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Plan for course will be detailed
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Forsyth County News
Green space and Lanier Golf Course will be topics of discussion at a town hall meeting Thursday night.

The event, called by District 5 Commissioner Jim Boff, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Mashburn Elementary School.

Boff said he wants to talk with residents about the green space his district and others have received, as well as “to make the case that District 5 could use some more and why the golf course is a prime candidate.”

In December, the county spent $250,000 to acquire 31 acres of green space next to Windermere Park. The property is in Boff’s district.

The county has given the city of Cumming $10 million from the $100 million parks, recreation and green space bond for an aquatic center that is being built off Pilgrim Mill Road in District 5.

Questions have surfaced over the fairness of spending more money in Boff’s district.

“The aquatic center is in District 5, but it’s there for everybody in the county and it’s owned by the city,” Boff said.

“So if you want to claim it’s for District 5, I think the only reasonable way to look at it is to say since it’s there for everybody it’s 1/5 of the cost of the county for every district we have. So that’s what, about $2 million (per district)?

“We don’t have a green way, we don’t have a lot of parks and the aquatic center is a potentially debatable item. It’s certainly not 1,000 percent clear.”

He said he has invited the other four commissioners to present “their solution or their approach to saving that 172 acres.”

To save the site, Boff and Commissioner Jim Harrell have worked together to negotiate a deal with Affiniti Golf Partners in Alpharetta to run the course.

Early details of the plan, which surfaced in January, show that the county would pay about $9 million and the company about $3 million to buy the site from owners Jack Manton and George Bagley Jr.

Affiniti would then lease the property from the county for about 99 years and operate it as a golf course.

Boff said Affiniti’s proposal will be discussed Thursday night.

“I think it’s got some excellent features,” Boff said. “Number one, it saves the county money up front and number two it takes 100 percent of the cost of operation, maintenance and improvement off the back of the county and yet we own the property.”

He added that the proposal includes programs and tournaments for high school students and other benefits to residents.

“If the golf course is preserved, it would return sales tax revenues to the county, keep people employed there and probably employ a few others,” Boff said.

Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said he likely will not be able to attend Thursday night because of another meeting in Gainesville.
However, he expressed reservations about what Boff and Harrell are proposing.

“I would consider purchasing the property for green space, but I am at this time not in favor of buying a golf course for a golf course,” Laughinghouse said.

“If you want to buy a golf course, I think that it’s up to the people to make that decision, so put a vote on the July ballot. Let people decide if they want to pay the additional tax to buy it as a golf course.”

Laughinghouse said he hopes the crowd at the town hall meeting will be diverse.

“There are very, very few town hall meetings where it isn’t stacked one side versus the other, but who knows,” he said. “It is open to everybody and I would hope that there would be representation from all factions involved.”

Commissioner Patrick Bell has also suggested letting voters decide if the county should buy the golf course.

What remains unclear is where the money to buy the site would come from.

The county has spent about $33 million of the $36 million set aside to acquire green space as part of the $100 million parks, recreation and green space bond.

Boff and Harrell have suggested there are other potential financial sources.

“We’ll talk about that (Thursday night) too,” Boff said.

What’s also at issue is a lawsuit filed against the county by Manton and Bagley.

The course owners sought legal action in fall 2007 after the commission denied a request to rezone the site from agricultural to a master planned district.

Wellstone LLC wanted to buy the site, contingent upon its rezoning, and build a 772-unit residential development with a 300-unit continuing care retirement community on the property.

The company joined Manton and Bagley in the suit, but dropped out early in 2009 after moving its headquarters to Texas.

Most recently, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Roger E. Bradley denied the county’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

Since that late December ruling, the owners have released a statement accusing the local government of failing to uphold their constitutional rights. They expect a trial early this year.

Included in the golf course owners’ suit against the county are arguments that the commission’s denial of the rezoning was unconstitutional and was “in order for Forsyth County to purchase the property at less than its fair market value.”

The county has spent about $24,000 to have the golf course appraised at least five times.

The amounts of the appraisals have not been made public, though commissioners have said the most recent evaluation was in early 2009.