Liberty Township's 500,000-square-foot floating cap on commercial development in Wedgewood Commerce Center denied the civil rights of the Wedgewood Limited Partnership developers, a federal judge ruled Sept. 25.

Liberty Township's 500,000-square-foot floating cap on commercial development in Wedgewood Commerce Center denied the civil rights of the Wedgewood Limited Partnership developers, a federal judge ruled Sept. 25.

Liberty used the cap as a reason to deny a zoning permit to a planned Walmart store.

The court did not order the township to issue a zoning permit. Wedgewood president Charlie Ruma this week said he wants to sell the store site.

Wedgewood's attorneys said the ruling means Wedgewood will seek damages from Liberty Township and a citizens group that joined the suit in 2004. The damages are expected to exceed $1-million, one attorney said.

Liberty denied Wedgewood a zoning permit in 2004, saying a Walmart would violate a 500,000-square-foot limit on Wedgewood's Commerce Center's total commercial development.

Wedgewood filed the federal lawsuit in 2004, alleging the limit applied to three sub-areas in the development, not to the entire commerce center. In 2005, the Liberty Board of Zoning Appeals upheld the zoning permit's denial.

U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley's written ruling supports Wedgewood's claim, and said the township's decision about the floating cap amended the commerce center's development plan that the township had approved in 1991.

"(Wedgewood) was denied due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution," Marbley wrote.

"It was a great victory for Wedgewood Limited Partnership," said Wedgewood attorney Bruce Ingram. "The township through its trustees ... has been insisting that the development plan approved in 1991 contained a 'floating cap' on commercial development. After four years of litigation in both the state and federal courts, at great expense to the township taxpayers as well as Wedgewood Limited Partnership, the federal court rejected that position and ruled contrary to the township's argument.

"Essentially, the judge ruled the township denied Wedgewood its due process because it adopted a zoning amendment through these instructions without having submitted to the normal rezoning process. That denied Wedgewood of its civil rights." Ingram said, adding that the court also ruled that the 1991 plan was "unconstitutionally vague."

Township attorney Scott Campbell noted the ruling also said, "The record does not suggest that the denial (of the zoning permit) was unwarranted" and Wedgewood's permit application "failed to comply with a number of elements of the Liberty Township Zoning Resolution."

Ingram said Wedgewood is looking forward to a damages hearing.

"We're looking at damages well in excess of a million dollars," Ingram said. "There has been discovery on the damages issue. We've had an expert who testified already, (and) his numbers were well over a million dollars, but we have not submitted anything on attorneys fees. ... The attorneys' fees would be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We also intend to pursue an attorneys' fee claim against the Neighborhood Watch Foundation which chose to intervene in the case and opposed Wedgewood's civil rights as well."

The group was founded as Liberty Township-Powell Neighborhood Watch Foundation. It since has changed its name to the Community Oversight Foundation.

It filed a motion in 2004 to intervene in the federal lawsuit. That motion said Wedgewood seeks to develop "certain property ... in a manner inconsistent with the surrounding residential neighborhoods and inconsistent with applicable zoning law."

As of this month, federal court documents still listed the Neighborhood Watch Foundation as a defendant.

Township attorney Campbell said the township can appeal Marbley's decision to the United States Court of Appeals 6th Circuit.

Township trustees, administrators and attorneys will meet in executive session to discuss the issue this week, Liberty administrator Dave Anderson said.

Ruma said, "It was a big win for Wedgewood Limited Partnership. The township officials shouldn't have been playing theses games. Property owners have rights."

Ruma said the land is not sold, although he hopes to sell it.

Asked if Walmart is still interested in the property, Ruma said, "I don't think that I should pursue the Walmart deal based on the feelings of the community. I've done a lot of good things in Liberty Township and I just don't want to pursue it."

The Liberty-Walmart zoning fight also is the focus of a lawsuit still pending in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.