Sugar Hill homeowners upset over city's offer for land

SUGAR HILL - Harold Ruvira thinks his 1-year-old son, Aiden, will be a football player when he gets old enough to don the pads, not a soccer player.

But he is still excited about the opening of a park just down the hill from his Sugar Hill backyard.

As a member of Barrington Estate's fledgling homeowners' association, though, he is concerned about a proposal to sell the city a piece of the association's land.

"I personally don't have a problem with the park," he said, although the developer reportedly told him the land behind his house would never be developed. "He'll use the playground," he said pointing to Aiden.

Pam Smith, another resident, said she is worried the neighborhood is getting short-changed in the proposal, which includes about $10,000 in labor to plant trees, remove a leaning tree, add paint, and about $2,000 in cash.

But the land - a two-acre tract left between the city's parkland and another 5.6 acres the city bought late last year - is in a flood plain and cannot be developed.

City Manager Bob Hail said officials want to put a community room on the newly purchased land, at the corner of Austin Garner Road and Suwanee Dam Road, and connect it to Gary Pirkle Park, currently under construction along Austin Garner.

The park's planning began before the construction on the homes even began, he said, with about a third of the property donated by the developer who built Barrington Estates.

The two-acre connection would be nice, he said, but he isn't sure why the homeowners are balking.

Smith said she isn't sure how much the land is worth, but homeowners would like more money so they can open the neighborhood pool this summer. Because of the economy drying up the housing market, the association is in a major deficit with only about 75 of the subdivision's 300-plus homes sold.

"This is an asset we have, and we just want to be treated fairly," she said.

She said the community is in favor of the park, which will contain soccer fields and even artificial turf that can be used by children in wheelchairs, along with a community garden, walking trails and a playground within a pavilion powered by solar energy.

"We're kind of excited," she said. "We know it's good for property values."

For four years, city leaders like Hail have worked to get the park construction started. It is expected to open in the fall, although the community hall likely won't be built until 2010, he said.

"This is an exciting thing for our citizens. ... It's going to be an exceptional park," he said of the city's second park. He said the deal offered to the homeowners is fair, since the land cannot be developed.

"We were trading services for the land," he said. "That sounds like a good deal to me. ... I think this will all work out."