Forsyth County commissioners have taken the first step toward condemning a property needed for the new courthouse and jail projects.
The commission voted 4-1, with Commissioner Jim Boff opposed on Thursday night to approve a resolution to use the power of eminent domain to acquire the shopping center site at 108 Pilgrim Mill Road.
Chris Hamilton with the county attorney’s law firm said the resolution begins the process of condemnation.
The .86-acre property is included in the plans for a parking deck to be built in conjunction with the courthouse and jail facilities, which were approved by voters as part of a 1-cent sales tax referendum.
Commissioners held a public hearing as required on Thursday prior to approving the resolution.
Following approval, Forsyth County has 30 days before it can file a condemnation action in court, Hamilton said.
“Typically, that’s a good time for discussions,” he said. “In this type of condemnation, that 30-day period, I think the idea of the [state] legislature was to give the parties some time to come together and see if an agreement can be reached.”
Caroline Abruzese, one of the co-owners of the shopping center, requested a fair price for herself and her partners if the county must condemn the property.
“This shopping center is a significant investment for me and my partners,” Abruzese said. “While we were not able to fully recognize our whole vision in investment, it is our hope that we will receive fair compensation for the property due to the location of the center and the potential for growth.”
She felt the appraisal commissioned by the county did not return an accurate figure of the property’s value and asked the commission to reconsider its offer.
“Certainly, I would prefer to keep the center, but I understand that with that large project and that you have a right to take it, I don’t have a leg to stand on,” she said.
Jorge Paez, a tenant in the shopping center, also seeks fair payment and resolution in the matter, stating that this business is how he provides for his family.
Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said after the hearing that she would like to “very vigorously try to come to agreement if at all possible.”
The commission expects to discuss the matter during a closed executive session Tuesday.
Though the property is in Cumming, Forsyth County agreed to spearhead the acquisition of the site in an intergovernmental agreement regarding the two parking decks that was approved in April.
The parking deck planned for the Pilgrim Mill site would have between 430 and 480 spaces.
The second deck will be built on city-owned property along Castleberry Road near West Maple Street. It will feature 220 to 250 parking spaces.