COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A judge in Franklin County dismissed a lawsuit filed by a neighborhood association against the city of Gahanna, which accused its city attorney of brokering a secret deal on a private construction project abutting the subdivision.

The original lawsuit, filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in April, stemmed from a commercial project with years of back-and-forth on five acres of land at the corner of Beecher and North Hamilton roads. The city’s board of zoning and building appeals rejected proposals by owner Academy Development for a mixed-use shopping center in 2018 and 2020.

After the 2020 denial, Academy Development filed an appeal in Franklin County court and threatened Gahanna with a federal lawsuit, according to City Attorney Ray Mularski and court documents. It argued the appeals board, and by extension, the city, was “unlawful” and “arbitrary” in denying its attempts at pursuing commercial projects.

Mularski settled, enabling Academy Development to use most of its original project proposal. 

When trees started coming down, members of the Academy Ridge Community Association — which objected to the 2018 and 2020 proposals at public meetings — alleged that they were not made aware of the pending construction and that nobody within Gahanna’s city government knew about it either.

Days later, Mularski informed an association board member of the details of that settlement agreement. 

But Judge Mark Serrott sided with Mularski and the city of Gahanna in a ruling on June 21, writing that the city’s motion to dismiss the case was “well taken and granted.” 

“The court concludes as a matter of law that Mularski had the legal authority to enter into the settlement, plaintiffs are pursuing this action for their own benefit and do not have standing, and that the settlement was made in good faith,” Serrott wrote in his decision.

It is within Mularski’s reach to settle any and all legal action against the city, Serrott said, based on the Gahanna charter. 

Although the neighborhood association alleged that Mularski could not do so without the city’s consent, and that Gahanna City Council should have had oversight of the decision, Serrott sided with the city, adding that he found it significant that council did nothing to try to rebuff the settlement.

The lawsuit sought to be on behalf of the public, but Serrott ruled the neighborhood association failed to establish that, writing, “the plaintiff’s real motivation is to protect the value in their own residential property and to protect the buffer zone, or the aesthetic value of having trees about their properties.”

A spokesperson for Gahanna said the city was glad to see Mularski’s role reaffirmed by Serrott, and that it would “remain a good partner” to Academy Ridge homeowners as the project moves forward.

“The city attorney made the right decision to resolve a pending action and a threatened lawsuit to protect the best interests of all our taxpayers, while also making every effort to protect neighborhoods and property values,“ the spokesperson wrote in an email.

The attorney for Academy Ridge Community Association did not respond to a request for comment as of Friday evening.