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Developer sues BOC
A Madison County developer filed a federal suit against the board of commissioners last week, claiming the group illegally thwarted his plans for an 11-home development on approximately 60 acres on Double Branch Road.
James Guest seeks "not less than $100,000" in punitive damages against the commissioners for their actions against his development. He also asks that all of his attorney's fees be covered by the defendants and that he be granted any "further relief (the court) deems just."
Guest's attorney Victor Johnson said that the board's actions violated Guest's due process and equal protection rights. He asks the court to declare as void actions against his client on Oct. 12 of last year and Jan. 11 of this year. The attorney also says Guest should be awarded a manufactured home or building permit for the first lot in his proposed development.
"Mr. Guest's interests in his property are jeopardized...based on the unconstitutional actions taken against (him)," Johnson wrote in the suit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Athens.
County attorney John McArthur said Tuesday he is confident the county will prove its case in court.
"I intend to defend this vigorously and expect the county to prevail," said McArthur.
Last year, county zoning administrator Lee Sutton approved Guest's plans for the development, saying the developer had met all county guidelines related to the project.
But the commissioners voted last Oct. 11 to overturn Sutton's approval after a number of neighborhood residents complained about Guest's plans.
Opponents of the development maintained that Guest's proposed lots are overly long and narrow. They said the new homes would hurt wetlands in the area, cause overcrowding and traffic problems, while lowering property values for surrounding homes.
Hearing reports that Guest had begun work on the development against the wishes of the board, the commissioners agreed on Jan. 11 to take "legal action" to stop Guest. They also voted to restrict lots in the county from being "six times longer than wide."
Johnson maintains his client should have been notified and a public hearing scheduled before the board's October vote to overturn Sutton's approval of Guest's plans. Failure to do so violated Guest's due process rights, the attorney said.
Likewise, Johnson maintains that the commissioners' action on regulating lot proportions was against the equal protection rights of all citizens in Madison County. He contended that any vote on a zoning restriction should - by law - follow a public hearing. No hearing was held before the board approved the lot ratio restriction.

Commissioners act on jail project
Madison County leaders took the first steps toward constructing a new jail Monday. However, they cautioned that the proposed 60-bed prison will only be a temporary solution to inmate overcrowding problems in the county.
The Madison County Board of Commissioners agreed to seek proposals from businesses interested in providing architectural design and construction management for a new jail.
Leaders plan to spend about $3 million on the construction project, with $2.3 million coming from a sales tax approved 18 months ago by county voters.
While the sales tax money won't cover the entire expense, commission chairman Wesley Nash said he doesn't expect taxes to be increased to fund the construction.
But he warned that the commissioners may have to consider such a move down the road to cover the estimated $500,000 yearly operational costs of the jail.
The proposed county jail includes an initial layout of 30 two-person cells. The facility will include approximately 4,000 square feet of administrative space for the sheriff's department staff and about 1,200 square feet for the county's E-911 center. The county also plans kitchen and laundry facilities for the jail.
The prison, which will be built in line with Georgia jail standards, will be a "pod" or "pie" shaped structure that will allow for future expansions of up to 300 percent, according to Nash, who likened the long-term construction to putting in a few pieces of pie at a time.
"This (the 60-bed jail) is an affordable way to get going," said Nash.
Madison County sheriff Clayton Lowe stressed that a 60-bed jail won't completely solve jail overcrowding in the county.
"I think the people of Madison County ought to know that if we build 30 two-man cells, that won't be the end of jail problems," said Lowe. "A 60-bed jail won't suffice into the future. It will be full or close to full once it's built."
No site for the jail has been selected, though the county jail committee recommended putting the prison in a wooded area across from the recreation department on Hwy. 98. Nash sought a state

Hwy. 72 road-widening project in full swing
All rights of way have been purchased and contracts let on the first three segments of the Hwy. 72 widening project, according to Georgia Department of Transportation officials.
Work on the Clarke County segment, running from Hwy. 29 to the Madison County line, is 27 percent completed, according to Russell R. McMurry, Assistant Area Engineer for the Athens DOT office. Work on this section of highway is scheduled to be completed in the fall of the year 2000.
McMurry said that Garrett Paving is beginning to pave sections of the new roadbed, and traffic will be switched from side to side in the near future as work on adjacent lanes and the median begins.
He urged caution by motorists as the work enters this more dangerous phase.
Work on two Hwy. 72 projects in Madison County has begun, according to Teri Pope, information officer for the Gainesville office of the Georgia Department of Transportation. These projects, running from the Clarke County line to Colbert-Danielsville Road, and from Colbert Danielsville Road to 1,000 feet east of the intersection with Hwy. 172, are under the management of district engineer Sandy Moore of DOT's Carnesville office.
Relocation of utilities and clearing of the right of way is rapidly advancing on both projects, Pope said. She lists the completion date for both projects as July 2002. Grading and roadbed work will begin as soon as utilities have been relocated.
Pope released estimated costs for the rebuilding of Hwy. 72 through Madison County. She lists the cost of the Hull to Colbert segment as $9.5 million and the Colbert to Hwy. 172 leg as $3.9 million.
The next segment to be built will run from Hwy. 172 to the Comer city limits. The project is under preliminary engineering and the exact location of the roadbed has not yet been determined. Pope said that right of way purchases will begin in fiscal 2002 with construction beginning in 2003. She estimated the cost of this project to be $6.4 million.
The final project to complete the widening of Hwy. 72, from Comer to just east of Broad River, is currently listed as a long-range project. DOT officials describe long- range planning as any project expected to be undertaken beyond six years in the future. Preliminary engineering is continuing for this final segment of Hwy. 72 with plans to start acquiring right of way in fiscal year 2002.
Current estimates are that the final segment of Hwy. 72 will cost $31,011,000. The combined cost of rebuilding Hwy. 72 in Madison County will exceed $50 million. Funding and authorization for the project come from the Governor's Highway Improvement Program.

The Madison County Journal - Danielsville, Georgia
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