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Other side of green space
Deal leaves no room for two families
WEB Harrison Property 1 es
A sign on Caney Road encourages south Forsyth residents to take part in a survey on how the recently purchased Harrison property can best be used. The land in the background has been home for years to two families, who must move as a result of the land deal. - photo by Emily Saunders

A 63-acre site off Hwy. 141 in south Forsyth may one day be enjoyed by residents as a park and recreation center.

But for those already enjoying the property, it's a bitter pill to swallow.

The county took possession of what is known as the Harrison tract several weeks ago. Caught in the middle are two families, who must leave their homes of several decades as a result of the deal.

Teresa McPherson and husband Ronny own their mobile home, but have been renting the land from the Harrison family for 24 years.

Lee Dailey, executor of the Harrison estate, said evicting the McPhersons and their neighbors, the Christophers, is "not an easy thing to do ... but it's out of the question to let them stay."

Dailey said he soon will give both families a 60-day notice to vacate, which he said is in line with their "tenancy at-will" status.

He said he had "nice conversations" with the Christopher family months ago, so they could begin the search for another home.

In a letter to the editor sent to the Forsyth County News, Kathy Christopher said her family had rented land from the Harrisons for more than three decades.

Their first home on the site burned in 1987. Their current mobile home is "too old to be moved because of county regulations."

In the letter, she wrote, "We were always told the strip of property or land where we and another family, the McPhersons, live would never be sold."

McPherson said the Harrison family gave her a similar indication when they first began renting.

"They told us we could always live here," McPherson said. "They told us we would never have anything to worry about."

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said the families' rental situation was one of his reasons he voted against buying the property.

"I didn't find out about it until the night of [Dec.] 30th," Laughinghouse said.

That was one day before sale became official. The board voted 3-2 to buy the land Dec. 9, with Laughinghouse and Commissioner Jim Harrell opposed.

Public hearings were held and surveys of the property taken between Dec. 9 and 31. About $5,000 was held in escrow to allow the county to get out of the agreement before year's end.

Laughinghouse said it was up to the executor of the Harrison estate, Dailey, to decide if the two families could stay on the property.

"The county is not the one evicting them," Laughinghouse said.

Commissioner Brian Tam agreed.

"If the insinuation is that the county bought land and now we're going to evict people, that's not even close to the truth," Tam said. "It's between the seller and his tenants. The county did not inherit this situation and will not act on it."

Dailey said keeping the tenants on the premises was "not an option."

"If the county was to acquire all that land, the estate would not retain a small amount of land on which was located two mobile homes," he said, adding that it "would not make any sense for the estate to do that."

Dailey said he has been "more than accommodating" with both families, who soon will receive a 60-day notice to vacate.

"The property will be used for another purpose than housing people," Dailey said. "I certainly don't think those mobile homes fit the green space criteria."

The contract for the property, a copy of which the Forsyth County News obtained last week, does not appear to contain a provision that would've allowed the county to buy the 63 acres minus the land with the mobile homes.

The Harrison property is one of three parcels the county has bought as part of a $100 million parks and recreation bond voters approved last year. About $36 million of that is earmarked for green space.

Laughinghouse said it could be more than a year before the Harrison property is ready for public use.

Still, Dailey said, the families "have to go."

"The county is going to take possession of that property at some point in the future," Dailey said. "Once the county takes possession, it's the county's decision as to what they utilize the property for ... In the interim, I am going to ask [the residents] to leave."

Dailey has been executor of the Harrison estate since Arlene Harrison died four years ago.

McPherson said she knew her late landlord and will miss living on the family's property.

"It just kind of hurts, you know, because we've been here so long to just get thrown out like that," she said.

McPherson has worked 10 years in food services for the Forsyth County school system. Her husband works in Gwinnett County, where she said they most likely will relocate.

Dailey said the McPherson and Christopher families are the only residents "subject to any of this now." Another mobile home across the street sits on state property.

"Other than those three mobile homes, everything around there is built up in subdivisions," Dailey said. "The character of the neighborhood has changed considerably."