Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 23, 2014

GA Supreme Court Holds Ordinance that Purported to Incorporate Non-Existent Maps was Void from Its Enactment

East Georgia Land and Development Company, LLC sued Newton County and several of its officers for a writ of mandamus, contending that a zoning ordinance adopted by the County on May 21, 1985 was invalid.  The zoning ordinance at issue referred to—and purported to incorporate by reference—a set of maps identified in the ordinance as the “Official Zoning District Maps for Newton County.”  These maps were an integral part of the zoning ordinance. The ordinance identifies the lands to which its various zoning classifications apply only by reference to the maps, and without the maps, the zoning ordinance would be too indefinite and vague to satisfy the requirements of due process.  The only such maps that appeared in the record, however, were adopted by the County on July 2, 1985, and nothing in the record showed that those maps even were in existence on May 21, 1985, when the County enacted the zoning ordinance.  The trial court found that the zoning ordinance is invalid, and awarded summary judgment to East Georgia.  The County then appealed.

The court first discussed that for an ordinance to properly incorporate a map or other document by record, four criteria must be satisfied: (1) the document must be sufficiently identified so that there is no uncertainty as to what was adopted; (2) the document must be made a public record; (3) it must be accessible to members of the public who are, or may be, affected by it; and (4) the adopting resolution must give notice of this accessibility.  However, a map not yet in existence cannot have been “made a public record” and was not “accessible to members of the public who are, or may be, affected by it.”  The court therefore adhered to the general rule that void ordinances cannot be amended, and that an ordinance passed as an amendment to a previous ordinance, which never took effect, is invalid; a void ordinance cannot be vitalized by amendment, and reenactment is necessary to validate that intended to be enacted by it.  Accordingly the court affirmed the trial court’s holding that the ordinance was invalid.

Newton County v East Georgia Land and Development Company, 2014 WL 5313949 (GA 10/20/2014)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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