County Buys Lavista Land for $1.78M

The sale price for the 6.2 acres is nearly $200,000 less than the price that caused controversy over the last month. The county plans to use the land to create a park.

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners voted today to purchase 6.2 acres on Lavista Road for $1.78 million – nearly $200,000 less than the initial negotiated sales price.

The board deferred the land purchase over the last month after the land's $1.96 million price bristled some commissioners and residents who said they believed or worried the county was paying far too much for the land considering its county-assessed value is $393,000.

The county must still close on the land, and then it will organize meetings with the community to determine how the park will be developed, said District 2 Commissioner Jeff Rader. The land is good for a park, he said, because it sits on a major artery (Lavista Road) in an activity center (the Oak Grove community). The park is also adjacent to the Coralwood School and Diagnostic Center, creating an opportunity for partnership.

The park could also eventually get bigger, Rader said. The newly purchased land sits next to an adjacent, undeveloped 6-acre parcel that could be purchased in the future along with portions of large nearby residential lots – though the county has made no negotiations to those ends, he said.

"We've thought long and hard about this land," Rader said. "You've got to make sure it's going to have a high degree of usefulness."

County officials sought this month to explain the gap between the tract's assessed value and the much higher proposed sales price that led to pointed questions from media and local residents. Rader also pointed to two private appraisals of the land from 2010, including one that came in a $1.7 million, as evidence that the land was being sold and purchased in good faith.

North Druid Hills-Briarcliff Patch spoke with Calvin Hicks, the county's chief appraiser, who offered several reasons for the price discrepancy:

  • While the land is being sold as one tract, it's actually four contiguous parcels, all of which are individually appraised for tax purposes. Because three of those parcels are landlocked and have no access to roads, their singular value is greatly diminished. But, when sold as one with access to Lavista Road, the market value of that tract increases greatly, Hicks said. 
  • The lot's "highest and best use" is not considered when assessing it for ad valorum tax purposes. When that land hits the market, however, private appraisers can speculate about different uses–and values–for the land. "We are required to view them as they are," Hicks said.
  • The state prohibits assessment increases on land that has not been changed or developed until 2012, he said. The four wooded parcels have not changed, so their assessed value has not changed since 2008. It's market value, however, changes fluidly.

The land was sold by Paulee Partners headed by Rick Porter. It's adjacent to Lavista Road east of the intersection with Oak Grove Road.

