NORCROSS - Charles Bannister looked at the land that might become Gwinnett's newest park and couldn't help but be sarcastic.
"See how nice and quiet it is here, relaxing," he said, as cars and trucks chugged, gasped and screeched down the nearby road and interstate.
He glanced down a 40- to 50-foot ravine at the road side and added, "I guess you can get a driveway in there."
The county chairman is fighting the proposed purchase of 37 acres between Interstate 85 and Satellite Boulevard near Beaver Ruin Road for a park. A vote is scheduled for Tuesday, but Bannister asked commissioners Friday to consider another purchase less than a mile away.
Commissioner Lorraine Green, who represents the area, says the county could get a deal on the original proposal - 36.945 acres, which will come with another 20.967 acre donation, for about $4.65 million.
In a corner of the county in great need of parks, the purchase would also settle a lawsuit and stop the development of apartments, Green said.
"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 proposal is splitting commissioners and neighbors.
Some say the purchase would only line the pockets of developers, while others say Bannister is simply holding a grudge against political foes.
But the chairman said the county can't "bail out" developers whenever the board decides to restrict zoning.
"They want to dump the unusable land to the county for greenspace," he said. "It's happening more than I like to see it happen. ... The price keeps going up, up, up."
Last week, Bannister invited a reporter to view the land, which he calls "swamp land" and "unusable."
In addition to the steep drop behind a service station along Beaver Ruin Road, the only other entrances to the parcel are in the flood plain, which Bannister said would require approval from the Corps of Engineers.
He showed aerial photos of the land, which reveal a large brown swath of flood plain between the green trees.
"It's worth a lot of money; you ought to be able to get to it," Bannister said. "If the taxpayers walked out here to see what you're looking at, they'd be appalled."
But at least a couple of neighbors think the purchase is a good idea.
"I'm glad someone is finally looking to address recreation needs in this area," David Kesler said.
The former Recreation Authority member lives in the area and agrees with Green about the need for more parks in the community.
The land, he said, may not be ideal in topography, but it is perfectly situated between the Gwinnett Place and Gwinnett Village community improvement districts, revitalization areas where business opted to tax themselves to improve the area.
Another homeowner, Paul Allen, agreed.
"I have personally walked every foot of the property and can attest that the land is not underwater, nor is it a swamp," he said. "There are some wetlands, which indeed make it ideal for a park, while considerably less so for the previous apartment complex idea."
Commissioner Mike Beaudreau declined to discuss the impending vote, but said he believed Bannister was holding a grudge against landowner Wayne Mason, a former county chairman who supported former chairman Wayne Hill in the 2004 election.
"I'm not a big friend of Wayne Mason, but that doesn't mean I'll hold it against him," Beaudreau said. "You shouldn't do that - the politics of slash and burn. I'm not going to trash the land just because of the man who owns it."
Bannister denied that politics had anything to do with his disapproval of the deal, although he did imply that Mason's ties may be the reason others approve of it.
While some community members have called the situation a "land flip," where the developer is receiving more money than he paid for it, Beaudreau said he doesn't believe that is true.
"I'd be concerned about it if it were true. People are speaking out of turn," he said. "My understanding was that land was to be acquired at or under appraised value. ... If that can help boost the area, we have to look at that, especially if we can do it under appraised value."
While Commissioner Bert Nasuti expressed concern about the land during a previous interview and even convinced commissioners against buying the land for an aquatic center several years ago, Commissioner Kevin Kenerly said he would likely support the purchase because of courtesy to Green, since she is the one who has to answer to voters in the area.
"Anytime we can get some greenspace, we need to buy it for the future instead of letting everything get developed," Kenerly said. "It's hard to buy property where every bit of the property is usable. ... I'm going to yield to that district commissioners. I'm not going to get into a he-said, she-said argument over that."
During a meeting last week, the board of directors for the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District discussed sending a letter to the commission expressing an opinion on the purchase.
But board members did not agree on the correct course of action and decided not to get involved in the politics.