By Joel Hall
Three residents living adjacent to the Lake Spivey Golf Course have accused the Clayton County Board of Commissioners of ignoring zoning ordinances, and giving a developer permission to build on the course without following the proper channels.
On Feb. 4, the neighbors will defend their claim before Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah C. Benefield.
A trio of residents -- Edie Lee, Karen Cook, and William Ihringer -- along with two other homeowners, will lose their golf course frontage if a proposed subdivision is built. The three are seeking a cease-and-desist order on all construction.
In addition to halting the development, the residents want a reversal of the BOC's approval of a conservation easement design plan allowing the developer -- Spivey Club LLC -- to begin work on the project. They also want to nullify all building and civil engineering permits.
Jay Byce, president of Spivey Club LLC , wants to build 128 new homes on a 40-acre section of the Lake Spivey Golf Course. He bought it last year from Joe Hamilton, owner of the Lake Spivey Golf Course.
Construction of the planned new homes will reduce the golf course from 27 to 18 holes, and block the golf course views of five properties in the surrounding subdivisions.
Lake Spivey Golf Course is 186 acres, but 40 acres will be used for the new homes. The course is zoned as agricultural and allows one house per acre. The developer, however, is seeking to build all 128 houses on 40 acres.
The suit also claims that the developers ignored the rules of building on a conservation easement. The county zoning ordinance requires that at least 25 percent of a conservation easement property to be set aside as "open space," creating a greenbelt.
The residents claim the developer is lumping the development into one spot in order to get around the conservation easement requirements.
On Feb. 22 last year, the BOC voted in favor of the development plan during a regular business session.
Simon Bloom, the lawyer representing Lee, Cook, and Ihringer, contends a conservation easement approval requires a formal rezoning process, which includes newspaper advertising, public meetings, and other due diligence.
"When a developer wants to rezone a property, there is a certain process that they have to go through," said Bloom. "The county allowed this developer to skip all of that," he said.
"Everything that the county asked us to do, we followed," counters Byce. "All we want to do is build a quality subdivision and preserve 18 holes of golf course."
Byce said the new properties are expected to retail from $300,000 to $350,000. Golf club owner Hamilton defended the development, noting it would be the "first upscale community that they have built in Clayton County since 1988."
"It's a compliment to everything that the community association is doing out here," said Hamilton. "The conservation district was a good option. I could have closed the entire golf course" and sold it to developers, he said.
Lee, who is leading the lawsuit, has been a Lake Spivey resident for 21 years. "If they went by the greenspace that they are speaking of," the development wouldn't be a problem, said Lee.
"When I bought the property, I was told that the golf course would be there in perpetuity. Building a home is not a problem, but taking away from my golf course frontage is damage to me.
"If you come to my home and see what it looked like six months ago compared to what it looks like now, you would understand why I am doing this," said Lee.
Clayton County Attorney Michael Smith directed all inquiries concerning the suit to Jack Hancock, an outside lawyer handling the litigation on behalf of the county. Hancock did not immediately return phone calls made to his legal office.
While Byce is not listed in the civil suit, the entire board of commissioners and former county zoning administrator, Dawn Dickerson, are named as defendants.