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Land purchase proposal being questioned

LAWRENCEVILLE - Commissioners are considering buying 16 acres of land to settle a lawsuit over two acres needed for a planned extension to McGinnis Ferry Road.

Last year, Ty Robinson, a managing member of Old Peachtree Partners LLC, backed out of a $1.1 million contract to sell 1.867 acres of right of way and 0.771 acres of easements east of Interstate 85 near North Brook Parkway to the county.

County officials sued over a breach of contract in April 2008, then began condemnation proceedings on the land in April 2009. Deputy Transportation Director Alan Chapman said the eminent domain proceedings were necessary to clear up the right of way and qualify the project for federal stimulus funds, given only to "shovel-ready" projects.

With a July trial date and discovery due next week, senior assistant county attorney Mike Ludwiczak said officials tentatively agreed on a settlement - the purchase of 16 acres at a price of $5,265,975.

Commissioners tabled the proposal this week, with Commissioner Shirley Lasseter saying she needed more time to look into the issue. Prior to Tuesday's decision, some residents questioned the larger land deal, as they commented on a proposed millage rate hike.

Lasseter didn't return phone calls this week seeking comment, and Chairman Charles Bannister said he didn't want to discuss a court matter. "I understand that issue is still in the litigation stage," he said. "As a result, I don't have much I can say about it right at this time."

Chapman said the department of transportation did not need the additional land, but a counter-claim filed by Old Peachtree's attorneys said the county perpetrated a fraud by claiming the land was for the road extension. Instead, the attorneys contend a sewer main to be built on the property would have created an inverse condemnation, cutting off 15 acres of land nearest I-85 from road frontage, as property owners would not be allowed the transverse the sewer line for a development.

While Chapman said the delay to the purchase agreement, which will come back before the board in August, would not impact the extension project, since the condemnation proceedings allowed officials to certify the extension's right of way, Ludwiczak said the tabling could mean a delay in the court cases.

"We thought we had a resolution," he said. "We will probably have to extend those deadlines."

Mike Bowers, attorney for Old Peachtree said the settlement is for "substantially less than fair market value," while Ludwiczak said, at about $325,000 an acre, it was close to the county appraised value of $300,000 an acre and would wrap up two lawsuits and the counterclaim.

Officials with the water department were not available for comment late Thursday, but Ludwiczak said the sewer main was always part of the negotiations.

Old Peachtree's attorneys said the portion of the property closest to I-85 would eventually be required for an interchange, and the money is from sales tax proceeds allocated to transportation, which could not be used to solve the county's budget woes.