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.