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DeKalb Commission Defers Controversial LaVista Land Purchase

The board of commissioners will return to the issue on June 28.

DeKalb County commissioners again deferred a decision to purchase more than six acres on LaVista Road for a future park, as discussion continued to center on whether the parcel is overpriced.

"Three of the four parcels of land on this tract are landlocked; only one has an entrance and exit onto LaVista Road," Calvin Hicks, chief county tax appraiser, told the board. "We have to consider each parcel separately, and those entrances increase the value of the overall tract."

District 2 Commissioner Jeff Rader made a motion that the board approve the purchase, but District 5 Commissioner Lee May made a substitute motion to defer the item for two weeks.

"I'm concerned that this property is appraised for $400,000, that we're going to purchase for $2 million," May said. "We need to discuss this further."

Rader said the item had already been deferred for two weeks, "and I'm concerned that waiting another two weeks is pushing the expiration date on this arrangement."

No designs have been set for the park, according to Rader. But the county plans to purchase the land to create a park with walking trails, according to the proposal. The land is "historically significant," the proposal said, "and an interpretation of original family ownership is planned."

Greenspace preservation in District 2 has been a priority of Rader's. It's important that the county acquire the land because much of the district was developed without greenspaces in mind, he said. Now, the area is mostly developed, so large tracts of bare land are hard to come by.

