Brookhaven order to pay millions over mishandled development deal

A jury has ordered the city of Brookhaven to pay more than $6 million in damages for how the mayor and city manager handled a development project that started in 2017.

Had things worked out the way Atlanta-based Ardent companies wanted, the homes near Buford Highway and Bramblewood Drive wouldn't be there today. They'd be in the process of becoming more than 200 townhomes on the 17-acre plot of land.

The developer's attorney said there's a reason why the saying goes "you can't sue City Hall," but he hopes this case will make people in powerful positions act cautiously.

First, Ardent had to get all 32 homes in the area under contract, then apply for rezoning and finally ask the city to abandon a road that got in the way. Somewhere in the process, Ardent attorney Simon Bloom said, the city become interested in some of that land for a police station.

"'We need property for a police station,'" he said the city told him. "As a result, we will pay 5% over the contract price for those six months and if you don't, we'll take it with eminent domain."

Ardent filed suit against the city in 2018 for obstruction of their efforts to redevelop this area.

"Have a rezoning application in the works, an abandonment application in the works, and now here's the public authority becoming a competitor," he said.

The first week of March of this year, a DeKalb County jury ordered Brookhaven's mayor and the city manager to pay more than $6 million worth of damages for what they considered, stalling the plan among other injustices.

"We almost had a deal. But they said we have to get a ‘claw back.’ Their term, not mine," Simon said. "'If you sell your project within four years... you have to give us 50% of the profits."

"They're what's called jointly and severely liable, which means each of those defendants -- city, mayor, city manager -- are 100% liable for the damages," Bloom explained.

"Think about the irony of a mayor and council having to make a decision about whether to use city money to pay for a judgement against some of their own," he said.

A Brookhaven spokesperson told FOX 5:

"The city of Brookhaven appreciates the court and the jury for its service, but disagrees with the verdict. The city is considering its options at this time, including whether to appeal."