On October 29, 2007 Sprawl-Busters updated the ongoing battle in Duluth, Georgia over a Wal-Mart supercenter. A landowner who stands to make millions of dollars by selling his 27 acre parcel to Wal-Mart for a 176,305 s.f. supercenter, has sued the city over their moratorum on big box stores. Jack Bandy, who owns the parcel Wal-Mart wants, had his friend, the former Governor of Georgia, Roy Barnes, file the suit in Gwinnett Superior Court yesterday, trying to invalidate the moratorium. This past week, the landowner also took his case to the Duluth Zoning Board of Appeals, trying to get that board to overrule the decision of the city’s Planning Director. Wal-Mart applied for a building permit in August, but was turned down by Shelley Stiebling, who was the city’s Planning Director at the time. She cited Duluth’s six-month moratorium on large-scale buildings. The landowner appealed. But this week, the Duluth ZBA backed its Planning Director, and voted unanimously to deny Wal-Mart’s appeal. “I’m not surprised; I’m disappointed,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. After the ZBA vote, the City Attorney announced that the zoning board also was being sued by Bandy, who now has two legal actions against the city. In this second suit, he is relying on legal guidance from former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes. Bandy’s new suit was filed against the Zoning Board of Appeals and each of its members; the city’s new director of planning; and the city of Duluth. It appeals the rulings the zoning board made in October, when the ZBA agreed with local residents that Stiebling had exceeded her legal authority when she approved redesigns to Wal-Mart’s planned Supercenter. Bandy now claims that the ZBA made some errors when it made its decision. The landowner says the residents who appealed to the ZBA did not have legal “standing” to do so — which means they do not meet the legal criteria to file an appeal as injured parties. Bandy also says the rejection of Wal-Mart’s designs were arbitrary and capricious.”
City officials, knowing that Bandy has a legal hair-trigger, hired a court stenographer to transcribe every word spoken at the ZBA’s meeting in October. The second lawsuit is now in Gwinnett County Superior Court, and instead of preparing for the first shovel in the ground, Wal-Mart now has to wait for the first testimony in court. Residents of Duluth and city officials have made it very clear that they don’t want this Wal-Mart, and they passed a moratorium to be able to come up with new zoning rules to better protect local property owners. Instead of respecting that sentiment, and withdrawing, the landowner is pulling out the big political guns and using a former Governor to plead his case. The project is now thrown into limbo for months. By the time this case is concluded, Duluth could have in place a new zoning ordinance that prevents this kind of development from happening again. When millions of dollars in profits hang in the balance, its not surprising that a landowner would file lawsuit on top of lawsuit to get his way.