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County may buy golf course
Proposal involves lease to private firm
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Forsyth County News
It appears the Forsyth County commission is seriously considering buying Lanier Golf Course.

At least two commissioners have been involved in negotiations to buy the course and lease it to Affiniti Golf Partners in Alpharetta.

Jim Harrell said he and fellow Commissioner Jim Boff have worked together on the deal. The course, which is off Buford Dam Road east of Cumming, is in Boff’s district.

Harrell said details are still being worked out and the deal has not been presented to the commission.

The matter could come up during executive session before today’s meeting.

He said preliminary figures show the county would put up about $9 million and Affiniti would pay about $3 million to buy the 170-acre site from owners Jack Manton and George Bagley, Jr.

“(Affiniti was) close by and it’s kind of interesting, when they were contacted, they were in acquisition mode,” Harrell said. “... Nothing’s in ink yet. Until you get the board to approve a certain deal it just isn’t.”

Harrell said the county has no financial liability in the deal and, according to the proposal, would lease the course to Affiniti for 99 years.

“If they make money, they make money. If they lose money, they lose money,” he said. “It won’t affect the county.”

Harrell said funding to buy the course could come from the county’s $100 million parks, recreation and greenspace bond, adding that residents who live in District 5 pay “their fair share” of the bond.

Voters approved the bond measure in 2008.

Boff could not be reached for comment on the matter.

Last month, the county bought 31 acres of greenspace in his district, which includes Cumming and much of eastern Forsyth. The property is next to Windermere Park.

Commissioner Patrick Bell said he found out about the golf course proposal Monday from a resident.

Bell said he’s not opposed to the county owning a course, as long as any deal is conducted properly.

“If we can’t buy a golf course, then we need to look at it for greenspace because the citizens of District 5 deserve some greenspace and it’d be a beautiful park,” Bell said.

Attempts to reach Whitney Crouse, Affiniti principal and founding partner, were not successful.

Affiniti operates many golf courses, including Alpharetta Athletic Club, part of which was formerly known as Crooked Creek, in nearby Milton.

Lanier Golf Course has been the focus of a legal battle since 2007.

Manton, who could not be reached for comment, and Bagley sought legal action after the commission denied their request to rezone the site from agricultural to a master planned district.

Wellstone LLC wanted to buy the site, contingent upon its rezoning, and build a 772-unit residential development with a 300-unit continuing care retirement community on the property.

The company joined Manton and Bagley in the suit, but dropped out early in 2009 after moving its headquarters to Texas.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Roger E. Bradley’s late December decision against the county’s request to dismiss the lawsuit is the most recent development in the case.

According to a statement from Lanier Golf Club, the owners contend they have a right to sell the property for uses other than a golf course.

“Although the political process has failed to protect our Constitutional rights, the legal system has consistently upheld our claims,” the statement shows. “We anticipate the trial based upon the Forsyth County Commissioners’ improper denial of our rezoning application will be held in early 2010.”

Included in the golf course owners’ suit against the county are arguments that the commission’s denial of the rezoning was unconstitutional and was “in order for Forsyth County to purchase the property at less than its fair market value.”

Using documents obtained through an open records request, the Forsyth County News reported last summer that the county had spent nearly $24,000 on five appraisals of the course since June 2008.

The documents show that the property was appraised several different ways: low-density residential; golf course; and “highest and best use.”

The appraisals came despite the fact commissioners had not publicly admitted they were interesting in acquiring the site.

It would appear, now, they are interested in it as a golf course.

As for the potential deal, Harrell is optimistic.

“I don’t see any losers in this deal at all, none,” he said.