German Village residents are continuing the fight over Village Drive in court.
At issue is the portion of a new park on St. Simons Island’s north end owned by the St. Simons Land Trust, called Guale Preserve, and the means used to access it.
Most of the park can be accessed via an entrance off Lawrence Road, but the land trust wants to use Village Drive —the only entrance and exit to the German Village neighborhood — as the sole means to access the waterfront portion of the park.
Early this year, the Glynn County Community Development Department approved an infrastructure-only permit allowing the land trust to grade dirt parking spaces and build a storage shed used as a trailhead shelter.
Five of those parking spaces and the shortage shed are located at the waterfront portion of the park.
Following the approval, Village Bluff Property Owners Association appealed the permit approval, saying development of the Guale Preserve as a public park would negatively impact the neighborhood and Village Drive itself — especially as plans for the section of the park at the end of the road included a boat launch and two fishing piers, along with parking to accommodate more visitors.
After a public hearing in May, the board of appeals upheld Community Development Director Pamela Thompson’s decision to approve the permit in June. But it added two conditions: that Village Drive could not be used to access the park and that any further additions to the property had to be approved by the Islands Planning Commission.
In response, Thompson filed an appeal of the board of appeals’ decision with the Glynn County Commission.
In July, the county commission overturned the board of appeals’ ruling, affirming the department’s approval of the permit but revoking the board’s conditions.
A lawsuit filed against Glynn County by the property owners association and German Village resident Susan Blount on Monday claims the community development department did not have the standing to appeal the board of appeals’ decision and that the county commission violated the neighborhood residents’ due process rights.
“This action was akin to a trial court appealing the decision of the Georgia Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of Georgia sua sponte — when the parties themselves chose not to appeal,” the filing, written by Brooks Hudson of the Augusta-based Hull Barrett Attorneys, states.
“The community development department is not ‘affected’ by the decision which the board of appeals placed on the permit sought by a private party, and the private party elected not to appeal the imposition of the conditions. Rather, the community development department is a subordinate entity to the board of appeals,” according to the filing.
Hudson goes on to write that community development has no substantial interest in the board’s decision, has no property interest in the park property and suffered no injury from the decision, and therefore lacked standing to appeal.
Because the department lacked standing, the appeal was not proper, the complaint alleges, and because the appeal was not proper, the board of appeals’ decision stands.
“Glynn County undertook an unprecedented action for the sole purpose of championing the arguments of the trust, to the detriment of the rights of plaintiffs,” Hudson alleges in the complaint.
Hudson also disputes the county’s claim to right of way over a dirt road extending from Village Drive’s intersection with Virginia Drive to the Guale Preserve property.
According to the filing, Village Drive was paved roughly 90 to 110 feet north of where it was platted, meaning the right of way actually sits around 90 to 110 feet south of where the road is.
As such, the road runs across property owned by Blount, who sent a letter to the county earlier this month telling it not to trespass on the dirt road.
German Village supporters made a similar claim at the board of appeals’ hearing on the matter in May. The land trust disputed the claim, producing a letter from the Survey and Mapping Society of Georgia calling the survey upon which the claim was based “substandard.”
Also, the filing alleges the county violated the due process rights of German Village residents by failing to follow a consistent standard of review.
Ultimately, the petition asks that the court declare the board of appeals’ decision final, that the county commission violated German Village residents’ due process rights and to prohibit the county from using the dirt road at the end of Village Drive.
Melinda Bruley White, an attorney with the Ligon Firm representing the neighborhood, claimed at the board of appeals’ hearing in May that German Village residents had no problem with the park itself.
Rather, they took issue with land trust’s desire to use Village Drive as the sole means of accessing the waterfront portion of the park.
They claimed the land trust had ample room to run a road from the parking spaces on Lawrence Road to the waterfront.
Land trust executives claimed, however, that the conservation easement and the DNR would not allow a new road through the property, a claim that neighborhood residents and state Rep. Jeff Jones disputed.