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Land's value zooms
County pays $4M more than developers did

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County paid $4 million more for land than developers, who completed their own purchase of the land a day before commissioners approved the deal.

According to deed records, on Aug. 6, Brickton Commercial Partners LLC paid $9,995,250 million for the 66 acres along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in the Sugar Hill area. The next day, commissioners approved the purchase of the land for a park at a price of $13.95 million. That deal closed a week later.

But Tip Cape, who runs Brickton along with his brothers-in-law Mike Phelps and David Bowen, said any talk of the developers flipping the property is ridiculous.

"We bought the property, closed on it, got a loan to develop it, and then we were approached by the county," he said. "If somebody was going to flip a piece of property, you don't do the due diligence."

Cape said the $4 million difference in price is not all profit, since the company spent "several hundred thousand dollars" on designing and engineering a shopping center.

While the trio is mostly known for work as Bowen Family Homes, Cape said the dip in the housing market has caused the men to shift their focus to commercial development.

"We've been doing commercial stuff to keep the lights on, basically," he said.

He said the land, which was owned by Wendell Starke prior to Brickton's purchase, is at a prime location for a shopping center - at the proposed terminus of the Sugarloaf Parkway extension.

Cape said the land was sold to the county for lower than its appraised value, but Support Services Deputy Director Steve North did not return a phone call Friday seeking the appraised value.

Starke also did not return a phone call Friday, but he said earlier this month that he talked to the county about the land but had not received an offer before he reached a deal with Brickton.

"It made no difference to me who bought it," Starke said in an earlier interview. "I got what I wanted for it, so I wasn't concerned with what they did with it afterward."

Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, who represents the area, said he has gotten e-mails from residents thanking him for buying the land for a park instead of allowing a strip mall.

"That's still a great buy for us," Kenerly said, adding that the price on the land could have doubled because of the prime location. "They made a business decision," he said of Brickton.

Chairman Charles Bannister said he was still happy with the buy.

"I think the land is in the right place for what is intended, to keep the park near the school location," he said.

The Peachtree Industrial land, located near North Price Road, will act as a reliever to George Pierce Park and will provide baseball, softball and football feeder programs for the planned Lanier High School.

"I wasn't involved in anything there," Bannister said of the land negotiations. "We should always try to buy land for the least amount possible."