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Board to vote on land deal
Commissioners will consider buying extra acres for extension today

LAWRENCEVILLE - The courts may have to settle a dispute over a county land deal for the McGinnis Ferry extension - in more ways than one.

District Attorney Danny Porter has threatened to go to the grand jury if county commissioners endorse a proposal today to buy 16 acres of land when only two are needed for the extension.

But Commissioner Shirley Lasseter said she is considering rejecting the plan, which would send two lawsuits over the land back to court.

The controversy centers around land east of Interstate 85 near North Brook Parkway, owned by Old Peachtree Partners LLC.

Officials said managing member Ty Robinson backed out of a $1.1 million contract last year to sell 1.867 acres of right of way and 0.771 acres of easements. County officials sued over a breach of contract in April 2008, and officials began condemnation proceedings in April 2009 to move ahead on the extension. Funded by federal stimulus money, state officials are currently considering a bid to begin construction.

In the meantime, county attorneys said officials tentatively agreed on a settlement to purchase 16 acres at a price of $5,265,975.

Commissioners delayed a decision on the proposal in June, and residents questioned the larger land deal at a time when the county budget is being slashed to trim costs.

Lasseter, who represents the area, said Monday she had not reached a final decision but was leaning toward voting no.

"It's going to come down to whether it will cost more to go back to court" or to pay for more land, she said.

"I think the most prudent way for the citizens is to give it an opportunity to go through the legal system," she said, adding that it would "allow the public to know we are looking into their best interest."

Attorneys for the owners said the county should buy the entire tract because a sewer pipe to be installed on the land would cut off road access to 15 acres of the land.

With Commissioner Bert Nasuti abstaining from the matter because of the involvement of his law partner and Commissioner Mike Beaudreau outspoken against the proposal, Lasseter's vote could mean the 16-acre settlement is denied.

Chairman Charles Bannister declined to say whether he will support the proposal. He said he had heard from constituents, but said the land issues date back to a 2004 rezoning and is complicated.

In June, when the 16-acre proposal first arose, Porter sent a letter commissioners saying he would present information to the grand jury if the purchase proceeded.

More land deals could also be questioned, including a Satellite Boulevard park buy that became a 2008 political fight between Bannister and former Commissioner Lorraine Green and a Rabbit Hill Park expansion and a May purchase of land beside the Palm Creek park site, which was purchased for twice its appraised value. Also in question is land on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Sugar Hill, where commissioners approved the 2007 purchase days after a developer bought the property. The Daily Post was given an award by the Georgia Associated Press Association for an investigation into the matter.

Porter said information had been given to prior grand juries on some of the cases, but the four together showed a pattern of questionable purchases, some for inflated prices, some for more land than necessary and some for parks that were not found in a county plan.

"That all depends on what happens (today)," Porter said of the grand jury. The current grand jury term ends at the end of this month, and another body will take its place in September. "They can look at whether or not these are wise decisions."