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Park proposal controversy divides Board of Commissioners

LAWRENCEVILLE - A day after last-minute changes to the county's budget divided commissioners, a controversial park proposal is separating them further.

Commissioner Lorraine Green is pushing for the purchase of 32 acres of land between Interstate 85 and Satellite Boulevard near Beaver Ruin Road, but Chairman Charles Bannister said the land is a swamp and a waste of taxpayer money.

"I don't think it's a good buy. It's under water," he said.

Green concedes that half of the property is in the flood plain, which would require it to remain passive, but walking trails could be built there, she said.

When Commissioner Bert Nasuti took office five years ago, he convinced commissioners to end condemnation proceedings involving the land, at least in part because he wanted to build a new aquatic center closer to the Duluth and Norcross communities.

Nasuti said he's undecided as to whether the county should buy the land now, but because part of the land was clear cut a decade ago, he said shrub pines may not provide the best setting for a passive park.

"Next to 16 lanes of interstate, I'm not sure if it's a quiet place to have a picnic," he said. "There is never too much greenspace, but I have some concerns about it."

Because of the high population density but low amount of parkland nearby, the area is a top priority of the parks department, and Green said homeowners "begged" the commission to buy it instead of allowing apartments.

"So often in rezoning cases neighbors beg us to purchase the property for greenspace rather than allowing apartments to be built," she said. "This case is one of the rare opportunities we have to make such a purchase."

The land in Green's District 1 has been appraised at a value of $4.25 million, she said, but a price is still being negotiated. The commissioner said she is requiring the purchase be contingent on the seller including another 19 acres he owns that adjoins the property.

"Folks have been asking for this park in this area for years - and thanks to (the county sales tax) we may finally deliver," she said.

Bannister, though, said the Army Corps of Engineers controls half the property, and it can't be developed because it has no access to roads.

"It'll remain greenspace no matter who owns it," he said. "It's not something I would spend my money on."