Apartment developer's lawsuit: PTC Council's rezoning refusal is racist

In a Superior Court lawsuit filed last year, senior apartment developer NorSouth Company accused Peachtree City of denying a rezoning proposal based on racism. The city denied the allegation in its response to the lawsuit, which ultimately was settled last week as the City Council reversed course under pressure from lawsuits filed in both Fayette Superior Court and in federal district court.

Told the city likely would lose in court by an attorney for the Georgia Municipal Association, the council approved a rezoning to allow NorSouth to build 94 age-restricted apartments on a 5.6-acre tract off Newgate Road in Kedron Village.

[See "Sr. apartments OK'd as PTC caves to lawsuits" for earlier story.]

Norsouth’s racial bias claim was drawn largely from a comment made by Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix that he was worried about the apartments “becoming Harmony Village.”

The suit noted that Harmony Village Apartments “accepts Section 8 vouchers and houses a predominantly minority population.”

The city countered that its concerns about Harmony Village were based instead on “a host of code enforcement issues and public safety issues” from the last several years “and was in no way based on the race or ethnicity of the residents of that complex.

Part of NorSouth’s suit focused on the need for more affordable housing in Peachtree City, particularly for senior citizens.

The city argued in part that the apartments were not appropriate for Kedron Village because it already has a high level of apartments compared to the city’s other four villages, and those existing Kedron apartments “are sufficient to serve demand for multifamily housing in Kedron Village.”

“Plaintiff’s proposed density was not in keeping with the surrounding area of the village concept, and formed a substantial basis for denial of its rezoning,” the city said in its answer to the suit.

NorSouth argued, however, that race was indeed a factor “at least in part” in council’s decision to reject the rezoning.

“Defendants’ patterns and practices have consistently sought to exclude certain groups of people from Peachtree City,” NorSouth’s attorneys wrote in the suit.

The suit also claimed the rezoning was tantamount to “perpetuating segregation” in Peachtree City.

The 5.6-acre site, owned by Pathway Communities, was previously zoned limited use residential in 2007 for a 21-unit luxury townhome project that never came to fruition. At the time, the city also amended its land use plan to indicate the property’s use as multifamily.

That may well have given NorSouth legal standing to pursue the senior apartments as a valid multifamily use for the property.

NorSouth will be setting aside at least 80 percent of its units for tenants based on income guidelines, with an eligible tenant making no more than $30,100 a year for a one-bedroom unit and up to $34,400 for a two-bedroom unit.

Other units will be made available at “market rent,” NorSouth has said previously.

The company is securing tax credits through a federal program administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. That program requires the use of a photo identification to establish that each tenant meets the age restrictions of 62 and above, and an audit of that information will be conducted annually.

In the development agreement approved by council, NorSouth is required to provide a copy of that audit each year to the City Manager.

If NorSouth or any other future owner or operator of the apartments violates any terms of the development agreement, the city can bring forth a zoning violation and have the matter heard in court, said Laurel Henderson, the attorney who represented the city in the matter.

Among other requirements of the development agreement, NorSouth must:

• Follow the city’s guidelines for architecture, exterior materials and color selection;

• Keep security gates “as far away from any city right of way as possible”;

• Provide covered parking for golf carts on the property;

• Make sure all mechanical units are properly screened from view of adjacent properties;

• Fund and construct a path to connect to the existing path on Newgate Road, or a proposed new path connection that would link to the Kedron Village shopping center;

• Provide amenities on-site including a community room, game room, fitness center, hair salon, picnic area with grill and covered pavilion, community gardening center with planting beds and golf cart spaces with recharging stations.

Davids mom
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Questions/depositions

Those who 'deposed' the PTC leaders heard 'racism'. Don't blame the mayor for what exists in many - and asked the 'right' questions, will be exposed. I agree lineage has nothing to do with the carefully taught 'ugly word' in the American culture - racism. We need to heal it - but first before healing comes recognition. Many in PTC and Fayette County are making a concerted effort to erase this disease. Fayette County is still considered to be a 'victim' of this disease - but maybe this incident will speed the healing effort. After doing some research, some of the concerns of the citizens, based on past experience, are sound - and not necessarily based on fear of minorities.

L.Sussberg
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Robert W Morgan

I'm sorry but I can not answer that question.

Being accountable for only myself, I knew I had to step down from the planning commission based upon how I was feeling. It was clouding my judgement and for the sake of the citizens and Peachtree City it was best to leave.

The citizens of Peachtree City will have to decide what to do and who to elect or re-elect at the appropriate time.

