A Columbus judge has ruled that Zebulon Road area residents have no standing in a lawsuit against Macon’s zoning commission and a developer.
A lawsuit was filed last year in Bibb County Superior Court by 18 residents against the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission and developer Sierra Development. The residents were looking for the court to reverse the commission’s decision rezoning 25 acres that would allow a mixed-use development — with commercial, office and multifamily residential features — to be built in the 5800 block of Zebulon Road.
Judge William Rumer, Superior Court judge of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, was asked to hear the case after five Bibb County Superior Court judges recused themselves.
(Residents) have failed to show ‘special damages’ as required for standing in a rezoning action.
Judge William Rumer, Superior Court judge of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit
Never miss a local story.
Rumer found that the residents who filed suit “provided no evidence that they will suffer any decrease in value (much less how much it might be), or that they will suffer any other damages in the form of noise, odor or visual intrusions,” from the proposed development. The residents have 30 days to appeal the decision.
Sierra Development and SPP Commercial Group, both Macon-based companies, plan to build an upscale $30-million project called Lofts at Zebulon on a site made up of seven contiguous properties. Owners of those properties have been trying to sell for years, and other residents in the area have objected to previous plans to develop the site. SSP is not listed in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said the commission’s decision to rezone the site was contrary to its comprehensive plan, that the conceptual plan was incomplete, that it was spot zoning and that the development would damage the interests of the petitioners.
The judge addressed each of those arguments in his order signed Jan. 25, saying there was no basis for the claims.
“The court appreciates the concerns of Petitioners but is duty bound to follow the law,” the judge’s order said. “Accordingly, ... the Court finds that Petitioners lack standing to bring this action on the grounds that they have failed to show ‘special damages’ as required for standing in a rezoning action.”
Jim Thomas, executive director of the zoning commission, said Rumer’s ruling verifies the commission’s decision.
“It was a tough decision for the commissioners,” Thomas said. “I thought they did a good job, and the judge has agreed. So, we followed the rules and did what we were supposed to do.”
The judge pointed out that the developer would have to have another public hearing before the commission for consideration of a conditional-use permit, which would include a detailed conceptual plan of the proposed development. It is not clear when the developer will file the application for the permit.
Jim Daws, president of Sierra Development, said late Tuesday he had no comment except that he had no plans to take any further action until the 30-day appeal window had closed.
Sam Alderman III, attorney for the residents, said his clients had just learned about the judge’s ruling Tuesday.
“We are just in the process of reviewing the court’s order,” Alderman said. “Obviously my clients are disappointed by the order of the court, and they are assessing their options right now.”
In his ruling, the judge said that the fact that the residents had no standing because they failed to show any special damages was sufficient to remove any other issues on the merits, but he went further “for the sake of completeness,” he said.
“To invalidate a rezoning, Petitioners must show fraud, corruption or manifest abuse of the zoning process to the oppression of the Petitioners, as neighbors,” the order said. “Petitioners do not even allege fraud or corruption, nor is any shown.”
The residents also failed to show any violation of any zoning law, the resolution or due process, failed to provide “a single authority” that pointed to any abuse of the zoning process and failed to show an error of law by the commission.
“We agree with the decision and are happy to get it,” said attorney Pope Langstaff, who represented the commission in the case.