Dollar General developer and property owner sue Lowndes County about rezoning denial –VDT 2023-05-03

The plaintiffs’ case is based on the Lowndes County Commission not agreeing with county staff’s recommendation to approve the rezoning, as well as “evidence supporting their petition and codes relating to the Unified Development Land Code.”

Maybe this is the “enhanced facade” that Dollar General offered in the Public Hearing after which the County Commission denied the rezoning, on January 1, 2023.

[Enhanced facade, plat, and future development, VDT and actual stormwater by WWALS]
Enhanced facade, plat, and future development, VDT and actual stormwater by WWALS

Also the plaintiffs say all the public comments were “generalized and speculative”. Huh, I sure thought I heard a bunch of quite specific public comments. The letter WWALS sent to the Commission before that Public Hearing was quite specific, for example, in saying the allegation that the closest effect on nearby property owners would be on their residences was hogwash, given that stormwater from the subject site runs west under GA 122 onto neighboring property much closer than that residence.

There was speculation in various comments, but it was based on easily documented history of Dollar General and of property development in Lowndes County.

After a story by a Valdosta Daily Times reporter, that local organ of record weighed in with an editorial supporting the citizens.

Malia Thomas, Valdosta Daily Times, May 5, 2023, County zoning vote leads to lawsuit,

Teramore Development, LLC and Mary Harris, owner of the property at the center of the request, filed an appeal against the Lowndes County Commission in Lowndes County Superior Court due to what they are calling an “unconstitutional“ ruling against rezoning the area from agricultural estate to crossroads-commercial.

“Instead of evaluating the evidence presented and adhering to the constitutionally mandated criteria for a zoning decision, members of the Board relied on the recommendation for denial made by the Greater Lowndes Planning Commission … which was based upon erroneously legal grounds and the generalized and speculative public comments of citizens in opposition of the Rezoning Application,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit further claims “the Board’s actions were an abuse of its police and zoning powers” and a violation of due process due to a lack of discussion with planning staff.

The suit also alleges the denial of rezoning violated the Equal Protections clauses in the state and federal constitutions as well as a “taking of a property without compensation.”

Both plaintiffs request the property’s existing E-A zoning be declared unconstitutional and to allow “a reasonable economic use of the property, and grant such other relief in favor of Plaintiffs as the Court sees fit.”

In a statement to The Valdosta Daily Times, county attorney Walter Elliot said the case is currently pending.

Editorial, Valdosta Daily Times, May 6, 2023, EDITORIAL: County should always lean to residents in zoning decisions,

The voice of the people should always matter the most to local government.

Residents have every right to have a say regarding what happens in their own communities.

The people we elect to office should always listen to the women and men they represent.

Lowndes County government is facing a lawsuit after denying a rezoning request to make way for a Dollar General Store on Highway 122 at Skipper Bridge Road.

The Lowndes County Commission denied the rezoning based on the recommendations of the planning commission and after 180 residents signed on to a petition saying they were opposed to the retail store being placed at that location.

Undoubtedly, the reasons for opposition are varied but it is clear that there was strong opposition to rezoning the 35-acre piece of property.

The developer filing the lawsuit is saying in court documents that the County Commission did not have the legal power to deny the request.

While we are not commenting on the legal merits of the case against the county, we do strongly believe that the only true power local government has is the power granted it by the people.

The courts will decide if the county had strong enough legal grounds to deny the request.

We are certainly not opposed to retail development and new businesses coming to our region are good news, by and large. That does not mean, however, that every location is the right place for a business.

It should be noted, as well, that this retailer was not seeking to build a store in a location that was already properly zoned. Instead, they were seeking to rezone property that had been set aside for other, less invasive, uses.

There are obviously significant legal arguments to be made by both the plaintiff and the defendant, and the merits of those arguments will be determined by the court.

Regardless of the outcome of the court case, we are always pleased when local government listens to the people it governs.

We encourage the people of Valdosta and Lowndes County to always make their voices heard by showing up at local government meetings, speaking during public commenting periods, signing petitions and, perhaps most importantly, speaking directly to your elected representatives.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can help with clean, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, water in the 10,000-square-mile Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia by becoming a WWALS member today!