Behind the overgrown brush on Anderson Lake Road lies 40 acres of roads to nothing and shells of homes that never had a chance.
The empty cul-de-sacs are littered with waste, weeds have taken over and the houses have been gutted of anything of value and destroyed by vandalism.
It’s been seven years since work stopped in the unfinished Greenleaf subdivision of northeastern Forsyth County.
One of the developers, Jeffrey Alan Teague has remained in prison since October 2007, serving a 15-year sentence for a mortgage fraud scheme in which investors secured $5 million for 16 unfinished homes.
Darryl L. Cooper was sentenced in January 2008 to one year, six months in federal prison for creating fraudulent appraisals that reflected completed construction of the homes in the neighborhood.
Both men were also ordered to pay millions of dollars in restitution.
While the civil and criminal legal proceedings have ended, the problem-plagued neighborhood remains with no solution in sight.
Situation vexes officials
Forsyth County commissioners have discussed some possibilities to get the site cleaned up, most recently directing the county attorney on Aug. 6 to present options to condemn the unfinished structures.
Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, whose district covers most of northern Forsyth, said residents have complained that the abandoned site has become a haven for crime.
The unfinished homes may pose public safety and health risks, which could allow them to be condemned.
“I want to get it fixed for the community,” Mills said. “We’re handcuffed as to what we can do as a solution because it’s privately owned property.”
Because of those property rights, Mils said the county can’t simply gate off the subdivision and deny access.
A map presented at an Aug. 6 work session showed that the 68 lots had at least six different owners. For eight lots, no concrete legal ownership could be determined.
Commissioners had hoped the owners might be interested in donating what would seem to be virtually worthless lots to the county.
However, just eight properties had owners willing to do so, said County Attorney Ken Jarrard.
The county did not receive any indication of what the remaining owners planned to do with the sites, Jarrard said.
“We were trying to do some of the heavy lifting,” he said, “so we could have offered either a third party a package deal to come make this property productive again or we could have used it for something that betters the community.”
The commission directed condemnation of the houses as the next option, which if approved, would then result in a lien on the property for the cost of that demolition, Jarrard said.
Many lots ‘non-viable’
The 18 standing houses reached different stages of completion, some with painting, fireplaces, showers and cabinetry inside.
But the necessary infrastructure was never installed, making the homes simply for show.
The final plat was falsified so the 68 lots appeared ready for development, with a septic system and communal drain field that don’t exist.
In addition, the fines for erosion and sedimentation control violations on 14 lots total about $21.5 million, accruing daily at $12,250, according to the county’s engineering department.
A county resolution allows for a possible reduction of fines to a maximum of $50,000 with an agreement to correct the violations on foreclosed properties. But in Greenleaf’s case, there’s no single owner to confront.
In March 2012, commissioners approved a resolution that put notice in the titles on public record so anyone doing their due diligence would have knowledge of the inadequacies of the residential lots.
“These are really non-viable lots,” Jarrard said, noting primarily the lack of a sewer solution.
Since county regulations no longer allow septic on lots that small, about .2 acres, and the permits have expired, public sewer would be required. Sewer lines don’t reach that area of the county.
Some of the lots have changed hands, as banks foreclose and auction off the properties or years of unpaid taxes land the sites for sale on the courthouse steps.
County public record shows four lots sold in 2012, of which three had houses. The highest price paid was $24,400, and the lowest $3,900 for a site without a structure.
Criminal activity reported
The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office patrols Greenleaf like it would any other occupied subdivision, deputy Kevin Ferraro said, though the property is unique.
“When I worked patrol, we called this the ghost town,” Ferraro said.
Agency records show nine incidents in the subdivision since work stopped in 2006, but Ferraro noted those are just the ones that someone took the time to report or were caught by a patrolling deputy.
The offenses include burglary, marijuana possession, theft, loitering and abandoned vehicle.
Deputy Randy Burton said he occasionally ate his lunch or completed his paperwork while parked in the neighborhood to have a law enforcement presence aimed at deterring trespassers.
The primary concern is with minors, Burton said, as evidenced by graffiti in the homes and windows busted out with bricks.
Mills said she’s heard allegations of more serious criminal activities from area residents concerned about safety and property values.
“The county would love to have a solution,” she said. “It’s an eyesore for the community.”