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DeKalb Commission Hopes for Better Price on LaVista Property

Issue deferred another two weeks in hopes staff can renegotiate

Hoping for a better price than $1.9 million, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners voted to wait another two weeks before deciding whether to purchase six acres of LaVista Road property for greenspace purposes.

"I just want to make sure that when we're using public funds, we're getting the best price," said Super District 7 Commissioner Stan Watson, who made the motion to defer. "I want to have answers if someone puts a microphone in front of my face and asks about this purchase."

The tract's assessed value – $393,000 – and the much higher proposed sales price have led to pointed questions from media and local residents.

Watson asked county staffers to renegotiate with the seller in hopes of securing a lower offer.

Commissioner Jeff Rader, in whose District 2 the property is located, said "this piece of property is one of the very few undeveloped lots [in my district.] There is a great deal of support for this greenspace purchase and other greenspace purchases in central DeKalb."

Despite agreeing that the county needs additional greenspace, former DeKalb planning commissioner Don Broussard urged the board to purchase the property at a reasonable price.

The property is located at 2886 LaVista Road.

North Druid Hills-Briarcliff Patch spoke last week 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 asssessed value has not changed since 2008. It's market value, however, changes fluidly.
DeKalb Resident June 28, 2011 at 06:51 PM
The property was originally assembled and is currently zoned for the development of 33 townhomes. For correct information on how the property is valued, go back to appraiser Calvin Hicks. The property was on the tax record as separate parcels; its value is much higher as one parcel which it has been since its assemblage several years ago with access to LaVista Road. This area is desperate for green space as much of the redevelopment that has taken place has successfully clear cut acres and acres of trees and fenced off any connections between neighborhoods. In addition to all that, the history of this piece of property is significant to DeKalb County as one of the first areas settled by former slaves. It would be a rich addition to story of DeKalb County and the people who live in this area. For more information, check with the DeKalb History Center for an oral history and photo exhibit.
jimbob June 28, 2011 at 11:44 PM
I'm not sure if I understand exactly who is pushing for 'what' in this case. Hicks' explanation actually does make perfect sense. The value goes up greatly if it's all one big piece of property. How much? I have no idea. Is someone thinking that someone is getting a big kickback from the sale?
Don Broussard June 29, 2011 at 01:42 AM
@Dekalb Resident, if the site was so historically significant, why did then Commissioners Burell Ellis, Kathy Gannon, and Connie Stokes vote in 2006 to allow 33 townhomes and mass grading occur there? So 5 years age, they were stupid and insensitive -- but now Commissioner Gannon and CEO Ellis should be trusted? Which is it? Either way, it is handing Rick Porter an inflated value of $1.95 Million. This is a developer bailout. The price needs to come down. If not, the tract will still be for sale in a month/year. Bet on it.
john pavlin June 29, 2011 at 11:28 AM
Great points Don. I don't think the purchase is on the level.
MaxB June 29, 2011 at 06:05 PM
Here is my math that indicates a wildly inflated sales price for 33 townhomes approved and undeveloped. Sales price undeveloped of $1.9M + $1.3M to develop (circa $40k per lot on a difficult parcel)=3.2 million minimum developed cost. Would a builder/developer buy $100k condo pads in this market. My opinion is that there is no way. The only townhome land sales have been developed foreclosures and have been less than the cost of this raw land. What comps could they be using? How old and How far away as to justify paying the owner the equivalent of $100k per pad developed? I challenge anyone to identify a sale in the last year(or even 2 years) to justify a 1.9M undeveloped price or a builder to buy townhome pads for 100k . The county is the only party interested in this dirt. Max Baerman
Cerebration July 03, 2011 at 02:56 PM
If this land sells for nearly a half-million more than the seller paid for it five years ago, then that is what would be newsworthy. The developer would be the only person in metro Atlanta to make money on real estate in the last 3 years. Instead -- why on earth won't the school system "sell" the Heritage school property to the county (which has been closed and decommissioned and apparently now blighted and inviting crime)? There's already a small park on the property that could easily be expanded if the tiny school (18 classrooms and 40 parking spots) was torn down and converted to greenspace.
Tom Doolittle July 13, 2011 at 04:19 PM
The school system doesn't sell property. The school system is in the surplus property business. Kidding aside, before selling school sites, the question of DCSS and public schools' general future should be considered. Three forces at work: 1) System split-up; 2) a new law allowing new city school systems; 3) more charters and private schools than public. Then there's always the age-old problem of demographic projections--almost impossible. BTW--one of the neighborhood's proposed solution to the so-called "overcrowding" in Lakeside's cluster was to use Heritage for a 3 thru 5 school.

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