A lawsuit alleging the county had improperly approved a zoning amendment and violated the public’s due process rights was dismissed from Glynn County Superior Court on Friday.
The case, filed in August 2018, claimed the county had violated its own zoning ordinance and Georgia zoning law when it approved a zoning ordinance amendment in May.
The amendment instituted new rules for beach renourishment and allowed the county’s Community Development Department to issue a letter of approval for the Sea Island Co.’s beach renourishment project — a necessary step in getting approval from the state Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Plaintiffs David Kyler, Frances Zwenig and the Center for a Sustainable Coast alleged 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 fit a need only it had.
Kyler, Zwenig and the center sought to have the county’s decision to approve the amendment declared invalid and to have the Sea Island Co.’s letter of approval revoked, among other things.
Glynn County Superior Court Judge Roger Lane handed down his decision Friday, dismissing the case on the grounds that the center, Kyler and Zwenig filed the case outside of the 30-day window in which zoning decisions can be challenged, failed to prove they had standing in the case and failed to prove the county had violated state or local zoning rules.
Kyler said Tuesday the center’s legal counsel believed the ruling to be in error.
“Apparently (Lane) misunderstood the basis of our case,” said Kyler, director of the center. “There’s an important distinction between a violation of procedure in relation to an ordinance and a similar violation for a zoning decision affecting a single property.”
Before approving an ordinance amendment, the Mainland and Islands planning commissions must review the amendment and make a recommendation to the county commission. Both planning commissions and the county commission must also hold public hearings before making their decisions, according to county ordinance.
The county published notices of the public hearings 30 days in advance in both cases, but a final draft wasn’t released until the day before the planning commissions’ meeting and the day of the county commission meeting.
While earlier drafts were available, Kyler, Zwenig and the center contended that the public would need a final draft to be able to offer meaningful input at both public hearings.
“Because of the unavailability of the content of the amendment until the day of the decision, it completely breaches the concept of due process or public hearing,” Kyler said.
Due to the alleged misunderstanding, Lane applied the wrong case law and came to the wrong conclusion, Kyler said.
“By not allowing enough time for the public to have the bulk of the content, it stunted the public’s input into the decision-making process,” Kyler said. “It expresses a disregard and disrespect of public participation in the process.”
Lane’s decision, however, states that Glynn County adhered to the letter of state zoning law and the county’s zoning ordinance.
“The court finds that there is no requirement that a proposed amendment be drafted and finalized prior to the publication of the hearing notice or prior to the hearing itself; however, a version of the amendment was made available for public review prior to both meetings which gave the public the knowledge of the proposed changes to section 727 (of the county zoning ordinance) and the ability to present meaningful comments on the amendments,” Lane’s ruling states.
Lane also disagreed that the 30-day time limit to appeal the decision didn’t apply, as he didn’t see any reason not to consider the lawsuit a challenge to a zoning action.
“The (original lawsuit) was filed Aug. 15, 2018, in which plaintiffs’ challenge the legality of Glynn County’s decision to amend the text of section 727. The court finds that this action is a challenge to a zoning decision and plaintiffs cannot circumnavigate the time allowed by law by simply claiming it is a due process challenge and filing a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief,” according to the ruling.
Kyler said the center’s board had not decided whether to appeal Lane’s ruling as of Tuesday, but that it would do so within the week.
“Our board hasn’t arrived at a formal decision, pending review of our counsel’s legal opinion,” Kyler said.