Appeals court rules for Gainesville in 2008 developers' suit


Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 4:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 4:59 p.m.

A nearly five-year legal battle between the developers of a northwest Gainesville subdivision and the city might be nearing an end after an appeals court ruling for the city.

Filed in 2008, Alachua Land Investors’ lawsuit challenged the City Commission’s denial of a plat application for a 44-lot expansion of the Blues Creek subdivision.

That application included a plan to run about 300 feet of sewer line through a 90-acre designated conservation area and across the creek for which the subdivision is named. In the suit, the developers argued that the city’s decision would reduce the number of developable lots and that that amounted to an improper taking of property.

In a Jan. 31 opinion, a three-judge panel from the 1st District Court of Appeal said construction of a sewer line in the conservation area was not allowed under the zoning regulations that were already in place for the subdivision at the time of the application for the plat or the conditions of a prior settlement between the Suwannee River Water Management District and an environmental group that had challenged district permitting approvals for the development.

A buffer zone in place also did not allow construction within 50 feet of Blues Creek, the appeals court noted.

In upholding a prior trial court ruling, the appeals court decided the legal claim was “not yet ripe for litigation” because Alachua Land Investors did not offer any alternate plans or other options for constructing the sewer system for future phases of the subdivision before heading to court.

“Given the existing zoning regulations ALI’s (Alachua Land Investors) request to construct a sewer pipe through the conservation area and across the creek was bound to fail,” the appeals court decision said. “The petition was not a meaningful application, for it denied the City an opportunity to exercise its full discretion in determining” how the developer could implement its plans for future phases of the subdivision.

Patrice Boyes, the land-use attorney representing the developers, said subdivision plans dating back to the 1980s showed the sewer line in the conservation area and that the prohibition was added at “the 11th hour.”

In memo last Wednesday to city commissioners, City Attorney Nicolle Shalley said “in all likelihood” the appeals court decision ended five years of litigation. Shalley said the Blues Creek developers could try to take the case to the Florida Supreme Court, but that court has “complete discretion over whether to hear such an appeal.”

Boyes said the next step was not yet determined. It might be an attempt to go to the state Supreme Court or a federal suit, she said. Another option, she said, is a new application to the city with a plan that would include the more expensive option of a sewer lift station.

Alachua Land Investors is owned by Newberry developers Larry and Bonnie Ross.

The Blues Creek subdivision dates back to the 1980s. It was originally in the unincorporated county but annexed into the city in 2001. There are now 375 homes in Blues Creek, Boyes said.

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