What you and others should find curious is that you do not hear from others in government or associated with government...city council members, planning commissioners, etc because they stay focused on their responsibilities. Some may feel that is not correct and they should be blogging a way, but I ask you what are you hearing..what is an isn't appropriate and when is the timing right especially when it comes to protecting our community from such lawsuits.

Question for you...who do you hear from the most on this blog from within our government..?? How many people have posted to him to use prudence when responding?? Do you think that this conduct on the blog is any different than the conduct within city hall?? dealings with staff and other members of government, elected, paid, or volunteer??

Actually, his behavior was a wake up call for me...because my reactions to that behavior biased me and I realized that maybe I needed to step aside in fairness to the city.

I have been criticized on this blog for voicing my opinion...all you have to do is read the threads on this blog. That's ok with me as long as citizens of PTC see the truth and realize what's happening!

I hope that what is happening now is that council, staff and planning are meeting to perform a post mortum on this lawsuit and that Laurel is represents these type of cases throughout the state prepares guidelines outlining proper protocalls and procedures to avoid lawsuits in the future.
In a private or public company that is something that would be done.

All the best...I have said what I needed to say....You won't hear anymore from me (whick MajorMike and MoeCurlyLarry will be happy about) unless Don rallies an attack which I suspect will happen.
Thanks

L.Sussberg
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MoeCurlyLarry

In a deposition, the lawyer asks questions and you only answer what they ask. Not more, not less.

The questions had to do with due process.....lawyers don't bill $300 to $500 per hour to dig into personal/popularity issues. They focus on the facts of the case which was bias involving the project.

Hopefully that's a little clearer.

Thanks

moelarrycurly
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Again,

no responses to the questions offered. That's crystal clear to all and I'm outa here.

L.Sussberg
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MoeCurlyLarry

Feel free to ask the questions pertaining to this issue.

As for personal bias.. no, there is none.
As for issues concerning professional conduct in this issue - yes, I have many.

That is why I stepped down from the planning commission.

Robert W. Morgan
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OK, a question for you, Larry

Does the poor professional conduct rise to the level of censure or impeachment?

How much did this fiasco cost the city?

L.Sussberg
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Larry Sussberg to Don Haddix

Don, I don't have personal bias against you. Personally, you are a nice guy.

Let's discuss what happened with Norsouth.

During my Norsouth deposition, we spent time speaking about you, not racism. The concern that prompted this suit was that at the inital meeting, at the end, when Norsouth said they wanted to pursue the variance, you told told them that if they wanted to they could but in effect you said it most likley would have no support. In effect, (as the mayor) you biased the process and right at the very beginning.

Had you followed the past advice of the city attorney and what you is taught in the training seminars hosted by different agencies throughout the state, you would know that requests for zoning and re-zoning are semi-judicial in nature and since the PTC planning commission recommends only, the city council serves as that judicial body. That being the case, and realizing that a developer deserves "due process" the advice from lawyers is not to speak openly and express opinions before the request is heard and voted on.

Could you imagine a municipal, state or federal judge speaking to the press and/or openly expressing that a defendant is guilty before or during the trial. Same principle.

At my deposition, they explored why you spoke out at the intital meeting and if you had influence over the other council members and planning.

Norsouth brought the strongest type of lawsuit against Peachtree City which was discrimination both at a state and federal level BUT it was brought because of what you said at that initial meeting. They felt the process was biased and they did not receive "due process".

This same situation occurred, when as a current member of city council and running for mayor, you spoke out and told everyone on your blog that you were against the Callula Hill project. That request for re-zoning was before the planning commission when you spoke out. That developer decided to drop his re-zoning request but he could have pursued a lawsuit claiming they could not get due process because a member of the council who rules on the request you openly spoke against it before hearing it. Most likely that suit would not have been as stong a case as Norsouth. Northsouth's discrimmination suit was very powerful but it was brought due to lack of due process!

Don...I do speak from knowledge...I was there...I was called for my deposition right after you. They may have drilled you on racism which is what the lawsuit was about, but they drilled me on you and the bias against their project that you brought to the table at the very first meeting.

You have been warned about this problem before. I know because when I was on the planning commission, city employees told me. I also know because on the blogs, in the past you stated that people were trying to get you to shut up and you won't. What "these people" were trying to tell you is that at certain times you should not speak up, especially when a semi-judicial process such as zoning and re-zoning is brought before the city.

Don, Peachtree City got sued because of YOU and what you said at the first meeting. This most likely cost the taxpayers extra money from the city budget that the city does not have.

No one is trying to shut you up. BUT you need to exhibit restraint and professionalism in your job. This time you did not and cost everyone in the city extra money we do not have.

