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CHARLOTTE-Local officials will be embroiled shortly in a long-brewing lawsuit involving SouthPark mall. Residents have until Dec. 18 to file the suit which seeks to block the project’s recently approved 50% expansion. The number of court actions in other nearby markets is also rising.

For example, residents in Hickory, NC, 50 miles north of Downtown Charlotte, sued to prevent a Wal-Mart store from opening. East Charlotte residents have legally fought off a shopping center. And in Davidson, NC, a Charlotte suburb, developers are preparing to go to court over the town’s recent efforts to regulate the use of land.

Fanning the flames of battle even more is a shortage of open land as the Charlotte region continues to be the focus of ongoing development in all its sectors. In a published report, David Owens, a land-use law expert at the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Government, says today’s big development companies have more money invested and are willing to fight harder.

The big players consider going to court a necessary part of doing business but lesser operators are not as visible as they once were and don’t fight as frequently as they used to over land issues, Owens says.

Lawsuits are being filed throughout the Carolinas, particularly in the Raleigh area, which is growing even faster than the Charlotte region. Last year, for example, Durham residents sued a developer, seeking to block his plans for a new mall. They lost while using some of the same arguments expected to be raised over the SouthPark expansion.

Charlotte lost a big battle in the spring when Albemarle Road residents sued to stop a shopping center and threw a legal wrench into the city’s rezoning process. Charlotte officials halted all major development projects until they could find a way to give residents more of a voice in their decisions.

.In another published report, local lawyer Ken Davies, who represents SouthPark, says residents across the region have become more determined to have their voices heard. Davies thinks the number of lawsuits over development issues will proliferate as the Carolinas become increasingly less rural.

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