By Maggie Lee
For the second time in two years, a would-be developer is asking a judge to override Sandy Springs City Council and allow a large mixed-use development on Glenridge Drive.
The 26-acre property on the east side of Glenridge Drive at I-85 and GA-400 is owned by a partnership called MLGP Lakeside – which began as a partnership between Atlanta developer Greenstone plus financial services company MetLife.
In August, the council denied the zoning change that would allow MLGP to build a mixed-use development on the site. Now, MLGP is petitioning a state judge to force Sandy Springs to allow the zoning.
The new lawsuit, filed in September, is the second over the Lakeside development. Developers took the city to court in 2008, after the first time the council denied the zoning. The city’s response to the suit was filed in October.
MLGP says the offices now on the site are not a good or profitable use of land because they are “out-dated and cannot compete with the new, modern office buildings” around them.
MLGP’s plan for the property includes 520 residential units, 8,000 square feet of restaurants, 42,000 of retail and 400,000 feet of new office space. By comparison, the entire area of Perimeter Mall is about 1.5 million square feet.
The company says it has a constitutional right to put the land to its highest and best use, and that the property is losing value. The 2007 sale price for the property was $62 million. While Fulton County Tax Assessor rates don’t necessarily match market price, in 2010 the county taxed the property – two street addresses – based on a value of $49 million.
“If the current zoning is not changed, the property value, already substantially diminished, will continue to decline,” the developers said in the lawsuit.
But the city’s attorneys argue the council’s second denial came because of democracy.
MLGP “was repeatedly warned by defense counsel,” write the city’s attorneys in legal papers, “that existing law required rehearing the matter in public, and that a particular result could not be promised at the end of that action.”
And when citizens at the rehearing talked about traffic concerns – and brought in a 90-signature petition – five council members listened.
The developer’s suit calls Sandy Springs’ denial arbitrary and capricious.
MLGP says residents and council members based their arguments on anecdotal traffic stories, not a rigorous traffic study.
In fact, the company sees the second denial “not as a sincere attempt to resolve this matter, but rather as an opportunity to try to strengthen its legal defense” in the initial lawsuit.
In June 2008, on the grounds of too much potential traffic, council first voted down the rezoning request. MLGP took the city to court and the two sides subsequently agreed to work on a settlement. The company, in consultation with city staff, came up with a less dense development proposal that incorporated more traffic improvements.
Then, in August 2010, city council shot down the plan 5 to 1.
Now MLGP wants to see Sandy Springs in front of a judge again. This second petition goes further than the first. Argues MLGP, some city staff objections “lack a reasonable basis and smack of post-hoc, litigation-related posturing.”
Sandy Springs counters that its actions “was designed to try and settle a disputed claim.”
MLGP argues it closed on the property in May 2007, “based on repeated assurances from the city, and the review of the city’s ordinances and comprehensive land-use plan.”
But Sandy Springs’ attorneys says the city made no promises. “At no time did the Defendants make any admission with respect to Plantiffs’ entitlement to rezoning of its property,” the city’s lawyers say in court filings.
MLGP is now owned by MetLife and MetLife in Connecticut, according to that company’s latest quarterly report, filed in Rhode Island.