Glynn County may be the target of legal action after the Islands Planning Commission denied a preliminary plat for a subdivision at the Sinclair Tract on St. Simons Island on Tuesday.
The subdivision, as proposed, would have put 245 lots on roughly 128 acres, however, Ocie Vest, agent for the applicant, said they would only be actually building around one half of that due a conservation easement over nearly 60 acres of the property.
Jason Tate, with Roberts Tate law firm on St. Simons Island, sent a letter to county attorneys Tuesday before the planning commission’s meeting notifying the county they may challenge the constitutionality of the planning commission’s denial and the county’s zoning ordinances and subdivision regulations.
The letter claims county ordinances may give the IPC the authority to deny something at its discretion, but such an action also violates the developer’s right to due process.
The letter also states that the IPC’s new public comment policy, which allows for public comment on any item aside from administrative decisions, may also violate developers’ due process rights. They say members of the public speaking during this period could offer up information for evidence for the commission to consider that is outside of the criteria necessary for compliance.
“(The applicant) provides this notice with an abundance of caution and stands prepared to enforce its legal rights,” the letter reads.
The planning commission voted to deny the preliminary plat on the basis that it failed to comply with section 703 of the Glynn County Subdivision Regulations, which lays out the requirements of a preliminary plat.
Among the reasons were that they felt the applicant hadn’t satisfactorily answered why he was asking for 245 lots to be approved if he was only going to build half, they needed a clearer picture of how it would affect the island and that he had not provided approval from the Army Corps of Engineers in relation to the wetlands on the property, none of which are necessary for a preliminary plat according to county staff.
One of the other major factors was that the proposed subdivision did not at the time have access to the sewer system.
County planning and zoning staff present at the Tuesday meeting maintained the application was compliant in all other areas, and that the utility said capacity would be available soon.
Sewer access is currently not being allowed on parts of St. Simons Island, including much of the north end, where the subdivision was proposed off of Lawrence Road, but the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission sent a letter to the Community Development Department saying it expected to have alleviated the issue by July 1.
At the same meeting, two other items on the IPC’s agenda, a single-family home being turned into a restaurant and a six-unit condo, were approved despite also not having access to the sewer system until at least Sept. 8.
Planning commissioner Stan Humphries went further, however, and called for a study to determine what the impact on traffic would be.
“In order for us to properly consider this application the county needs to provide the Islands Planning Commission with an independent, professional analysis of the impact of the proposed development on the streets and roads of St. Simons Island,” Humphries said.
Humphries also said the analysis should include the projected 2,500 daily trips from the proposed subdivision, along with projected daily trips from other approved projects that are not yet developed, existing traffic on the island and a potential emergency evacuation of the islands.
However, such an in-depth analysis isn’t required for preliminary plat approval. Tate’s letter said considering factors outside those required for compliance is also in violation of his client’s right to due process.
The IPC has run into issues like this before. Teramore Development, the developer that was planning on building a proposed Dollar General on St. Simons Island, filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus against the county and the IPC after the planning commission denied its site plan. Had it been granted, the writ would have forced the IPC to approve the site plan.
While there were some unresolved issues with the site plan, Teramore argued it was in compliance and that the IPC had no authority to make subjective judgements on an application.
Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley didn’t see it that way, saying the Glynn County zoning ordinance allows the IPC to decide if a site plan is adequate, and not merely compliant, which county staff determines.
The requirements of adequacy are not given in the zoning ordinance.
Kelley wrote in his decision that the IPC “is an initial gatekeeper charged with conducting the first stage of review for site plan applications to ensure compliance,” and “if compliant, the application proceeds to the IPC for review under different criteria.”
However, Kelley was making a decision based on the protocols for site plan approval, not preliminary plat approval. Subdivision plat approval is subject to different regulations, and as such the same discretionary authority.
Senior Assistant County Attorney Will Worley declined to comment on the matter.