

In a Superior Court lawsuit filed last year, senior apartment developer NorSouth Company accused Peachtree City of denying a rezoning proposal based on racism. The city denied the allegation in its response to the lawsuit, which ultimately was settled last week as the City Council reversed course under pressure from lawsuits filed in both Fayette Superior Court and in federal district court.

Told the city likely would lose in court by an attorney for the Georgia Municipal Association, the council approved a rezoning to allow NorSouth to build 94 age-restricted apartments on a 5.6-acre tract off Newgate Road in Kedron Village.

[See “Sr. apartments OK’d as PTC caves to lawsuits” for earlier story.]

Norsouth’s racial bias claim was drawn largely from a comment made by Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix that he was worried about the apartments “becoming Harmony Village.”

The suit noted that Harmony Village Apartments “accepts Section 8 vouchers and houses a predominantly minority population.”

The city countered that its concerns about Harmony Village were based instead on “a host of code enforcement issues and public safety issues” from the last several years “and was in no way based on the race or ethnicity of the residents of that complex.

Part of NorSouth’s suit focused on the need for more affordable housing in Peachtree City, particularly for senior citizens.

The city argued in part that the apartments were not appropriate for Kedron Village because it already has a high level of apartments compared to the city’s other four villages, and those existing Kedron apartments “are sufficient to serve demand for multifamily housing in Kedron Village.”

“Plaintiff’s proposed density was not in keeping with the surrounding area of the village concept, and formed a substantial basis for denial of its rezoning,” the city said in its answer to the suit.

NorSouth argued, however, that race was indeed a factor “at least in part” in council’s decision to reject the rezoning.

“Defendants’ patterns and practices have consistently sought to exclude certain groups of people from Peachtree City,” NorSouth’s attorneys wrote in the suit.

The suit also claimed the rezoning was tantamount to “perpetuating segregation” in Peachtree City.

The 5.6-acre site, owned by Pathway Communities, was previously zoned limited use residential in 2007 for a 21-unit luxury townhome project that never came to fruition. At the time, the city also amended its land use plan to indicate the property’s use as multifamily.

That may well have given NorSouth legal standing to pursue the senior apartments as a valid multifamily use for the property.

NorSouth will be setting aside at least 80 percent of its units for tenants based on income guidelines, with an eligible tenant making no more than $30,100 a year for a one-bedroom unit and up to $34,400 for a two-bedroom unit.

Other units will be made available at “market rent,” NorSouth has said previously.

The company is securing tax credits through a federal program administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. That program requires the use of a photo identification to establish that each tenant meets the age restrictions of 62 and above, and an audit of that information will be conducted annually.

In the development agreement approved by council, NorSouth is required to provide a copy of that audit each year to the City Manager.

If NorSouth or any other future owner or operator of the apartments violates any terms of the development agreement, the city can bring forth a zoning violation and have the matter heard in court, said Laurel Henderson, the attorney who represented the city in the matter.

Among other requirements of the development agreement, NorSouth must:

• Follow the city’s guidelines for architecture, exterior materials and color selection;

• Keep security gates “as far away from any city right of way as possible”;

• Provide covered parking for golf carts on the property;

• Make sure all mechanical units are properly screened from view of adjacent properties;

• Fund and construct a path to connect to the existing path on Newgate Road, or a proposed new path connection that would link to the Kedron Village shopping center;

• Provide amenities on-site including a community room, game room, fitness center, hair salon, picnic area with grill and covered pavilion, community gardening center with planting beds and golf cart spaces with recharging stations.