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Commissioners OK potential land swap for Polo Fields, 57 acres from Denmark Park
land swap
Residents raise their hands to show support for public speakers during the latest BOC meeting on Thursday, Feb. 3. Speakers expressed concerns about a land swap between the Polo Fields and Denmark Park.

Land at the Polo Fields may continue to be used for youth soccer if county officials are able to find a buyer for nearby land planned for another park project.

Forsyth County Commissioners voted in favor of a possible land swap between property at the Polo Fields at the intersection of Majors and Post roads and part of the land acquired for Denmark Park off Windy Hill Drive at a meeting on Thursday, Feb. 3.

During the meeting, commissioners voted to approve an acquisitions contract between the county and the owners of the Polo Fields that was “contingent upon” acquiring funding for no less than $7.5 million, to initiate a county-sponsored rezoning of 57 acres of the land previously planned for the proposed Denmark Park to single-family residential district (Res3) and to authorize the sale of the land for possible bids from developers.

All votes were approved with a unanimous 5-0 vote.

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land swap
Public speakers line up to turn in public comment forms at a BOC regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 3. Speakers expressed their concerns and opinions about the land swap between the Polo Fields and Denmark Park.

History of the Polo Fields and Denmark Park

Historically, the land known as the ‘Polo Fields’ was named for an actual polo field that was at the corner of Post and Majors roads.

In 2019, plans were submitted to remake the Polo Fields, which had long been used for youth soccer, into a 131-unit subdivision and to rezone the 39 acres of land from single-family residential restricted district (R2R) to master-planned district (MPD) for an “age-targeted” community.

The plans also included 24,500 square feet of commercial buildings and 288 parking spaces, but the proposal was later withdrawn without prejudice.

In 2021, plans were submitted to build 57 residential lots on the 39 acres of land, which were later withdrawn with prejudice.

Currently, the Polo Fields is being used by the United Futbol Academy, one of the top youth soccer clubs in Georgia, and it hosts about eight soccer fields on the land.

As part of an agreement, Forsyth County pays $88,000 annually to lease the Polo Fields from the property owners, and the county received $114,000 each year from UFA for their use.

While plans were in the works to develop the Polo Fields, county leaders also considered a separate park project about 3 miles down Post/Mullinax Road known as Denmark Park.

In March 2018, Forsyth County Commissioners approved the purchase of about 57 acres on Windy Hill Drive for $5.9 million from Kay Veal and 23 acres on Mullinax Road for about $2.4 million from Mullinax Road, LLC and Jay Land.

According to a master plan for the project, Denmark Park’s proposal included pickleball courts, more than two miles of trails, four rectangular fields that could also be used for two cricket courts, basketball courts, a dog park and more.

Those in favor

Many residents voiced concerns about where they would “put the kids” if the soccer fields at Polo were taken away.

Brian Yearwood, a member of the Forsyth County Board of Parks and Recreation, offered the board’s “perspective on this” issue.

“It’s cliché, but it’s all about the kids,” Yearwood said. “That’s all any of us care out. Adult softball is great, but we’re here for youth sports and to do what we can to support youth sports.”

Yearwood was concerned what the state of youth sports might look like “if we don’t do this” because many of the rectangular fields, especially in the Vickery Creek area, are “already at capacity.”

“Spring is going to be a disaster if we don’t have those fields because we have no place to put [the kids] with soccer and lacrosse—the spring sports,” Yearwood said. “Fall is going to be an unmitigated disaster because we now have football, cheer, lacrosse and soccer.

“This is such an urgent need; we have no place to put these kids.”

Yearwood said that the field space at Polo was “more efficient than the four fields we could put in the back part of [Denmark Park].”

“This is a no-nonsense deal,” he said.

Michael Melz, a resident and father, spoke about the history of Polo, recalling stories of people playing polo on the fields off Polo Drive and Majors Road.

“It has to mean something to save the history of [Forsyth County],” Melz said. “With all the expansion that goes on in this county … it’s a fine line and balance between expanding and saving our history and who we are in this county.”

As a father of a child that plays soccer, Melz said that he could recognize the growing popularity of pickleball, but he also believed that “soccer’s not going anywhere.”

Melz said that while the fields are important to young soccer players, the history of the land is just as valuable and should be protected.

“Polo Fields is a crown jewel of this county,” Melz said. “You guys got to remember your history. Please, don’t let this fall to the wayside with so many other historical spots in this county.”

