Forsyth County Commissioners are taking steps toward reinventing a notoriously problematic development in the county.
At a work session on Tuesday, Forsyth County Commissioners directed County Attorney Ken Jarrard to reach out to the city of Cumming to start the process to form a land bank — or purchasing mechanism — to deal with issues surrounding the Greenleaf development in northeast Forsyth County.
The planned subdivision stopped construction in 2006, and two men tied to the 40-acre development were sentenced to federal prison for a mortgage fraud scheme and ordered to pay millions in restitution.
“The homes were commenced to be constructed, and actually the U.S. government raided the whole development and shut it down as a crime scene because apparently, massive mortgage fraud was going on in the subdivision,” Jarrard said. “So, that obviously stopped the subdivision.”
Jarrard said he had been approached by the county’s tax commissioner looking at ways to “clean up” taxes for the subdivision. He said the lots owed from $46 to approximately $21,000 in back taxes.
A land bank, which would require an agreement with the city of Cumming to become a reality, would have the option of eliminating those taxes.
“Under state law, if the land bank takes that property, it has the authority to just eliminate city, state [and] county taxes. It can eliminate taxes that are owed to the school board if the school board joins the [agreement,]” said Aaron Meyer with Jarrard’s law firm, Jarrard and Davis. “It’s a mechanism for completely cleaning a title at least as far as those tax liens.”
The land bank would be able to then purchase the property in a tax sale on the steps of the Forsyth County Courthouse.
Jarrard said county officials had not wanted to have a tax sale for individual lots as issues with the lots and the history of the subdivision could give buyers the impression they were getting a deal when the lots were not able to be built on.
Using a land bank, the county can combine the lots to one piece of property.
“It can take these properties and begin the assemblage process and one day that might be property that can get put back into use in the county,” Jarrard said.
Jarrard said the county did not own all the lots in the subdivision but had “interest in a few of the parcels and probably we have the ownership.”
He said the county officials had hoped an investor would buy the development but that hasn’t happened.
“You’d have to basically re-plat it and then develop it as a septic-system subdivision,” he said. “Nobody’s touched it. And you know why, it’s going to cost a lot of money to figure out all the title disputes.”
Jarrard said the development was one of the last communities to be approved for septic service rather than sewer service. He said it was “unclear at best whether that community septic was ever installed” and said later he wasn’t sure if there was “even power or water.”
The structures in the 40-acre property had been described as “shells” of houses and were in poor quality, had been vandalized and stripped and were built without proper infrastructure, which meant they could not be completed.
In 2015, the county authorized Jarrard’s office to move forward with a nuisance abatement process to begin the process of removing the properties. Tax liens were placed on the property for the demolition.
The structures were in such poor condition that during discussions before the decision to demolish was made, the Forsyth County Fire Department said they could not even use the houses for fire training.
Of the 60 proposed lots, 18 were in disrepair when construction ended.
Asbestos was also found in the structures.