Finally, I am not not expecting your fellow council members or planning commssioners to step forward to agree with me, or defend me when you begin your attack on me from speaking the facts and truth here...I do not expect them to do so because they are professionals and have the city's best interest at heart.

I know that you will respond to me on this blog and you will do what you usually do which is to mount a Machiavellian attack on me which you have done to others by quoting strange facts and figures and turning the situation around. Everyone involved with the city knows this about you.

Like most politicans, you can play the game knowing that its all about sound bites and realizing that most people are not informed so you can quote "stuff", look and sound intelligent on a subject realizing that 99% of the people know less and will not research it.

Robert W. Morgan
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Wow Larry, that pretty much covers everything

I didn't know this had gotten to the deposition stage. No wonder everyone was being tight-lipped.

Sounds like Norsouth just gave us enough rope and we (the city) managed to hang ourselves - at least twice and that's hard to do.

I recall Brown had a similar problem when he was mayor, although it never rose to this level. The council people censured him in some way to prevent him from doing whatever he was doing. Sounds like it might be time to do that again. And maybe we should know how much all this cost the city so we can be reimbursed by whoever made the mistake. Or at least emphasize that amount at reelection time.

Kim, you seem like the grown-up on council. Maybe you could get an item on the agenda to fit Mr. Haddix with a muzzle of some kind.

moelarrycurly
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Well, well, well

now we know.

"We spent time speaking about YOU"..."they drilled me on YOU"..."at my deposition, they explored why YOU spoke"...."I don't have a personal bias against YOU"...

Anyone wonder why this individual was asked all these direct questions about the mayor? Do we see any responses to those questions listed above? Of course not.

Chris P. Bacon
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"Becoming Harmony Village"

Wow. If the esteemed counsel from the GMA had bothered to review the meeting minutes of the PTC council on June 17, 2010 (page 8), they would have discovered the true meaning of "becoming Harmony Village".

In a nutshell, Councilwoman Vanessa Fleisch asked the planning commission if any other projects in Peachtree City had ever been built using this unusual DCA government funding before. Planning Commission's David Rast replied that exactly ONE project in PTC had used DCA funding: Harmony Village. The developer of Harmony Village took DCA funding, promptly declared bankruptcy and Harmony Village evolved into PTC's section 8 low income ghetto.

Small wonder the Mayor and the Council were concerned about this project "becoming Harmony Village"!!

Equally troubling is the fact that the Planning Commission unanimously recommended a higher density rezoning. Paging Mr. Larry Sussberg! Paging Mr. Sussberg!

L.Sussberg
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Larry Sussberg to Chris Bacon

Here I am

I'm wondering, did you attend each of the planning commission meetings when this project was reviewed? Did you go on the tours to visit the different facilities that they have built around the state to meet the people and talk with the property managers? Citizens and planning commissioners went on those tours to see for themselves what these properties are about.

Have you looked Northsouth's website to see where their buildings are located, which towns, what they look like.

If the answer is none of the about, do the research. And if you wish to speak about it in greater detail, lets set up a meeting or a telephone conversation to discuss why I, as 1 of 5 commissioners voted in favor of this project.

I would be more than hapy to sit down and discuss it with you.

Thanks

Spyglass
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We don't like the 5 fold uptick in density.....

That's what we don't like.

I want to tear down my house and build a 5 story 5 plex...I could easily pay my mortgage with the rent and fish all day.

Can you help me get that done?

Robert W. Morgan
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You can do it yourself if you live in Spyglass, Spyglass

I'm guessing that's where you live and if so, your covenants expired 6 or 7 years ago. Go for it. Those expired documents open the way for things like Walgreens.

Spyglass
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correct Robert...

I just may check into it, for grins and giggles. What's the difference?

And yes, Spyglass it is....hard to figure isn't it? :)

MajorMike
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Chrispy

Good post, thanks for doing the research. The section 8 scenario was one of my fears when I first read the article but I thought that perhaps I was being a wee bit paranoid. I also was/am concered that if the project did indeed turn out to be senior housing, for any income, that it would become a easy target for the thugs from some of our neighboring counties due to the close proximity of the county line.

We probably won't hear from Mr. Sussberg, he's busy composing a post blaming the Mayor for the sun not shining today.

Robert W. Morgan
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So, what is the cure for racism? Quotas?

I guess now that everyone is done with the tiptoeing around the real reason for the lawsuit, it will be pile on Haddix time for his insensitive remark. Fine. Do it if it makes you feel better, but as i said before, this shows how extreme the Fair Housing people and the federal government have become with politically correct thought. I mean you don't even have to say anything racist, they will just tell you what you were thinking.

