Lawyers for the Bryan County Board of Commissioners and the Homebuilders Association of Greater Savannah met in a courtroom for the first time Wednesday.
It likely won’t be the last.
After some discussion with the attorneys, Atlantic Judicial Circuit Judge Robert Russell set a May 10 hearing date in Pembroke regarding the homebuilders’ lawsuit against Bryan County over its recently passed impact fees and interim development ordinance.
If there was a winner in round one, it was Bryan County after Russell declined to issue a temporary restraining order that would ban the county from imposing impact fees in South Bryan or enforcing the ordinance in the meantime.
The restraining order was asked for by the HBA’s attorney, William Glass - who said his clients could suffer “irreparable harm” if the impact fees went ahead.
Russell, who said he didn’t know enough about the issues involved to render a decision, said no.
I’ll pass on that,” Russell said, telling Glass he’ll “let everything stay like it is,” until the May 10 hearing.
The impact fees, which average about $3,000 for new homes and much more for businesses, took effect April 1, and Glass told Russell his clients will suffer irreparable harm if the fees are collected.
Glass said the interim development ordinance, which bans vinyl siding and requires certain design standards, is unconstitutional because it goes beyond health and safety standards.
The group sued Bryan County on Feb. 7, and also supported a statewide effort by homebuilders and real estate groups to get legislators in the General Assembly to pass HB 302, a bill limiting local government’s ability to enact such ordinances.
That bill didn’t make it to the floor during the 2019 legislative session. It was widely opposed by local governments and groups such as the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and Georgia Municipal Association.
The county’s lead attorney, Frank Jenkins of Cartersville, told Russell the courtroom wasn’t the place to undo “the legislative will” of commissioners, who’ve said overturning such ordinances through the courts or by legislation would remove the ability of local government, and voters, to decide local issues for themselves.
The county’s answer to the homebuilders’ association lawsuit is more than 30 pages, much of it denials to allegations in the homebuilders’ suit.
A number of area and local developers were on hand for Wednesday's hearing, as were several county officials.
Bryan County officials have discussed impact fees for more than a decade. The county has long been one of the fastest growing in the U.S., according to various estimates. Barring a change of schedule, the second hearing on the will begin at 9 a.m. in the Bryan County Courthouse. Related coverage on the way: North Bryan residents met March 28 in Hendrix Park for a county-facilitated discussion on a unified development ordinance.
See a story on that and a more in-depth look at the lawsuits at the heart of the dispute between Bryan County and area home builders coming up.