A squabble last year over how much DeKalb County should pay for a developer’s land in the mostly developed central part of the county has another property owner wondering why the county won’t consider his nearby, larger lot.
“I really feel like it’s an excellent opportunity for both the county and my family,” said Ed Nelms Jr., who last year offered to sell 17 acres of his family’s historic farm near Pangborn Road for $6 million. “We would hope we could work together on keeping this land as it is, green.”
Central DeKalb – full of homes and large regional employers such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – is the least green part of a county where residents twice recently approved bond referendums to buy land and develop more parks.
Susan Hood, head of the county’s Natural Resources Management Office, declined to comment on Nelms’ request, citing a confidential review process.
However, Hood did say the assessments generally boil down to two questions once a basic review of location, access and price is done: “It all usually comes down to, ‘What is the property worth and, even at its value, does it make sense to put those resources into it?’ ”
County Commissioner Jeff Rader cited the need for more parks in his district last year when he successfully pushed to buy six acres of land off LaVista Road for $1.83 million.
The price for the land, about a mile from Nelms’ property, was about 6 percent lower than the original negotiated price after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed the county assessed the same property for $393,000. Supporters of the purchase blamed the discrepancy on state assessment rules. But residents and officials critical of the acquisition noted that developer Rich Porter bought the land for $1.4 million in 2008, so they believe the county overpaid.
That purchase and others, such as spending nearly $900,000 in July for another four acres nearby, have left Rader with $4.2 million in his district’s share of the bonds.
While that is the largest balance of the seven commissioners, who each had about $7.9 million to spend from the 2001 bond fund, it falls short of Nelms’ $6 million asking price.
“We are certainly looking for land, but it has to be well located, to be accessible, be affordable and meet our needs,” Rader said, noting the county has spent $2 million to upgrade the area’s regional Mason Mill Park with trails, a playground and dog park.
Nelms said he is open to negotiating on price, which per acre is more expensive than the LaVista land. But he said the county has not agreed to meet with him.
He hoped to build grassroots support for his proposal this past weekend by taking some neighbors on a tour of the land, which is part of the Mount Zion community, named after the African Methodist Episcopal church built there. The area emerged as a black farming community following the emancipation of slaves.
Ron Coshatt, who lives in the Pangborn Valley subdivision, said many of his neighbors are interested in more parks so that they can navigate the busy area without driving everywhere.
“People would like to be able to walk more,” said Coshatt, a real estate broker. “It’s a very active community, so we always hope there will be a space to accommodate us that’s close and convenient.”
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