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

Mitch Leff June 14, 2011 at 10:48 PM
This is about 1/2 mike from my house. I'd love the park, want make sure we're not overpaying.
Nancy Bivings June 14, 2011 at 11:01 PM
It is right across from me pretty much but they need to make sure the price is not over inflated and the connections between the buyers and the commissioners. Somone has to pay for this and it is us the taxpayers
Tom L. June 15, 2011 at 12:11 PM
The park would be a valuable addition, but not at an inflated price. If the developer who owns it wants to add to our greenspace, he should consider that his buyer is a cash strapped county and reduce the asking price.
Jim Z June 15, 2011 at 12:56 PM
Buy it NOW! Quit wasting time, the price will only increase.
MaxB June 15, 2011 at 03:36 PM
One would hope that the idea that prices will always go up has been disproven. Pulte is buying developed lots below this undeveloped price. This relationship and deal needs more scrutiny. I hope they will post the appraisals. I want to see where they found recent land comps to support this price. Mr Rader. Please go look at Gwinnett parks. Dekalb can not afford to renovate and maintain what they have. Please shift the focus to taking care of what we have and away from buying flood plane and green space to become a private park for the neighbors. The park at Shallowford and Briarcliff is pathetic and emparassing. Let's make all parks like thew new Mason Mill and stop with "green space" land that is not for the greater county good.
MaxB June 15, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Just had my first look at the plat. Firstly, being adjacent to a cell tower and commercial1950's strip mall, much of this land is undesirable for expensive townhomes and therefore worth very little. Secondly, this place would cost a fortune to devevelop. This appraisal needs real scrutiny. Did they use 3 year old comps? or an Emory university purchase??
Don Broussard June 15, 2011 at 10:19 PM
Figures from the County tax assessment website indicate the land was purchased in 2004 for $1.4 million. Since that time, the parcels have been assessed for tax purposes for ONLY $393, 000 -- that's 28 % of its known fair market value. Mr. Porter has been getting a fantastic tax break for 5 years ---and now DeKalb County and Jeff Rader want to buy this historic kudzu patch for $1.9 MILLION -- that's a $500K profit during the worst real estate recession since the Great Depression. @Jim Z, you must work for RichPort -- or were you formerly a risk manager at Bear Sterns?
Reid Mallard June 16, 2011 at 02:38 AM
Don. I rather doubt Jim Z works for Rick Porter and frankly I don't appreciate your sarcasm. The fact is that any smart business person or investor would have left these parcels separate until ready for development. Let's not blame him for Business 101 savvy. Second, you appear to be expressing an uninformed opinion about the market value of this piece of land. The fact is that THREE, count 'em, three private appraisals were done on this land. The proposed settlement reflects the lower two appraisals. MaxB - I hope you are able to see the comps. I'm thinking you will be surprised. I'm aware of vacant land even less desirable than this piece that has shown a net increase of 65% since 2004. Also, these dollars, by law, can ONLY be spent on greenspace. This money was raised under Gail Waldorf's tenure for the specific purpose of preserving greenspace. This money can NOT be put into the maintenance and upgrading of existing parks. We are lucky to have these funds, but we are very unlucky in this part of the county to have very little land for potential preservation. Dist 2 has less preserved greenspace than any other district. The deal is fair. Let's take the opportunity. I'm Reid Mallard and I am for it! Can the two of you put a name behind your comments? Responses with off-the-cuff sarcasm and unsubstantiated suspicions only serve to mislead your fellow residents and fuel any the political opposition?
Mitch Leff June 16, 2011 at 02:45 AM
Reid, thanks for the serious time you've already spent getting up to speed on this. I support this purchase and see great future opportunity for our community to utilize this space.
MaxB June 16, 2011 at 06:21 PM
Reid, I would love to see these appraisals. Would an open records request get them shared or are they private as long as the deal is ongoing? Remember the Gwinnett land deals had appraisals too. My guess is that they had to go way back or way far away to appraise it that high.If someone could identify raw Lakeside area land(adjusted for a busy road) that sold in the last year with minimal frontage for 317k+ per acre, I would look more favorably on this purchase.Would love to hear from anyone that may know of acomparable sale. Being unaware of any similar sales, I look at the value by saying at what price can the property be built out at a reasonable profit in an uncertain time. In my real estate experience, if this land is developed for about $35k+ per pad(may be too low?) and townhomes built, there would be no proffit. This leads me to believe a smart buyer would not pay this much. I don't think this land undeveloped, with this shape topography and drainage would get any action on the open market for $1.9M. Don't forget about the strip mall neighbor and cell tower. There is misinformation going around the neighborhood group that this money will be spent on park maintenance in other parts of the county. If there is no plan B to spend this money and it will be lost if not used, it is a leadership failure in my opinion. I respect your opinion, but rerpectfully disagree with this purchase at this price. Max Baerman
Don Broussard June 16, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Mr. Mallard, you seem to lack a sense of humor so I won't try to be funny in this post. Certainly you are entitled to your opinion about this "deal" but under your definition of "Business 101 savvy" Bernie Madoff would fit. Your post is nothing but opinion and assertion without facts or figures on land values or trends. You are "aware of vacant land even less desirable ... that has shown a net increase of 65% since 2004". Well, where is that land? Perhaps it was artificially under-priced in 2004. I could go on but your "example" is meaningless. You assert Dist 2 has less greenspace than any other district. Is that from your own research or are you reciting someone else's talking points? Even if true, does that mean we must pay $1.9Million for this land? You mentioned Gale Waldorff: in 2006, she voted (along with K. Gannon and Burrel Ellis) to re-zone this same Rick Porter-owned property for 33 townhouses. The FICTION that this site could be feasibly developed for 33 townhomes is no doubt the underlying assumption of the appraisals. Have you personally seen the appraisals, Mr. Mallard? --because Jeff Rader and county staff members told me (and others) that these are confidential and cannot be released. You seem willing to accept them on faith. Good for you. I am former planning commissioner Don Broussard and I am for more greenspace, too but not when it is mixed with pork-barrel political payoffs. The price needs to come down. And don't lecture me about being uninformed.
David S June 17, 2011 at 03:35 PM
What's the rush? Did I read this right, or did I miss something? (entirely possible in my case) We're in a VERY depressed real estate market, the latest professionally assessed value for this property is $1.7 million, and the county wants to buy it for $1.9 million? Are there other buyers lined up to pay 12% more than the most recent assessment for this property? Is there anyone at all wanting to buy it? Has anyone else's property gained 35% in value over the past seven years? Does anyone else's property have a tax assessment of 28% of your purchase price? If I'm missing pertinent facts, I apologize, but this doesn't sound like good stewardship of tax dollars on the part of the county commission. When would the park actually be developed? Is there money to develop it? To maintain it? Has it even been determined that the property is suitable for a park? There's a pond on Oak Grove, down stream from this tract, so there's likely a drainage ditch or creek right through the middle of the property. And what, exactly, would be in the park? Six acres of walking trails? “Park” means different things to different people.
