One of the former irrigation ponds on the former site of Lanier Golf Course, on which developer Danny Bennett is hoping to build more than 300 homes. SPECIAL PHOTO / JULIE ALLEN
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A possible solution emerges in fight over Lake Lanier development site

There may be a resolution in sight in the fight over a controversial — and potentially contaminated — property near Lake Lanier. 

The most contentious part of the site, which includes large irrigation ponds leftover from the old Lanier Golf Course, may ultimately be gifted to Forsyth County. That would allow Commissioner Laura Semanson to get completed the environmental testing (and possible remediation) that she’s lobbied for on the site, while simultaneously taking the hassle off developer Danny Bennett’s plate.

But there’s still a long way to go.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Forsyth developer dismisses fears of Lake Lanier contamination

Bennett’s team reportedly made an offer to donate the property, but the county commission voted late Thursday to ask for a due diligence period before accepting it outright. 

It was not immediately clear if Bennett was amenable to such an arrangement.  The due diligence period would last until Jan. 31 — and the county would ask for a handshake agreement that Bennett stop work on the tract in the meantime. 

Neither the developer nor his attorney could be immediately reached for comment Friday morning.

County officials offered little about the specifics of the potential arrangement, citing executive privilege.

“I think what we've asked is reasonable,” Semanson said. “I hope it would be.”

For months, Semanson has joined a handful of residents who live near the site off Buford Dam Road in battling Bennett, who is working to build about 320 homes on the former golf course. The advocates’ main concern lies in the ponds and the nearby earthen dam, which is the primary barrier between them and Lake Lanier. 

MORE COVERAGE: Gwinnett County plans $60M water innovation center

Older golf courses were known for using a variety of chemicals that are either prohibited or greatly restricted today, including arsenic. The fear is that such chemicals remain in the soil in and around the ponds and could leach into Lake Lanier, which supplies drinking water for most of metro Atlanta.

Bennett said he has completed all of the testing required by law, but Semanson and others want more done. They’re also worried about the future of the dam, which Bennett says he was ordered to remove by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because it lies in an area designated for flood control.

Semanson has efforted to get a formal stop work order on the property but county staff has not deemed there to be reason for one. 

The commissioner said due diligence work would be completed by a third party. She said she doesn’t take lightly the fact that potential clean-up could fall on the county’s plate and be done on taxpayers’ dime — but said there’s an obligation to be good stewards of the lake.

“The best outcome would be little to no issue” environmentally, Semanson said. “And I pray for that. I'm not looking for this to be something awful. ... But ultimately we have to know that before we can proceed.”

Neighbors in Forsyth County became concerned when crews began work to tear down a dam near Lake Lanier, a move they believe could contaminate the lake.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.