From tomorrow’s AJC:

Land owners eager to sell park land to Cobb

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The possibilities seem endless.

For sale:

• A lake and 19 acres in West Cobb.

• A 122-acre tract near the Douglas county line, complete with a creek, two ponds and numerous springs.

• A house and carriage house at the site of an old whiskey distillery on 2.7 acres in Vinings.

Cobb County wants to buy park land, and residents and developers are more than ready to sell.

Harsh economics times have turned a buyers’ market into a virtual going-out-of-business sale.

Industrial sites, private homes, even a strip of land with a Civil War earthwork is for sale.

Cobb County voters approved a $40 million bond program last fall to buy more greenspace.

A 15-member citizens advisory committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. June 1 in a side room near the Cobb County commission chambers in Marietta to debate a list of 277 properties nominated for purchase. There will be a brief public comment period.

The committee will winnow the list down to between 20 and 50 properties by the third Monday in June, according to Bob Ash, Cobb County’s director of public services. At the top of the county’s criteria is the mandate to buy land in areas underserved by parks.

Cobb County won’t release the list of the nominated parcels, citing public records laws that it says allow the county not to divulge information about real estate transactions. Nevertheless, the county has held two public hearings where property owners have hawked their land, giving PowerPoint presentations about why the county should buy it.

Ash said the citizens advisory committee should pick the best park land, regardless of where it’s located in the county.

“We don’t want to make it a public contest to see how many people can call in and vote a particular property,” Ash said.

Many who want to sell their land say the market is tough.

“That’s why everybody’s here. They can’t develop their properties right now,” said Steve Tingas, co-owner of 19 acres at the corner of Mars Hill Road and Fords Road in West Cobb. He has owned the land for two years.

Tingas says the land is attractive because it has a lake and could serve as a neighborhood pocket park.

“If it’s not a park, then it will be developed in the next couple of years,” he said.

About two dozen properties are parcels where owners have continually tried to change the zoning, but the County Commission has turned them down, said Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens.

Also available are large tracts for sale, which is “rare,” said Ash.

One of those tracts belongs to Carmine Wright, 66, of west Cobb, who spoke briefly before the citizens advisory committee earlier this month to urge the county to buy his 122 acres at the corner of Brownsville-Lithia Springs Road and Brown Road, near the Douglas County line. The property has close to a mile of creek-front as well as two ponds, numerous springs and grazing cattle, Wright said.

Northwest Cobb resident Tom Downs also told the committee about his 18-acre tract, which used to be a dairy farm and has tall white oak trees.

John Pape, head of the citizens advisory committee, said the committee won’t recommend a property “unless we walk it.”

Linda Dodd Lay, the daughter of former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd, told the advisory committee that her land near downtown Vinings has a home, a carriage house, a creek and a waterfall. It was the site of the old Four Roses whiskey distillery founded in the late 1880s, she said. Lay was quick to point out the distillery was a legal one. Lay is the ex-wife of former County Commissioner Joe Lee Thompson.

Neda Gayle, who lives in south Cobb, spoke in favor of acquiring land next to I-285, near Oakdale Road.

Some of the land is zoned for townhomes. The area has more than 2,000 units and is in need of green space, she said. The county could expand Shoupade Park, which contains Civil War forts built in 1864 by slaves under the direction of Brig. Gen. Francis Shoup, she said.

One 3.5 acre parcel with a Civil War shoupade is owned by speculators who don’t want to build townhomes in this market, said real estate agent Nick O’Connor, who represents the owners. “They are willing to sell at a discount price,” he said, “it’s a deal.”