Editorial: Is land swap for park good deal?

Pendleton trustees want city to exchange other land for it

We don’t envy the position Queensborough National Bank &Trust Co. was put in when it agreed last year to act as one of three trustees overseeing Pendleton King Park.

 

Then again, we don’t think much of the bank’s position on the sale of the park.

Turns out the bank got more than it bargained for when it became a park trustee last April: Richmond County Probate Judge Harry James recently ordered the trustees to produce 20 years of unfiled annual returns on the trust’s activities.

And, of course, when it became known late last year that Queensborough had agreed with trustee Clarence Barinowski to sell the park, the bank found itself in the middle of a maelstrom of public anger.

Queensborough officials say an initial proposal last year to convert the park’s disc golf area into homes was quickly dismissed after objections by Augusta Recreation and Parks Department Director H. Glenn Parker, who said disc golf was simply too popular.

Queensborough trustee Troy Breitmann said that proposal would have converted up to 40 percent of the park to a housing development.

While the bank has repeatedly said its intent was always to leave the park intact – “We sincerely regret any anxiety caused by the news of an impending sale of the park property. It has always been our intent to perpetuate this important community asset,” Brietmann wrote in The Chronicle Jan. 14 – we’re not sure its latest position on the sale will completely quell the popular rebellion.

Brietmann writes that, under the current proposal, the trustees will still sell the park to Winchester Homebuilders – presumably for something close to $1.2 million.

“In compliance with a binding, recorded restriction placed on the park property,” Breitmann writes, “Winchester Homebuilders would then, in turn, donate the entirety of the present Pendleton King Park property to the city of Augusta … with absolutely no development of any kind and a restriction that this property may only be used as a park, for all of time.

“Winchester Homebuilders would benefit from the gift as a part of their overall tax planning and receive property of similar value suitable for new development.”

Therein lies the rub: Where would that land come from?

Apparently the city, via the Augusta, Georgia Land Bank Authority, whose stated mission is to “collaborate with the city of Augusta-Richmond County on community and economic development projects by providing land to be used in the production of affordable housing for low and moderate income households.”

“There are three entities involved for the land swap,” Breitmann told us: “the land bank, the city and the developer. Whether it goes from the land bank to the city to the developer or the city to land bank to the developer, I don’t know exactly. That is where the attorneys, the city, the land bank and developer have to fill in the details of that transaction.”

In any case, the plan would have taxpayers swap comparable land in order to keep a park it already has full use of – forever, if we read Henry Barclay King’s 1931 will correctly.

How is that a good deal for the community?

City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said, “We have not received a detailed proposal for such a land swap, so there is no agreement to do so.”

Immediate reaction to the proposal was an arctic chill, both online and in the office of District Attorney Natalie Paine, who is suing to have Judge James prevent any sale of the park.

“Not clear why a park already effectively dedicated to the people of the city by the King family needs to be ‘repurchased’ by a grant of ‘property of similar value suitable for development,’” one of the more diplomatic online commenters wrote.

“I guess I’m at a loss,” Paine told us, “as to how a win-win for everyone involves the city giving away a million dollars’ worth of land to be in the exact same position they were already in.”

One possibility for a win-win is the city gets development in a distressed area of town, and gets new homes on the tax digest – but it would have to be an area the developer was bullish on.

The trust would also be infused with cash.

“It remains the only solution,” says Breitmann, “that delivers permanent protection of the park along with necessary funds to assist the trust in completing the veterans housing mandate. In addition to those necessities, there would be new benefits in the form of significant funds available for the ongoing support and improvement of the park.”

For now, Paine suggests the city should wait and see what the judge rules in her lawsuit.

“I believe that the will is very cut and dry and that this is a no brainer,” she told us. “The city needs to sit tight and let the judge determine how the trust should be interpreted. If they do that, and Henry’s will is followed in light of all of the other litigation that occurred since he died, there is only one just outcome and that is the park being left exactly how it is right now, forever and ever.”

 

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Wed, 02/21/2018 - 22:10

Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon