The Georgia Court of Appeals came down on the side of Glynn County in a lawsuit alleging the county had violated its own zoning ordinance.
In the case, filed in August 2018, the Center for a Sustainable Coast and Frances Zwenig claimed the county had violated the zoning ordinance and Georgia zoning law when it approved the zoning ordinance amendment in May 2018.
The amendment instituted new rules for beach renourishment and allowed the county’s Community Development Department to issue a letter of approval to the Sea Island Co. in regards to a beach renourishment project — a necessary step in getting approval from the state Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Plaintiffs claimed, among other things, that the county had not given the public enough of an opportunity to provide input on the amendments, in effect violating its due process rights.
The lawsuit also alleged the county showed favoritism to the Sea Island Co. in approving the amendment, as it supposedly fits a need only it had — supporting the development of eight “high-end” homes on the Sea Island spit.
In February 2019, Glynn County Superior Court Judge Roger Lane dismissed the case.
In his order, he wrote that the lawsuit was filed outside the 30-day window during which county zoning decisions can be appealed, the claims were barred by sovereign immunity, plaintiffs lacked standing and that they failed to present sufficient evidence to prove a violation of the Georgia Zoning Procedures Law or the county’s zoning ordinance.
The lawsuit didn’t fare much better in the court of appeals, where judges affirmed Lane’s ruling in its entirety.
Attorneys for the Center for a Sustainable Coast claimed Lane was incorrect on the first point, citing case law to support their claim that the 30-day limit didn’t apply to this case because they were not challenging the zoning decision but claiming instead that the county didn’t follow the correct procedures.
As such, plaintiffs alleged the amendment was invalid and that their due process rights had been violated in the process.
In the appeals court’s order, Judge Clyde Reese disputes the interpretations of the center’s lawyers.
“Thus, the Appellants’ argument that the trial court committed reversible error in dismissing their claims as untimely fails because it is time-barred, as any challenge to the zoning decision was required to be raised within 30 days,” Reese wrote.
He also states that the county followed all applicable law and that Zwenig and the center failed to show their due process rights had been violated.
The county’s sovereign immunity defense was also affirmed, as was Lane’s decision that the center and Zwenig lacked standing to bring the case to Glynn County Superior Court.
Further, the court of appeals ruled that the county did not violate state or county zoning law during the process of approving the amendments.
The court battle is not entirely over, as Zwenig and the center could ask the Georgia Supreme Court to hear the case. It does not have to honor the request, however.