Warner Robins scores a win in lawsuit against Byron

mstucka@macon.comJanuary 27, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- A judge ordered 14 acres to be stripped from Byron’s city limits in the first concrete result of a long-simmering dispute between Byron and Warner Robins over sewer service and annexations.

In more than 100 court pages, the two cities fling plenty of muck at each other. Each city accuses the other of violations they took years to come clean about.

Earlier this month, Peach County Superior Court Judge Philip T. Raymond III declared invalid Byron’s annexation of 14 acres five years ago, saying it was never allowed under a 1996 agreement between the cities. The order was sought and drafted by an attorney for Warner Robins.

Defendants in the lawsuit are supposed to file the paperwork to de-annex the property, located at the corner of Housers Mill Road and the Ga. 247 Connector, not far west of the Watson Boulevard exit of Interstate 75.

However, Wayne Crowley, the Macon attorney for the current property owner and a convenience store on the site, said it’s not clear the order even applies to his clients. The order was drafted to apply to previous owners who got it annexed into Byron but never defended themselves in the lawsuit. The current owner, Shree Hari Properties LLC, has filed a crossclaim in court to uphold its own rights and get Byron to pay for any damages.

Crowley said the convenience store owners are just little guys caught in a fight between cities.

“We don’t care who wins. We just want to stay in business and pay somebody for water and sewer,” he said.

Jim Elliott, the Warner Robins city attorney, said the case is continuing. Both sides are collecting evidence for the fight over the status of the old agreement, attorney’s fees and other issues.

Raymond issued the order Jan. 17 after finding two defendants, SunMark Community Bank and Bob Holcomb and Associates Inc., never attempted to respond to the lawsuit.

An attorney for Byron did not return a phone call seeking comment Monday.

When the cities first signed the agreement in 1996, much of the area wasn’t developed. Byron was running low on sewage capacity and cut the deal with Warner Robins to get more service into the area. Under that agreement, however, Warner Robins could annex more properties without opposition from Byron.

Since then, The Medical Center of Peach County has opened and Russell Parkway has been extended to Interstate 75 and beyond. More businesses are moving into the area, which spans Interstate 75 between Ga. 96 to north of Watson Boulevard. On the east side is U.S. 41; on the west is Housers Mill Road -- all areas primed for development. Some of that land has been discussed for a water park.

Both cities say they’ve invested in infrastructure in the area, with Warner Robins saying it has put $1 million into the ground.

While Warner Robins claimed Byron improperly annexed the 14 acres, Byron claimed Warner Robins violated the agreement in 2004, and Byron didn’t find out about it for five years when the agreement was amended.

Warner Robins filed the lawsuit in October. No trial date has been scheduled.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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