IN HOT WATER 

Lakeland sues VanderSchaaf for development fees.

The city of Lakeland wants Shelby County commissioner and developer Clair VanderSchaaf to pay up.

In a complaint filed Thursday, April 4th, attorneys for Lakeland claim that VanderSchaaf personally, and in conjunction with several development companies he operates, owes the city $185,270.68 plus interest and attorneys' fees.

"It's pretty cut-and-dried," says Bob Ledyard, the attorney who filed the complaint for Lakeland. "These are fees that Lakeland fronted for development and that VanderSchaaf is contractually bound to pay. I don't know why he hasn't paid yet."

But VanderSchaaf says he hasn't paid Lakeland because he doesn't owe them anything.

"They have no substantiating documents. They're not legitimate fees or bills," says VanderSchaaf. "We've paid all of our fees there like we do with any development."

The issue, according to Lakeland's complaint, is that VanderSchaaf incurred debt when developing four residential neighborhoods in Lakeland. Each of the neighborhoods -- Plantation Hills, Fairway Meadows, Woodland Park, and Paradise Lake -- required water, sewer, and roadway infrastructure to be installed, and Lakeland says that VanderSchaaf agreed to reimburse the city for these up-front costs. In addition, the complaint alleges that VanderSchaaf also "agrees to pay the cost of all engineering, inspection, and laboratory cost[s] incidental to the construction of subdivision streets" and "water service in or to the subdivision."

VanderSchaaf disagrees.

"They had an engineer that went wild with his billing, and they're just looking to collect money from wherever they can get it," he says.

On July 14, 1997, Maurice Azain Jr., the city manager of Lakeland, sent an itemized invoice to VanderSchaaf Development seeking reimbursement for the city's work. On August 24, 1998, James Marco Callahan, responding on VanderSchaaf's behalf, sent a letter to Azain. Callahan's letter offers to donate 11 acres to the city in exchange for dismissing the debt.

VanderSchaaf says that Lakeland did not accept the land donation and that he did not intend for the land gift to be in lieu of payment.

"I was offering park land in several locations just to be a good citizen," says VanderSchaaf. "But since they were claiming that I owed them for these fees, I just said, 'Well, while you're at it ... .'"

He says that he was served with the complaint last week and has not yet spoken with his attorney. By law, VanderSchaaf has 30 days in which to file a response.


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