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land swap
Public speakers line up to turn in public comment forms at a BOC regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 3. Speakers expressed their concerns and opinions about the land swap between the Polo Fields and Denmark Park.

Those opposed

Robert Gerndt, a resident and pickleball player, said that pickleball is currently the “fastest-growing sport in the country.”

Gerndt said that the pickleball league he started years ago has now grown to encompass about 280 players, all of whom were “very excited” about the plans for Denmark Park.

“When we heard the plans for Denmark Park, we were all very excited having a place to play outdoors,” Gerndt said. “Many of our people prefer to play outdoors, even in cold weather.”

Gerndt said that he understood the urgency to keep youth soccer at Polo Fields, but he encouraged the board to find another way to purchase the property “without sacrificing the jewel that we have near Denmark High School.”

“We need you to continue the high standards that you’ve already set in our county for green space and parks,” Gerndt said. “10 years from now, your decision to keep all of Denmark Park’s land will be seen as a huge win for the residents of our county.”

“We need Denmark Park as originally planned,” he said.

Emily Kaminski said that she also liked the plans for Denmark Park, “even if we have to wait.”

Kaminski also brought a statement from Veal, the original owner of the Denmark Park property, who said she was “adamantly opposed to the proposed land swap.”

“I sold my farmland to be used as a park,” Veal said. “I turned down much larger offers so this land could be a park. My late husband did not want houses on that land, and I don’t either.

“We wanted to do something nice for our area, and now instead, I get to feel duped if the county goes forward with the land swap,” she said. “I am outraged that certain members of this board would consider misusing my goodwill in this way. This behavior is no advertisement for other people who are considering selling to the county. Leave Denmark Park alone.”

Discussion and decision

Before discussion, District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent, who represents the area, said that the commissioners were “all handcuffed here” when it came to a decision.

“I can’t stand that we’re all getting pitted against each other over this,” Levent said. “I wish that [we] had $7.5 million extra in the coffer. Yes, the county could use both pieces of land in the future, there’s no doubt in our mind …. We asked staff to look into our capital funds, and [the money] is just not there to hold both of them. We would love nothing more than keep both parks and not create this controversy between everybody.”

Levent explained that, if the land swap is approved and funded, the 23 acres left of the proposed Denmark Park plans will still be available to be developed into the park and could include pickleball courts.

“The front part of Denmark Park will still sit there,” Levent said. “In the county plans that we spent the $13,000 on, that’s still part of that design that we paid for, and in that front design is where the pickleball courts are still going to be. … We’re not eliminating [the] ability to have the pickleball courts there.”

Levent asked County Manager Kevin Tanner if there was any way the county could find the money to purchase the Polo Fields without selling part of Denmark Park.

“Mr. Commissioner, if you were asking me to find half a million dollars, we could probably make that happen,” Tanner said. “But, looking for $7.5 million … the only way to accomplish that, it would require us putting off or not doing other projects that are currently underway in other parks, other locations.

“We have a lot of needs, unfortunately. No matter how wealthy a county is, there’s never enough to do everything that everyone would like to have happen.”

District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson added that the board previously bought the land for Denmark Park with the intention of developing it.

However, she said there was an understanding that at the time of purchase, there “was no funding available to develop that park.”

“We realize that land is a very finite resource, and we are competing with development interests to pick up land,” Semanson said.

Semanson said the reasoning behind purchasing the land was so that the county could “strategically … lock down” the land with the hopes of development in the future.

“That was the case with [Denmark Park],” Semanson said. “When that proposal was brought to us … it was determined that we were going to landbank that.”

During discussion, County Attorney Ken Jarrard explained that with the acquisition contract, the county will not own the Polo Fields immediately.

“The acquisition contract anticipates a 90-day due diligence period,” he said.

During this time, the county will be able to “carefully scrutinize the land to ensure it will serve our purposes.”

“There will be no closing on the Polo Fields unless the county is able to sell the discussed portion of the Denmark property for a price of no less than $7.5 million,” Jarrard said.

He explained that if the Denmark property is not sold, funding is not provided and the contract is not amended by June 6 of this year, the contract will be forfeit.

Commissioners voted to approve an acquisitions contract between the county and the owners of Polo Fields for a price of $7.5 million.

To “get the Denmark property ready for auction,” commissioners also approved initiating a county-sponsored rezoning of the land to Res3. This rezoning will have a public hearing to be announced at a later date.

Following the rezoning decision in the future, the county will then run legal ads announcing that anyone can bid on the Denmark property, as also approved by commissioners at the meeting.