Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

July 12, 2013

Guardian Bank sues Hahira

Legal action launched over water/sewer tap moratorium

HAHIRA — In a lawsuit that claims “An actual and bona fide controversy exists,” Guardian Bank has filed suit against the city of Hahira.

The heart of the controversy concerns a moratorium that the council passed in their April meeting. The moratorium was issued on all water/sewer taps in the Lawson Farms subdivision which has suffered drainage problems in recent months.

Foxborough Development Corporation owns and has been developing Lawson Farms, a development which it financed with Guardian Bank. As a result, Guardian has a  security interest in the eight remaining unsold lots in Lawson Farms, out of the 34 existing lots.

The suit claims that the City was notified of the potential for a drainage problem last August but did not act on it, continuing to collect tap and sewer fees in the meantime. The suit also claims that Hahira city officials have admitted that the moratorium was an attempt to gain leverage on Guardian in the hopes that Guardian would fix and repair the drainage problem in Lawson Farms. The lawsuit defines this as “malice,” claiming that the council knew the moratorium “would have a substantial, negative financial impact” on Guardian.

Declaring the moratorium unconstitutional, the lawsuit seeks its

elimination, stating “the City, by passage of this unlawful Moratorium has substantially interfered with Plaintiffs’ property interests in a manner that constitutes a taking of private property without just compensation.”

Guardian is also seeking “just compensation for the taking of their property interest in an amount which shall be proven at trial” and “attorneys’ fees and costs associated with the bringing this action.”

“We’re a little disappointed with Hahira,” said Ashley Paulk, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Guardian Bank. “We’ve actually helped them build up their tax base up there...Over the years, we’ve encouraged builders to be up there.”

According to Paulk, Guardian attempted to sit down with council members to talk things out, but were told by one member that they would be tied up forever.

“That was the gist of it, that they were going to keep the moratorium on those lots...We’re morally and legally obligated to protect our clients and our stockholders. We didn’t have an alternative course of action....We’re looking for monetary damages. The lots were not sold and we’ve lost interest on the money that would have come to us. And we’re going to have legal fees, which we wouldn’t have if they had sat down with us.”

Despite the lawsuit, Paulk says that he thinks Guardian would still be open to a settlement out of court, keeping in mind the monetary damages they’re seeking.

Repeated attempts were made through both phone and email to contact James Thagard, the attorney representing the City of Hahira in this suit, but The Times was unable to reach him. Hahira officials refused to comment and Hahira City attorney Rob Plumb had a conflict of interest and could not represent the city in this matter.

At the Hahira City Council meeting on Thursday night, the council authorized City Manager Jonathan Sumter to lift the moratorium and solicit bids to repair the drainage problems in Lawson Farms, pending the resolution of the current litagation.

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