A lawsuit between Glynn County and the Village Bluff Property Owners Association and Susan Blount will be heard by the Georgia Court of Appeals following a superior court decision in the county’s favor.
The appeals court had initially declined to hear the case, but last week granted the plaintiffs request to reconsider.
“Upon consideration of the application for discretionary appeal, it is ordered that it be hereby granted. The appellant may file a notice of appeal within 10 days of the date of this order,” the court order, dated Jan. 9, states.
The court case sprang from the Glynn County Commission’s July 2019 reversal of a board of appeals decision blocking the St. Simons Land Trust from using Village Drive as the primary means of access to a waterfront section of the trust’s Guale Preserve park on the north end of St. Simons Island.
The waterfront section of the new park is located at the end of Village Drive, the sole entrance and exit from the German Village neighborhood. At the time, plans for the waterfront involved renovating a boat ramp and fishing pier and building a trailhead shelter for a walking and biking path with associated parking.
Village Drive residents have been opposing the land trust’s plans since well before the county commission’s decision. According to some residents, an old contractor road existed on the property that could be quickly brought into service as access to the waterfront from the park’s main entrance on Lawrence Road.
Land trust executives denied the claim, stating the Department of Natural Resources, which holds a conservation easement over the park, would not allow it.
The land trust contends the road is public, anyone has a right to use it and that traffic to that section of the park will be limited by the relatively low parking capacity.
While the road is public, residents have argued that it is too narrow, dropping to half its normal width at some points, to safely accommodate the type of traffic that a boat ramp would attract — big trucks and trailers.
Families with children live all through the neighborhood and using Village Drive as the means to access the boat ramp would impact their safety, residents argue, as well as the quiet and residential nature of the subdivision.
When German Village residents appealed a permit allowing the land trust to build a trailhead shelter and parking spaces in the park at the end of Village Drive, it was with these arguments in mind that the Glynn County Board of Appeals voted to uphold the permit but to restrict the land trust’s use of Village Drive.
County community development director Pamela Thompson then appealed that decision, leading the county commission to lift the appeals board’s restriction.
The Village Bluff Property Owners Association and German Village resident Susan Blount took the county to court, arguing the board of appeals’ decision was valid and should be enforced, that Thompson did not have the standing to appeal the board’s decision and disputed a purported county easement over a dirt path at the end of Village Drive leading to Guale Preserve, among other things.
Rather than being a county easement, attorneys for the plaintiff argued that because Village Drive is paved in the wrong location and does not line up with where it should, that the county’s easement is actually 90 to 110 feet south of the dirt path.
Instead, the dirt path crosses Blount’s property and any use of the path by the county or land trust constitutes trespassing, according to court filings.
Glynn County disputes all such claims made by the plaintiffs.
In September, the land trust, which is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, proposed an alternate plan. It still required the use of a section of Village Drive and involved cutting a new road through the woods to the waterfront.
DNR officials said it did not appear to violate its conservation easement over the property, but the new plan has yet to be enacted.
The following month, Glynn County Superior Court Judge Roger Lane ruled in the county’s favor immediately after granting the plaintiffs’ request for a restraining order preventing the county and the land trust from using the dirt path.
The court of appeals gave the case a calendar date of May 2020.