Don Broussard July 13, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Mr. Porter, a third generation Atlanta developer, just happens to be a former member of the Atlanta Regional Commission board (where Jeff Rader's wife is employed) and just happens to be listed as a board member of the Livable Communities Coalition, Inc. that helped Comm. Rader and the Sembler Co. try to buyout Adams Stadium three years ago. Yes, this purchase is all above board -- except no one in the public or press has seen the appraisals which inflated the purchase price. The DeKalb Green Space program is being used as a political patronage slush fund. Apparently, nobody seems to care. Regarding Mr. Hicks and his defense of why Porter's land was being taxed at only $397,000 in value (that's 22% of what DeKalb will now pay for the land), both "The Patch" and the AJC need to ask some other independent source / expert on Georgia tax laws whether any of Hick's story is accurate or complete -- instead of being a mouthpiece for just HIS side of the story. Or do you expect your readers / commenters to do the investigations for you?
Tom Doolittle July 14, 2011 at 03:00 AM
Don, the best outlet for that kind of investigation is Fulton Daily Report. Land values/flipping for payoffs is now a big enough issue for a news outlet to cover it as a trend. This particular transfer is small potatoes for AJC after almost a year and an article a week investigating Gwinnett and Gwinnett schools. For a daily newspaper--any one transfer is now beating a dead horse. For DeKalb--we have no investigatory news outlet--period. Where would Patch even begin--which story would it start being an investigator? Why choose what it chooses? A website has to establish itself from the outset as an investigatory site before it goes that way. That is what is known as "context". The SchoolWtch website immediately established that context and is a go to for street-level info in the comments section. The points you make regarding Porter's associations are good data--factual, even if at best ancillary to the issue. Only a news outlet that had a particular reason for burning Porter and DeKalb would take this thing any farther and try the guy in the press.
Tom Doolittle July 14, 2011 at 03:04 AM
Land value issue now over--thanks for adding the map on this. Now that I see the location clearly, its a fantastic place for a park--backs up to a school and next to shopping. Oak Grove continues to shape as a town.
Don Broussard July 14, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Tom, first, sorry if I was not clear, but my point was about The Patch quoting DeKalb County Tax Assessor Calvin Hicks in the article without offering any counter quotes or analysis or questions by someone else as to the veracity of what the official claims. Without that, The Patch becomes merely a mouthpiece for DeKalb officials and their crafted press releases and statements. I commend the Patch for covering local government / neighborhood issues and I acknowledge you all don't have the resources of the New York Times. But you do have the resources --and standards -- of AOL and Huffington Post. And you all will lose me as a reader if all you guys do is cover local "feel good" stories and print unchallenged statements by local officials such as Calvin Hicks, Jeff Rader or whomever. Second, the only reason I am pointing out facts about Mr. Porter is because his background as a prominent and politically active developer is, at least in my view, an explanation of why he might receive favored treatment in a land deal with DeKalb County that others would not receive.
Don Broussard July 14, 2011 at 03:56 PM
Cont'd: Third, the land value issue is NOT over. I have consistently said Porter's land should be green space but price is the only question. At Tuesday's BoC meeting, Ed Nelms of the LaVista Rd. Nelms clan, offered his family's 17acre tract for green space. The site is near Porter's and it adjoins Shamrock / Druid Hills Middle School. In my opinion, it would be a real green space opportunity superior to Porter's. Let's see if Nelms gets a similar offer which, if comparable, would be about $5.6 million. I don't think Jeff Rader has that kind of money now. Also, please note this morning's AJC story where the City of Milton just bought 3 acres containing an historic 1805 house (in good shape) for the whopping sum of -- $250,000. Porter is getting the Sweetheart Deal of Year for metro Atlanta. The favors he has done for Lakeside High and DeKalb County do not justify this.
Jonathan Cribbs July 14, 2011 at 04:58 PM
We're still working on the story, Don.
Knott Telling July 16, 2011 at 04:52 PM
This institute says that based on residential real estate transactions, quantify the value of land by backing out the cost to build the structure on it, leaving just the value of the dirt. Index everything at 1.000 in 2000. The Georgia index went to 1.300 in 2004 when this property last sold. Reasonable. 30% gain from 2000 to 2004.  Q1 2011 the index is 0.4757, same as seeing $100 drop to $36. Reasonable too, since land is where the volatility is: cost to build structures has not changed has much as have overall property sales. So, anyone buying land for $1,000,000 in 2004 and selling it above $360,000 today has done well and should be "happy". Anybody who pays more than 36% of its 2004 value has had the wool pulled over their eyes.  How does the seller of the LaVista land feels now? Many people stuck with land that has seen its development horizon be pushed far into the future end up putting it in a trust and give it to the local government and claim original cost as a tax deduction. With land you bought for $1,000,000 you get a tax benefit of $300,000-400,000 (depending on tax bracket). If that occurred here, the previous owner should be "happy", since the land was truly worth much less than in 2004 anyway, and the local government would have paid nothing. How do you feel now? http://www.lincolninst.edu/subcenters/land-values/data/LANDDATA.states.2011q1.xlsx
Tom Doolittle July 16, 2011 at 05:55 PM
Lincoln Institute--great resource Mr/Ms Telling! BTW--isn't gifted land a tax credit (rather than deduction) if considered a conservation easement ($1 mil gift = $1 mil credit?)
Knott Telling July 16, 2011 at 06:23 PM
Just call me Knott! Thanks for making that point. I meant to mention that the way those land trusts work is not an area of expertise for me, and neither is the tax impact related to them. Used up my allocated word-count and forgot to squeeze that in. I am glad to admit areas of weakness, especially when trusted on matters I DO know a bit about! That's why I asked for some smart people to opine on this, and I know we all wish we then had the ability and the motivation and the energy to actually take action on things like this. Wouldn't it be great if there were a way to make this a win-win-win where the current owner got fair value, the neighborhood got greenspace, and the county (a) saved money and (b) was able to avoid even a misperception of conflicts-of-interest or poor decision-making? (Be clear - I am not taking a position on anything in (b). Just pointing out that these misperceptions can occur even when they are ungrounded, and it's great when those viewpoints can be undeniably refuted.) Even if local fundraising was needed to meet a financial gap and allow this kind of deal to happen, wouldn't that be inspiring? How different that greenspace would always be perceived if there was this element of ownership and self-sufficiency by the community instead of lingering negative feelings towards government officials or the seller. I'm praying that the seller and others might get a bigger vision here and let the good in everybody shine through and draw us together.
Knott Telling July 16, 2011 at 06:46 PM
A bit more on my 2:23 post. Remember the triangle at LaVista and Clairmont 15-20 years ago? That had some ugliness about it, and a seller whom I guess may still feel that there was some potential value in that land that he was unable to realize - not sure. But that was a situation where the land was much more capable of being developed for higher use (from a financial standpoint). Yet something happened where the community played a direct role and has something to be proud of even though it required some fundraising, I think. Can you imaging what that area would feel like with townhouses squeezed in there or something? By the way, I try not to paint myself into a corner based on gender, political or religious leanings, socioeconomic status, etc. So as far as any things like that are concerned, just remember that I'm just Knott Telling. If I violate any of that, call me on it. If you make an assumption you are likely to be wrong. I'm not hiding... just trying to figure out how to maintain objectivity, avoid accusations of bias, and not feel any hesitance about speaking freely. I like to be in community with people who may have very different viewpoints, and our culture can make that difficult. If there is ever anything I need to discuss or verify offline, I will eventually respond to a note to knott_telling at hotmail dot com, if it doesn't get lost in the junkmail.
David S July 19, 2011 at 09:31 PM
Wow, KT, I wish you had posted to this site a month ago in regard to this continuing story. Or, that I had been as industrious as you were to find that site. Using the Lincoln Institute's land value chart that you referenced, if we start with the 2004 purchase price of $1.4M and back up to the year 2000 to get a land value index of 1.0, the value of the property in the year 2000 would have been approximately $1,076,900. Then, applying the 1st Quarter 2011 land value index of 0.4757 to this, the current value of the land should be $512,290. Gee, thanks, Mr. Rader. The county just agreed to pay 3.5 times what the Lincoln Institute indicates this property should be worth. Now, of course the Institute's values are for land in Georgia in general and they do not distinguish between urban/suburban land, or different areas of the state. But just the same, I don't think their values are off by a factor of 3.5. As I and many others have thought all along, the taxpayers of DeKalb County have been bamboozled.
Benton March 06, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Mr. Rader/DeKalb County - Good work on adding parks to our district/area, we need more green space/parks.


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