Richmond Hill's city council held a closed meeting on Thursday to discuss potential litigation against the city regarding rezoning of the proposed Colonial Marsh subdivision.
City officials declined to comment based on the advice of city attorney Ray Smith.
But plaintiff and Colonial Marsh developer Ellis Skinner said the legal matter is not an unfriendly one toward the city, but rather a procedure that should result in his tract of land that he hopes to build Colonial Marsh on being given a zoning classification.
"The main thing right now is that the property has no zoning classification whatsoever," Skinner said. "I’m mainly just trying to get the proper zoning, whatever that entails, but I don’t foresee it ending up in a legal battle. I wouldn’t classify this as the everyday definition of a ‘lawsuit’; it’s a little bit different when you’re dealing with a municipality. The main thing I’m doing is preserving my rights to protect my property rights."
City officials acknowledge that Skinner’s 187-acre tract, which he recently purchased from Rayonier, is currently unzoned, and express that there are plans to zone it. Discussion is ongoing to see what that classification will be.
The Colonial Marsh project has been surrounded in controversy due to council members and a group of residents at neighboring Sterling Creek subdivision saying that the density of the project will result in dangerous traffic concerns at the proposed entranceway on Harris Trail Road.
Skinner has been shot down three times by council to get zoning that would enable him to proceed with the design of the subdivision. Each new proposal has entailed him altering the plans to decrease the density of the proposed subdivision, but his alterations were apparently not enough to ease the concerns of the opposition.
Based on land laws regarding zoning, Skinner’s lawyers are now pointing out to the city that they must give some type of classification to the newly acquired tract.
"It’s never been our intention to sue the city," said Skinner. "The law dictates that I have to either forget it or do some type of action. My back’s up against the wall with it. Everything will hopefully be worked out amicably."
In addition, Skinner has also come up with another variation of the land plan that he believes will combat the traffic concerns.
"The main thing that we’ve come up is zoning part of it for 55 and older retirement community," Skinner said. "Retirement folks leave at different times of the day. They’re not in the everyday rat race with schools and going to work and that type of thing. There would many benefits to this such as the fact that retired people add to the community as far as tax dollars, and are not a burden on the school system as they do not have young children."
Skinner said there are frustrations based on the fact that he truly believes that his proposed Colonial Marsh subdivision is "the highest and best use for this property would be residential. The alternatives are industrial or commercial or something like that. If their (those opposing the project) main concern is traffic, these other land use classifications would certainly not ease this problem. And growing pine trees is certainly not the best use for the city either."
Skinner said that opposition to Colonial Marsh has decreased greatly since the original proposal, and is hopeful that his new incarnation will be a comfortable fit for everyone.
"The whole picture needs to be looked at," Skinner said. "When we first started this, we had standing room only (in opposition) at the P&Z Board. It went down to about 70, and then we went down to about 50. There were about 30 at this last one. I never expected to get 100 percent approval on this. It’s just the nature of the business. It doesn’t matter where you go or whatever municipality you’re at, you’re going to have opposition. Everybody likes to move into a desirable area, but nobody wants it in their backyard. The total definition of zoning is the highest and best use for the property, and I think I’ve got a very good argument."