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.

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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