Judge upholds $3.5 million verdict against Alabaster, city appealing

Published 10:16 am Wednesday, August 29, 2018

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

BIRMINGHAM – A U.S. District Court judge has upheld a more than $3 million verdict against the city of Alabaster originally handed down against the city in December 2017 in a lawsuit filed by the South Grande View development company. City leaders said they plan to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Appellate Court.

On Aug. 24, Judge Madeline Haikala entered a final judgment in the U.S. District Court case, upholding the original $3 million judgment handed down in the development company’s favor against the city in 2017, and $472,181 in interest, bringing the total judgment amount to about $3.5 million.

A jury ruled in favor of the development company on Dec. 1 after a four-day trial at the Hugo Black Courthouse in Birmingham, which the city appealed in District Court.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in 2012, South Grande View claimed the Alabaster City Council cost the company “potentially millions of dollars in lost profits” when it adopted a new zoning ordinance during its Dec. 5, 2011 meeting.

According to a complaint filed in court by South Grande View Development, the company “invested millions of dollars developing” property off Butler Road, including the Grande View Estates subdivision.

According to Alabaster City Council minutes, the council voted unanimously during its Dec. 5, 2011, meeting to rezone the undeveloped 130 acres from R-7 town home and R-4 garden home districts to R-2 single-family residential district.

In its complaint, South Grande View Development claimed the R-2 zoning allowed less dense development than the company had planned for on the property, and claimed several undeveloped lots on the property were under contract with a builder when the city voted to rezone the property.

After the rezoning, the company claimed banks holding mortgages on the company’s properties “declared themselves to be insecure and proceeded with foreclosure” on multiple pieces of the company’s properties.

The company claimed it did not learn of the city’s decision to rezone the 130 acres until “after the time for appeal to the Circuit Court for Shelby County had expired.”

In its ruling, the jury determined South Grande View proved “that the city of Alabaster’s December 5, 2011, rezoning constituted a regulatory taking of SGV’s property in sector 16 of the Grande View Estates development.”

The jury ruled the property had a market value of about $3.5 million before the rezoning, and ruled the property had a market value of $500,000 after the rezoning. South Grande View’s attorney Jim Pino previously called the jury’s ruling a “clear victory for property rights in Alabama.”

Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon said the city is hoping to have Haikala’s final judgment overturned in Appellate Court.

“The city is going to exercise its right to appeal this to Appellate Court,” Handlon said during an Aug. 29 interview. “We hope the Appellate Court will have a better grasp on the law.”