A judge this week found the owners of Robin Hood Woods Campground, David and Barbara Galvin, in contempt of court and fined them $25,000 and ordered them to begin construction of the subdivision in dispute.
The Galvins are expected to appeal before the July 8 deadline.
Kimberly G. Koester, the Chief Judge of Effingham County, addressed the length of the case, which started in 2005.
"This court has tried to get sides to reach an agreement," Koester said. "Every time we get close to or directing to build, there is a new motion filed or new zoning laws."
As she prepared to issue her decision, she said, "The County initiated this and there has been a change in the board over the years. The County doesn't want to build the subdivision. I understand that. The current board has taken that stand. An order was issued. The Galvins have refused to comply. Today, I'm asked to take steps."
Officially, the Galvins were found in "indirect civil contempt of court for failing to comply with the court's order to construct the subdivision pursuant to its previous rulings. The defendants are sentenced as follows: 1-A fine of $25,000 to be held by the clerk of the court until further order of the court. 2- Defendant's are to pay attorney fees of the Goodwins and Curls for the period of March 19, 2019 to Tuesday's hearing (June 4, 2019); 3-Purge order: comply with construction of subdivision pursuant to its 2008 order as modified, beginning on July 8, 2019 and/or be fined $100 a day until construction begins; 4- Court reserves ruling on contempt of the County, until compliance of the defendants, the Galvins. Attorney Nohren is to file an affidavit of attorney fees and the clerk is to notify the court upon receipt."
The Goodwins and Curls own and reside in the two homes built as "spec homes" for the proposed subdivision, along Route 16 east of Shelbyville. The subdivision was never developed. The Galvins bought the land that was to be a subdivision from the original developers. They also own and operate Robin Hood Woods Resort & Campground adjacent to the area in dispute.
On Sept. 8, 2005, a complaint was filed against the Galvins by Shelbyville Township Road District for zoning violations. Shelby County joined in the suit. The case has been in the courts ever since. The Goodwins and Curls joined in the case in 2014 as intervenors, asking the court to enforce its own rulings.
On Tuesday, the attorney for the Curls and Goodwins, Liz Nohren, asked the court to vacate an earlier order because she believes the defendants are not going to comply anyway. "Under no circumstances are the Galvins going to construct the subdivision," Nohren said. "The County will not enforce the zoning regulations on the Galvins."
Nohren said the only way to construct the subdivision is to enforce the court order from 2008 (with its modifications) that was upheld on appeal.
"If the Galvins refuse you can enter a second sanction against them," Nohren said. "Then move to make the County construct the subdivision. We need to keep our eye on the ball. The goal is to have the subdivision constructed. The Galvins ask to be sanctioned, but they don't even show up."
The Galvins' attorney, John L. Barger, argued the intervenors do not have standing and "we need to have a resolution in this case."
Judge Koester asked Mr. Barger where the Galvins were?
"I am surprised and shocked at the Galvins not showing up," Judge Koester said.
Mr. Barger said he informed them of the hearing, but "I did not ask them to appear."
The attorney for Shelby County, Effingham State's Attorney Brian Kibler, said the county is caught in the middle.
"The seating arrangement is an illustration of what is going on," Kibler said. "I'm in the middle. I've said for four or five, we don't want to build the subdivision."
Kibler offered his solution to the nearly 15 year-old case.
"Ms. Nohren wants something done," Kibler said. "A perfect solution would be to find them (Galvins) in contempt, fine them say $25,000, which some of that would go to the county I presume, and I can go back to my clients and say I have (roughly) half the money for us to build the subdivision according to the 2017 plat. Then, he (the Galvins' attorney) can appeal. The County can lay the rock. I have no other ideas to get out of it after 15 years."
Judge Koester asked Robin Robertson, the Shelbyville Township Highway Commissioner, to comment.
"The township would love to have a subdivision for more revenue," Robertson said. "My position is I want to see it built."
"Mr. Robertson is not a Shelbyville Township trustee," Mr. Kibler countered. "I believe he has a different perspective than the trustees do and what should happen."
The Shelbyville Township trustees have said publicly that they are not a part of this case and they will abide by the court's decision either way. However, as Shelbyville Township Highway Commissioner, Mr. Robertson has remained as an interested party.
The area in question is in Shelbyville Township. The case was originally filed by E. Chris Eberspacher, the township attorney at the time. The plaintiff in this 2005 case is still listed as Shelbyville Township Road District. Shelby County also joined as plaintiffs in 2006, but in 2016 filed a motion for voluntary dismissal, to no avail. It was denied.