I know David's Mom and others will blow a gasket over this, but it seems to me we now have an environment where Norsouth and the city will bend over backwards to ensure that this project (let's call it Kedron Station for now) will be as close to Peachtree Station/Harmony Village as possible - all in the name of political correctness and not wanting to offend anyone. I doubt they will actually write racial quotas into the development agreement, but does anyone believe that the real reason for the lawsuit (and hence the quirky rezoning process) will be forgotten by the city or Norsouth's leasing agent?

The law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head once again.

This should really help with business recruitment. Somebody here once said any publicity is good publicity if they spell your name correctly. Not so much with this one.

Don Haddix
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Haddix: Racism

They tried for four and a half hours with me to make the racism charge stick, but could not. I never came close to such an accusation and produced the police records to back my statements.

The lack of low income senior housing did stick.

Larry Sussberg really was not speaking from knowledge, but assumptions based on personal bias toward me. It is not a secret we do not see eye to eye on many things.

When coming on Council in 2008 I argued the lack of Sunset Clauses and Reversions in agreements had already hurt PTC and would do so again. As with CCD their inclusion proved my case.

The property, rezoned in 2007, should have reverted to GC, as I noted was the appropriate use of that property. It didn't.

That is my one and only comment on this topic.

Robert W. Morgan
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Well that was good timing, Don

Your arrival in 2008 was exactly 6 months after Mr. 21 Townhomes went past his predicted start date. A motion for reversion from any council member would have been appropriate. Since the zoning didn't revert, either #1 the motion wasn't made or #2 you (and Doug) were on the losing end of 3-2 vote. If it was the former, shame on you; if it was the latter shame on Logsdon and the other 2.

Speaking of reversion, it is way past time to take away the Lexington Circle zoning. It should be obvious the big deal "plan" is not being implemented.

Don Haddix
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Haddix: My Apology

But I am going to add one more post.

Robert, you say you have a lot of government knowledge, thus you should know we cannot do a reversion on a zoning change without the owner's consent.

As far as Larry saying I disregarded the City Attorney, that is false. What was said was Larry was wrong.

Everyone deposed was deposed concerning the other parties involved for different reasons. Larry was not exempt. Lawyers fish for issues and statements they can use to prove their case.

On racism, everyone needs to note the attempt was to declare the Council vote as a whole racist, not my vote only.

I am half Indian. Councilman Sturbaum is half Indian. The mere hint of racism is personally offensive. The idea Council is racist is absurd. Councilwoman Learnard voted for the rezoning for other reasons. It was not mentioned by either lawyer in the rezoning vote as an issue, lack of low income senior housing was.

I documented the crime data proving my concern had nothing to do with race.

PTC is a victim of our own success, meaning our data does not reflect a lot of low income designated housing being available according to Federally set standards and requirements.

The fact there is availability in other housing segments really does not matter. It must be designated for that purpose.

The recommendations by the Planning Commission and City Staff weighed heavily in to eventual rezoning.

Enough said.

Shocked and Dis...
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Really unbelievable

Mr Haddix,
Its always amazed me how you seem to be an expert in every buusiness and in all government matters - and somehow are never wrong about anything. Really amazing! I have to ask because I find this very difficult to believe: according to your comments below - your mom or dad AND Mr Sturbaum's mom or dad are full blooded Native Americans. Please tell me you overstepped the bounds of truthfulness here.

Robert W. Morgan
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Lookee here. Someone brand new. First question is racial.

This could really get interesting. Yes indeed, to be "half Indian" Mom or Dad would have to be a full-blooded 100% Indian. 1/4 Indian if one of your Grandparents passed muster. Any of those would be quite a coincidence. 1/8 is more common and much more likely, but we shall see.

Of course he and Sturnbaum could be half brothers- same Indian mother, different Dads.

AtHomeGym
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Mayor Haddix & Lineage

so just what does either your or Mr. Sturbaum's lineage have to do with the issue at hand? I fail to see any factual connection at all. If you are attempting to say no one can be racist if they are of mixed blood, that's just farcical. Told you before, you should have paid more attn to those SecGru Chiefs!

mudcat
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Indian love. Soul mates. Got "skin" in the game

Odd, but it explains a lot of the doug and me stuff.

Seriously, if he did the federal crime they are accusing him of, he may need to do the time. Doug, can you go away for 4 years to stay with him? Cell mates.

DarkMadam
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Mr. Haddix.....Just once...

Could you please say something that dosen't include Doug Sturbaum. Isn't is sad enough that his career on the council is very very close to its end because you are always dragging his his name through it. Please let the man speak for himself if he has something that he wishes to say! Give the guy a break!

