What’s at Stake in Our Fight to Deny the Clifton Ridge Subdivision?
A Special Task Force working with the
Druid Hills Civic Association
Virtually everyone in Druid Hills knows our neighborhood is in a contentious fight with lawyer/developer Robert Buckler over his proposed “Clifton Ridge” subdivision on Clifton Road, which consists of three contiguous lots near the intersection of Clifton and Oxford. And many neighbors understand this fight goes well beyond three lots – it affects all of DeKalb county and all of Georgia, as you’ll see.
Did you realize this battle is so important it’s been going on since 2003? Buckler actually bought the property in February 2004 while it was in litigation filed by its former owners after their failed attempt to subdivide it. There have been a dozen lawsuits to date (seven filed by the developer following multiple failed attempts to subdivide and two filed by DeKalb County or its Commissioners).
Throughout this, our Druid Hills Civic Association has steadfastly fought to keep Druid Hills what it was originally designed to be: a beautiful residential neighborhood with spacious single-home lots – not seven houses crowded around a cul-de-sac which chops up three large lots whose land lines were laid out almost one hundred years ago.
In fact, Druid Hills has such a unique character it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Our entire neighborhood is also within a Historic Preservation District, which is protected from excessive development by Georgia law. That’s why DeKalb county has had a Historic Preservation Commission since 1996 – to protect us from actions that would destroy the of character Druid Hills.
In 2011, the Threat Got Serious – and Then Got Even Worse
After being denied nearly a dozen times by the Historic Preservation Commission and thereafter by the courts, the developer in April 2011 did an end-run around the historic preservation legal process by applying directly to the DeKalb Planning Commission and obtained a 4-3 vote of approval for his seven lot cul-de-sac subdivision without a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission.
The DHCA and Druid Hills residents appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to DeKalb County Superior Court, part of which remains pending there and part of which has been appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Subsequently, in December 2012, the DeKalb County administration (then headed by Burrell Ellis) issued a Land Development Permit (LDP) which allowed the developer to move forward with his construction plans. Again, this action by DeKalb County was taken without the developer having the required Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission for the subdivision.
The DHCA and Druid Hills residents appealed the issuance of the LDP to the Zoning Board of Appeals and, following the denial by the Zoning Board of Appeals on February 13, 2013, appealed that decision to DeKalb County Superior Court. Our commissioners, Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader were right by our side. They have never wavered in their outspoken opposition to Clifton Ridge, and their leadership has been a tremendous asset in our fight.
While the above two appeals moved forward, on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, tree-cutters were turned loose by the developer on the Clifton Ridge site. Hearing chain saws, neighbors gathered and protested at the site – but the trees kept coming down. DHCA’s legal team went into immediate action. They got an emergency hearing before a county judge, who granted a 30-day temporary restraining order (TRO) the afternoon of Jan. 18, 2013. The TRO was later extended and remained in place until May 9, 2013.
An Unfavorable Ruling in May 2013 Ends the TRO – and the Destruction Resumes While the Ruling is Appealed to Georgia Court of Appeals
On May 9, 2013, without getting to the underlying merits of our case, a DeKalb Superior Court judge ruled in the developer’s favor on a technical ground raised by the developer regarding one portion of one of our two lawsuits.
This ruling has been appealed to and will be heard by the Georgia Court of Appeals. But it effectively ended the TRO which had been in place; that’s why you’ve seen the site scraped nearly clean of hardwoods – and everything else. An entire hillside is being graded in preparation for the dead-end road. The LDP (again issued without the Certificate of Appropriateness required by law) allows the developer to put in sewer and utility lines, as well as sidewalks.
But the developer does not have approval to build even one house. And, because our legal team has gotten the Georgia Court of Appeals to hear our appeal of the portion of the lawsuit the judge dismissed in May 2013, the battle is far from over.
On July 10, 2014, the Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled unanimously in favor of our case — which is extremely good news!
One of our attorneys wrote this brief overview: “In effect the court said our appeal of the planning commission decision should not have been dismissed, [since] the issue of standing to contest the decision could not be raised for the first time in superior court. The case is thus remanded [sent back] to the trial court for disposition, and standing may not be considered by the court. We are back to the trial court, but in much better stead.”
Read about the decision: CR Appeal Decision
Plus, we have the separate lawsuit challenging the LDP issuance which remains pending. The developer has also challenged this action on technical grounds. So despite much of the physical destruction by the developer we’ve all witnessed at the Clifton Ridge site, our legal team believes strongly in the merits of our actions, which have not yet been addressed by the trial court.
However, it will take months, if not a year or more, for all this to play out in various courts. Complicated civil lawsuits like ours are marathons, not sprints. It is important to maintain the same high level of vigilance, courage and commitment our neighborhood has demonstrated to date in order to stay in this race – one that is about nothing less than preserving the physical integrity of where we live.
Why are We Fighting Such a Long, Costly Battle to Deny Clifton Ridge?
The answer is as simple as it is crucial: this isn’t only about one parcel of land on Clifton Road – it’s about every lot in Druid Hills, including the two on either side of your property and those across the street.
Because if one developer can evade the protection provided by our Historic Preservation Commission against overly dense development, then what Buckler is attempting to do with Clifton Ridge will become a blueprint for how other developers can come into our neighborhood to assemble existing long-established lots, slice them into smaller parcels, punch in dead-end access roads, and shoehorn McMansions into the newly denuded subdivisions.
Protecting the spaciously laid-out and historically significant single-home/single-lot nature of Druid Hills is what this fight is all about. With your unwavering support, we’re not only going to keep pressing forward for what is clearly right – we’re going to finally prevail.
We need funds for our legal efforts; please donate now.
To give by check, make out to Druid Hills Civic Association; on the memo line, write: Deny Clifton Ridge Legal Fund. Mail to: Druid Hills Civic Association, P.O. Box 363, Decatur, GA 30031.
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