Cobb Superior Court Judge Tain Kell ruled against The Williamscraft Group Inc., Homes by Williamscraft Inc. and West Sandtown Development LLC last Wednesday, saying they destroyed Stillwaters Lake by essentially dumping the equivalent of 336 dump truck loads of sediment into the 11-acre lake since 2004 and nearly doubling the volume of stormwater on properties in the Stillwaters subdivision in the development of the Stonebridge subdivision. Both subdivisions are located off West Sandtown Road near Dallas Highway.
“The defendants acted in bad faith, were stubbornly litigious and/or caused the plaintiffs unnecessary trouble and expense,” the ruling states.
The judge ordered the defendants to come back on the property within 180 days to reconfigure the stormwater management and pay $1.5 million to the Stillwaters Homeowners Association to cover the cost of dredging the lake.
Kell also ruled that the defendant must pay each plaintiff listed in the case between $280,000 and $355,000 each, in addition to the attorney’s fees of around $600,000.
“These dirtbag developers need to be held accountable,” said Michael Carvalho with the law firm Carvalho and Associates in Marietta, the plaintiffs’ attorney. “This stuff has been going on in Georgia for years.”
Wilmont Williams, the developer listed in the case, did not return phone calls to comment on the ruling.
None of the defendants were present during the bench trial, therefore they cannot appeal.
The suit dates back to 2004, when Williams’ company began clearing land and grading the Stonebridge subdivision property.
Former Stillwaters Homeowners Association president Lisa Gunn said she began researching the piece of land and pulling zoning records when Williams purchased the 59-acre property, which included one house and a large pasture at the time, shortly after 2002.
“I learned that the topography of the development, even with perfect drainage systems, would be problematic for us no matter how good of a job they did,” she said.
Her worries were proven correct when development began and Stillwaters residents began seeing mud run onto their property and into the lake.
“People lost the use of their docks because they were swamped in a sea of mud,” Gunn said. “They lost their right to use their canoes or paddleboats, and you couldn’t fish because the fish died.”
She said homeowners asked the county for help but didn’t receive any.
“I just wanted to protect my community, to make sure that we lived up to our responsibility to be good stewards of our common areas and to take care of them,” she said.
Gunn said her goal in filing the lawsuit, which she had hoped to avoid, was for The Williamscraft Group to “correct the damage that is done.”
“We feel vindicated,” she said in response to the ruling. “We had our day in court, and we do feel like what we knew all along was finally recognized. … That doesn’t pay to have it fixed though.”
Homeowners association co-president Jack Gillilan, a 20-year Stillwaters resident, said he’s lost the use of what used to be beautiful lakefront property.
“I did have a dock and now I don’t,” he said. “It’s been five years I guess since I last used it.”
Gillilan said about 20 percent of the lake is mud.
“The whole lake has some sediment in it, so we have to keep the lake level high to maintain a little water at all,” he said.
In 2006, the Journal reported that Williams’ company, Homes by Williamscraft, has been building homes since 1971 and builds more than 200 homes annually in Cobb, Fulton, Forsyth, Dawson and Cherokee counties.