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Lanark Dollar General fight heads to court

David Adlerstein
dadlerstein@starfl.com
The Apalach Times

The owners of a roughly six-acre parcel of land in Lanark Village that county commissioners last month denied them the right to build a dollar store on, are turning to the courts to overturn that decision.

In an April 2 filing by their Walton County attorney Mark Davis, Tim and Christina Saunders are asking Circuit Judge Charles Dodson to quash the county’s 4-1 vote on March 3 not to rezone the land, just east of the long-shuttered Putnal Lanark Station, from single family residential to commercial.

Had the commissioners approved the rezoning, the Saunders planned to construct a 1,600-square foot Dollar General on 4.63 acres of the property, facing the Gulf of Mexico, with all entry and exit to the parking in front coming off of Highway 98.

The Saunders’ petition is seeking an injunction to require the county to rezone the property, arguing the county’s decision “was not supported by competent financial evidence in the record.

“(The commissioners) deviated from the essential requirements of law by making an arbitrary, capricious and political decision, not by the facts or the law,” reads the motion.

“The purpose of a quasi-judicial public hearing is not to provide (commissioners) with an opportunity to poll the neighborhood to see which way the political winds blow,” it reads. “The purpose of a public hearing is provided so that the parties, and those opposed to the application, can present witnesses and other evidence from which (commissioners) may make a reasoned decision consistent with the (comprehensive plan and the land development code).

“In order to withstand judicial scrutiny, the (commissioners’) decision must be based upon facts which been established, not upon the wishes of persons who appear opposing the application,” reads the motion. “A review of the record in the instant case clearly shows (commissioners) failed to adhere to the essential requirements of law and simply made an arbitrary, capricious, political decision based on the unsworn non-expert opinion of residents in the neighborhood.”

Neither Davis or County Attorney Michael Shuler would comment on the pending suit.

In the motion, Davis argues that the testimony of land use planner Allara Mills Gutcher, project engineer Joseph Alday and Chris West, general counsel at Teramore Development, LLC, the project’s developer, all backed up a finding of why the rezoning should have been approved.

Gutcher’s report “details that the future land use objectives and land use change in the rezoning request were consistent with the (comprehensive plan), including traffic circulation policies, sprawl prevention policies, initial development policies, and buffering policies,” reads the motion.

“The report also detailed that there was no definition of compatibility in either the (land development code or the comprehensive plan) and thus, the Florida statutory definition of compatibility should be used in making a determination regarding whether or not this exchange was compatible with the surrounding parcel uses,” it says.

The motion goes on to say that Gutcher refuted at least one neighbor’s opinion that the rezoning was "spot zoning." It says Gutcher testified that since there was a commercial designation for an adjacent parcel, at the former Putnal Lanark Station to the west of the subject parcel, she would not consider this request spot zoning.

“She further testified that the use would be compatible with adjoining uses per the statutory definition of compatibility and would meet the statutory definition of compatibility,” it reads.