Judge sides with homebuilder in lawsuit against city

Feb. 21—Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman sided Tuesday with Shaz Investments Group, which sued the city after the City Council denied a request to build homes.

Balkman, following two hours of argument from both sides, awarded partial summary judgment to the homebuilder. The judge ordered the city to let Shaz continue his plans for 140 new homes in the existing Eagle Cliff housing addition.

The council voted 7-2 in November 2021 against Shaz' request to place the land for new homes into the current urban service area, a proposal consistent with existing zoning and previous granted requests to council.

Ward 3 representative Kelly Lynn and Ward 5's Rarchar Tortorello voted to support it.

Balkman's ruling stated the council's action to deny Shaz the request was "arbitrary and capricious."

"The city of Norman is ordered to place the Eagle Cliff addition property, the subject property in their application in the current urban service area," the judge's order reads.

The order noted an argument made by the city which focused on whether the developer's plan caused harm to a nearby property with an inadequate drainage plan.

Shaz attorney Sean Rieger argued his client went above and beyond the city's engineering design criteria and agreed to install a detention bond to ensure there would be impact of stormwater runoff according to the city's ordinances and design standards.

Residents claimed during the November 2021 council meeting that adding homes would make stormwater runoff worse in the Bishop Creek floodplain, aggravate erosion, and worsen flooding in the nearby Potts Family Farm.

But several key city officials, including flood plain management, the chief engineer, the planning director, and the city manager all told Rieger during depositions there was no credibility to those concerns, court records show.

The developer agreed at the time time to install a detention pond that would ensure no additional stormwater would run downstream from the development, Rieger told the court.

Balkman noted staff testimony in his ruling.

"The plaintiff submitted fact-based, reliable engineering data with regards to the new Eagle Cliff additions' draining plan," Balkman's order reads. "And most significantly, the plaintiff satisfied the city's required criteria as clearly stated by the city's own planning and engineering staff."

Rieger called it a win on his client's most critical arguments to the court.

"We appreciate the court's thoughtful consideration of the issues and applaud its judgment that the city of Norman City Council acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denial of the 2025 Urban Service Area Amendment for the next Eagle Cliff section of single family homes for our community," Rieger said in a statement to The Transcript. "We look forward to moving ahead with final resolution of the case."

While Rieger has previously said he would sue the city for millions in damages, he declined to comment when asked again Tuesday.

City Attorney Kathryn Walker told The Transcript in October if damages were awarded, the money would come from property tax rolls for three years because the city is self-insured.

City spokeswoman Tiffany Vrska said the next step is to discuss the judge's order with the council.

"After thoughtful consideration, a judge ruled in favor of Shaz Investments," Vrska said in a statement to The Transcript. "The City's legal counsel will schedule an executive session with Norman City Council to discuss next steps."

Mindy Wood covers City and County government news and notable lawsuits for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.