And everytime you drag him into something that you are blogging about it just divides the two of you farther and farther away from the rest of the council. It's that darn 3-2 vote and most of the time it seems that you are trying to do just that. It takes more that two people to govern this city and playing well with the other members of the council and not distancing yourself from them is the BEST possible way to achieve that.

Robert W. Morgan
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Let's blame it all on Brown and Brown and Bush

First the quote - "....meaning our data does not reflect a lot of low income designated housing being available according to Federally set standards and requirements."

Well, Peachtree Station happened on Lenox's watch, so he's off the hook. Frady's regime gave us Wisdom Road and the apartments by Willow Point. But no affordable housing from Fred Brown, unless you count Gables Court. Certainly none from the other Brown. Logsdon no contributions to the poor people either.
That's pretty creative Don, the feds set standards and we didn't meet them so it must be someone else's fault. Can we figure out a way to blame George Bush for this?

I admit I was excited when I saw the headline "My apology" as i really thought there was going to be one. I am such an easy person to fool.

Mike King
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Mayor

Just admit that your alligator mouth overrode your hummingbird ass and be done with it! I'm beginning to doubt you last out your full term.

mudcat
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The dude is in da big river in Egypt, don't you think?

It is like watching a play where all the actors have been given different scripts. No one can agree on anything except there was a pretty quick and easy 5-0 vote to approve these apartments.

When Brown was censured by the rest of council, I recall he actually calmed down and played it pretty straight for the better part of a year. Only wacky thing he did was proposing goats on the cart paths to eat kudzu, but that was harmless and didn't get the city sued. The current council (except Doug) should consider censure. It can be a 3-2 vote! Oh boy.

roundabout
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mud

He are not in denile!

Why don't you leave our good mayor alone and be positive for awhile about him? You are the most negative person I have ever heard from about politics. Plumb polarized. Was Bernie Madoff a friend of yours?

mudcat
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Ok swami, I will try to be more positive about this

Ok, deep cleansing breath, focus- Ready?
I am positive that being sued by the Feds and accused of racism is a bad thing.
I am positive that even a token defense of this lawsuit is very expensive.
I am pretty sure I heard members of city council and maybe even the mayor talking about how we needed to conserve what money we do have. Therefore, lawsuit is bad.
I am almost positive that this so-called senior housing will not be developed according to plan ad that it might even be sold and that we will left with 100 regular apartments. I am certainly positive that most of neighbors feel the same way.
I am positive than any normal-thinking person from the mayor on down would worry about this becoming another Harmony Village - especially since Mr. Rast said both projects were using the same innovative financing to allow lower rents. I'd be more concerned if the mayor and others were not worried about that.
I am positive that someone is not telling the entire truth about this and more details will emerge and they won't be good.

roundabout
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Mud

But toi not sue when you think you are right is negative thinking.
Anyway, doesn't the town have insurance for such law suits? Don't they already budget many thousands for LAWYERS?

Are we to never allow anyone to sue the town in order to save money? Come on crooks, you can do what you want here!

So most neighbors feel the same way? The want to choose who and what can live here?

I thought the long term goal for the USA was to assimilate all races, countries, and ages! We have before (Italians, Irish, Orientals, Greeks, some Arabs (lebanese for example), and others.
Surely color hue doesn't enter in?

I hope old folks are no longer excluded--I am amazed that the developer who wanted to build old dudes homes behind the Hospital weren't sued!

Worrying about there being another H-Village is treading on rare thinking!

You mentioned that "normal thinking" people would feel badly about such homes here or I guess anywhere not wanted, is amusing to me.

My lord, those marches were in the 60s, weren't they?

Now you include old dudes with little money who can't live in Peachtree City, but have to move on to south Atlanta or Alabama maybe.

Yeah, I do expect more details will emerge causing us all to really be destroyed.
I say send them all where they came from--even the old ones, to anywhere but here!

Do you really expect developers to tell you every detail and plan about such matters? Hey, where do you think Wall Street learned the techniques?

Did you know that people with a lot of assets always get it from people who no longer have much? Or inherited it from people who did the deed.

Spyglass
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Don..

from everything I've read here, you are certainly at fault for this fiasco, if not 100%, then very close to it. Why you continually open mouth and insert foot is beyond me.

roundabout
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Spy

Why is it that if the Mayor personally thinks it, it is bad; but, if nearly everyone else thinks it, it is good?
Kinda like the other hypocritical thoughts it seems to me.

Mike King
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Mayor

The problem is not with your intent, but rather the fact that you said what you did. What continues to amaze me and others is the simple truth that you accept no responsibility for any action on your part.

Wake up and realize that it was YOU who made the statement! How many more of your 'statements' will Peachtree City be responsible?

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