Reid Mallard June 17, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Max, Well said. That is constructively stated scrutiny and certainly reflects your level of expertise. So, in your mind it comes down to the validity of the appraisals. I respect that and would be fine to have them examined. In my little experience, however, these appraisals are typically sealed, so not be just in this case. Yes, I do differ is feeling good about where the appraisals have led us; that taken from Greenspace funds I feel good about going ahead with what I believe is a sound long-term investment for our community. I figure the settlement price reflects an average increase in value of 5% a year since 2004. Is that on the liberal side of reasonable? Maybe, but one of the appraisals came in at $2.3mill, and even with the cataclysm of the last three years 5% seems reasonable to me. Is it a good deal for Porter? Probably, but I'm fine with that too as long as it is a sound long-term investment for the community. Regarding the money and where it would go, half of this money would come from District 2 Greenspace funds (voted on in 2001) that would just come back to District 2. The other half is from "county-wide" Greenspace funds that can be allotted to any district (voted on in 2006), and would go back to the county at-large. It's not completely to the point, but worth pointing out that $28 mill are in these county-wide Greenspace funds, but none of that money has ever been spent in District 2. Thanks again for your constructive response.
Reid Mallard June 17, 2011 at 05:43 PM
Don, Sorry to have checked my sense of humor at the door. I didn't mean to get your ire up, but perhaps I had mine. I was responding to my feeling that your characterization of this Greenspace deal on the level of a Bear Sterns deal was unfair and meant to negatively sway rather humor or inform readers. Related, I beg to differ with your characterization of how Porter has handled the land as a Bernie Madoff-type move. In my opinion, that is again an unfair aspersion. Within the law Porter kept the parcels separate and no one would have advised him otherwise. Also, yes, I agree that my very subjective example of the value of another piece of land is not terribly pertinent. My intent, albeit unclear, was not to compare apples to apples, but to point out that land values have largely shown an overall increase since 2004 despite the massive correction of the last 2-3 years. Is a correction to an average yrly increase of 4-5% over the last seven years more down to earth than the crazy 10-20% annual increases prior to '08 and '09? So, I respectfully differ from your opinion. Yes, I am willing to go with the proposed settlement cost based on the private, market appraisals. I believe it is a fair deal and represents a good long-term investment for the community. Your opinion, as stated, is that this is full of "pork-barrel political pay-offs". I believe that is an unfair statement, or at least just as unsubstantiated as my own.
Reid Mallard June 17, 2011 at 05:43 PM
Finally, no intent here to lecture you about being informed. I respect your background, we have mutual friends that respect your work and I know you were in the BOC meeting on Tuesday, as was I. The closing point, that I stand by, in my earlier post was that over-stated, perhaps sarcastic quips, much like a bad political ad, do little to inform readers. But perhaps I am remiss and should know that forums such as this and the Vent generally invite that sort of exchange rather than a genuine attempt to inform, learn and exchange information.
Don Broussard June 17, 2011 at 10:18 PM
I stand behind the figures I put out and their sources. You have not disputed those. I think I am doing my part to give facts and inform readers of this site --including you. In fact, I supplied info that The Patch should have in its reporting, which started out pretty weak, in my view. I have not accused Porter of breaking any law. You are the one defending Porter's business acumen and ignoring his ethics and the policy issues. Porter bought the land as a unit and got it zoned as a unit; it would be developed as a unit --- not as 3 parcels. You, Porter, and Assessor Curtis Hicks apparently want to hide behind the contrived fiction that these 3 unconsolidated parcels somehow do not reflect the $1.4 million Porter actually paid for them and explain away his tax break in this fashion. NO ONE on this blog takes that argument seriously. Georgia law may, MAY allow Hicks to do this, but you can't seriously defend that as good public policy. You also rushed to defend someone who's post amounted to "buy this now -- because I want it and prices will only go up." That flippant statement deserves sarcasm and derision and it IS the mindset that pushed Wall Street and the U.S. economy into a ditch in 2008. There's a list of about 12 recent books I can send you that explain this. Try reading even Wikipedia on Bear Stearns and you will get an idea about my reference. Let's talk further by email directly. Have a nice weekend.
Reid Mallard June 20, 2011 at 06:36 PM
David. I'll try and answer some of your questions from what I know. There were actually three private, market appraisals done on the land. Two of them came in at $1.7, but the third appraisal came in at $2.3. So, if my math is right they agreed on the average of the three being $1.9. The tax assessment on the land is lower than the market appraisal because, in short, the county must appraise the land as four separate parcels, three of which are land-locked. The three land-locked parcels of land have simply held the total cost of the four way down. Land-locked land simply isn't that valuable. Also, that tax assessment is for tax purposes only and would have little or no impact on the ultimate settlement price of a market sale now or when Porter bought the land in 2004. Still smarting from the last 2-3 years, it is hard to imagine land increasing at 35%, but the years prior to that have offset the recent years. I am not a real estate agent but the way I look at it is that the correction of the last 2-3 years has brought the average yearly value back down to a believable 5% increase/year over the last 7 years. I have always heard that one can reasonably hope that property might increase by 4-5% annually, but someone can check me on that. I know that vacant land we own has increased by exactly 5%/year since 2004 despite the bombshell of the last 2-3 years.
Reid Mallard June 20, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Also, the distinction in the meaning of "park" is an important one. I think alot of times the terms park and greenspace are used interchangeably to the confusion of some. This will be purchased from greenspace money that only establishes this as greenspace, preserved land. However, this land does adjoin approx 4 acres of other undeveloped wooded area adjacent to Coralwood ES that has had nature trails, bridges, and a little pavilion built by Boy Scouts and other groups. It's really a nice area and frequently used if you haven't seen it before. It is perfectly reasonable to think that these would be extended by other groups into the 6.2 acres in question and even connect to LaVista from Coralwood Rd. I know one scout leader who has already said it would be a great area for scout projects and service. I also talked with someone at the BOC meeting that represents an organization that builds soft foot paths (not the PATH Foundation). She was also interested in the possibilities. Quite a nice vision, huh?

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