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Green space land a red hot topic
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Forsyth County News
The Forsyth County Commission is doing its bit to provide economic stimulus to the local real estate market, having agreed to spend more than $22 million on three parcels of land as part of a green space acquisition program approved by voters in February.

And, because it is the county commission, and because it involves land acquisition, there already is more than just a little second-guessing about the process, as well as an undercurrent of speculation about the motivations behind some of the deals being considered.

It’s unfortunate that the county has yet to master the art of buying large parcels of land without building fires of controversy. If nothing else, you would have thought questions in recent months about land purchased as a potential jail site would have taught some lessons in public relations, if nothing else.

As part of an initiative overwhelmingly approved by residents 10 months ago, commissioners have $100 million to spend for green space. In the past few days,  they’ve committed nearly a fourth of that total to land purchases, though the transactions have not yet been closed.

And at each step critics have raised their voices to cry foul, some of them members of the commission, others from the general public.

Some question the need to pay more than $100,000 an acre for land in a depressed market, particularly land that may not be suited for highest dollar development in a private transaction.

Some, most notably Commissioner Jim Harrell, wonder why there is a rush to purchase without a process for public review and input. Others would like to know how the properties proposed for purchase fit the county’s stated needs for green space as identified in its selection process.

So many questions. So few answers.

There does certainly seem to be a rushed urgency to the process of recent weeks, as though to complete at least some of the acquisitions prior to the departure from office of two of the existing commission members.
Not that any of them would ask, but here’s what we would suggest the commission do between now and the time the properties close:

• Make public, in detail, all of the parties involved. Tell the people who is going to receive the public’s money in exchange for the land being purchased. Make sure all those who will benefit are included.

• Show the public, for each piece of property, how it fits into the criteria established by the county’s green space selection process. Which green space needs is each property to meet, and how?

• Release for public review real estate transaction data to show that the prices being paid make sense. Appraisals based on what land was selling for two years ago aren’t based in reality now.

• Establish a process now for public involvement in the review and evaluation process for green space acquisition. Utilize that process on all future purchases under the bond program.

• Address the issue of the Lanier Golf Course once and for all. Rumors and speculation about the county’s behind-the-scenes plans to buy this property have for months hinted at potential controversies to come.

Commissioner Linda Ledbetter, who opposes the idea, recently brought the issue to the forefront, telling fellow commissioners “wait ‘til January and buy Lanier Golf Course. I’m so sick of this process I could scream.”

So could we all, it seems, when the county goes into land acquisition mode.