Developer’s lawsuit accuses Peachtree City of violating its own zoning rules

Dar Thompson at an August 2016 council meeting. Staff photo.

A Feb. 3 lawsuit filed by developer Dar Thompson’s High Sierra Investments LLC maintains that Peachtree City did not follow its zoning ordinance when removing the company’s ability to construct townhomes on a 1.4-acre parcel adjacent to the previously-approved luxury condominium project on Lexington Circle on the city’s east side.

Filed Feb. 3, the suit by attorney Scott Bennett on behalf of High Sierra Investments LLC against the city and Director of Planning and Inspections Mike Warrix was filed in Fayette County Superior Court.

“I absolutely hate suing the city. It’s something I simply don’t want to do, but I’m left with no choice. I reached out to the city at all levels and basically got ignored,”

Thompson said on Feb. 4. “No one would ever run a business under the same principles we run the local government. I’m very disappointed in this whole process. I wanted to keep this out of the paper, and deal with the city in a professional and upstanding manner. But when you get no response, one is left with no options.”

The Peachtree City Council in August 2016 approved a proposal to construct a four-story retail and residential building with a maximum of 80 condo units with a starting price of $350,000. Originally proposed for 100 units on the 3.5-acre site, the council’s approval called for 80 units to be situated on the top three floors of the $22-24 million building. The zoning for the proposal was changed to LUC-28 from the LUC-16 zoning that includes Thompson’s property and the entire area around the north side of Lexington Circle. High Sierra also owns a 1.38-acre parcel adjacent to the luxury condo site.

“As part of the negotiations with city officials, High Sierra agreed to reduce the size of the development and to rezone only 3.5 acres of property which would be limited to 80 luxury condominiums. The remaining 1.38 acres of property was to remain LUC-16 with the right to develop that portion of the property under the LUC-16 zoning regulations,” the suit said.

The suit noted that the City Council on Aug. 21, 2016 voted to rezone 3.5 acres of the property to LUC-28 allowing the development of the 80-unit condominium building.

“After voting to approve High Sierra’s rezoning application, the City Council voted to adopt the text amendment which … was not listed on the City Council’s agenda,” the suit said. “The text amendment reduced the number of townhomes from 80 units to 46 units. As 46 townhomes have already been built in the LUC-16 district, the text amendment eliminated the ability of High Sierra and owners of other properties in the LUC-16 district from using their property for townhomes.”

Bennett in the suit said neither the Peachtree City Planning Commission nor the City Council ever considered the text amendment at a public hearing.

High Sierra subsequently submitted an application to build townhomes on its remaining 1.3-acre area and was denied based on the number of townhomes having been reduced, the suit said.

The suit maintains that the text amendment is invalid since there were no public hearings, that the text amendment was never initiated by the council or Planning Commission, was not placed on the agenda for consideration and that the Planning Commission never made a recommendation to the council. In doing so, the city failed to comply with its zoning procedures and the zoning ordinance, the suit said.

The suit also asks that the city’s action be nullified and that High Sierra be awarded attorney’s fees.

“We want good, controlled growth in this community. Successful and good developers will go elsewhere and we’ll only get the type of developers and proposals we don’t want in this city,” Thompson said. “I would think we would want a business-friendly community to attract quality developers with quality developments.”