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Group aimed at rejuvenating land in Forsyth County has first meeting
Land Bank Authority formed to handle properties like the abandoned Greenleaf subdivision
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Forsyth County commissioners have discussed some possibilities for cleaning up the unfinished Greenleaf subdivision. - photo by Alyssa LaRenzie

A new group aimed at helping the community get better uses out of certain pieces of land recently held its first meeting.

On Friday, June 25, members of the Forsyth County Land Bank Authority held its first meeting at the Forsyth County Administration Building. The group is made up of members nominated by Forsyth County Commissioners and the Cumming City Council and is aimed at rejuvenating land that is delinquent in taxes, in disrepair, abandoned or foreclosed on.

“Essentially, land banks have been created after states and local governments across the United States have identified a problem,” said Molly Esswein with Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard’s office, “and that there are these properties that end up blighted or not maintained well that are delinquent on their taxes and have liens and similar problems and due to various regulations and requirements, it’s a little bit difficult to have them marketed publicly and have those issues resolved.”

Members of the group include Forsyth County Manager Kevin Tanner, Cumming City Councilmen Joey Cochran and Christopher Light, local attorney Phill Bettis and Forsyth County resident Lamar Wakefield, who is principal at Nelson Worldwide.

The authority does not have the ability to use eminent domain to obtain property, and members said land they are in control of would come from tax sales or be designated by the city or county governments.

“The idea is for them to acquire, manage and maintain and basically facilitate the development or redevelopment of these properties,” Esswein said.

For properties that are taken over by the authority then later sold, the group may receive up to 75% of county property taxes for five years, which will be used to fund other projects.

One property that was discussed by members of the authority was the abandoned Greenleaf subdivision off Anderson Lake Road in northeast Forsyth.

“One of the impetuses behind this is … off Anderson Lake Road there is some property some of you may remember it’s a defunct community, the developer went to federal prison,” Tanner said. “Houses were built, [with] no sewer on lots too small for septic tanks.”

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 structures in the 40-acre property had been described as “shells” of houses and were in poor condition, had been vandalized and stripped and were built without proper infrastructure, which meant they could not be completed.

Of the 60 proposed lots, 18 were in disrepair when construction ended.

In 2015, the county authorized Jarrard’s office to move forward with a nuisance abatement process to begin the process of removing the properties, which was completed in 2016. Tax liens were placed on the property for the demolition.

Though the structures have come down, tax and title issues on the land remain.

Tanner said it would likely be a lengthy process to take over property, clear up title and tax issues, market it and have it sold.

Since this was the group’s first meeting, the only action taken was to hire Joey Homans as the group’s attorney, who will help come up with the group’s procedures.

Tanner said the group is also requesting $10,000 from the county as seed money to hire Homans and begin work.