A developer will trade the city of Augusta 27.62 acres along the Augusta Canal in exchange for 3.65 acres of city-owned right of way near River Watch Parkway.
Brandenburg Properties of San Jose, Calif., owns 180 acres at River Watch and Interstate 20 targeted for commercial, professional and possibly residential development.
The company wants to trade the 10.56-acre Warren Lake, 17.066 acres east of the lake and development rights to an additional 11.33 acres of "buffer land" between the canal and Brandenburg's land for the city property.
In all, the offer - approved Tuesday by the Augusta Commission - will give the city ownership or control of 38.95 acres adjoining canal property under consideration for a National Heritage Area.
The proposal had been endorsed informally by the Augusta Canal Authority, whose members have expressed ongoing interest in acquiring privately held areas along the canal. A local citizens group also said the idea has merit.
"It sounds like a step in the right direction," said Jim Hudson, co-chairman of the Savannah Waterways Forum, which supports preservation of the canal and nearby public lands.
The city's 3.65 acres include two parcels that form a narrow triangle between two River Watch Parkway entrance driveways to Brandenburg's land. The city acquired the right of way when the parkway was planned, anticipating an overhead entrance ramp and bridge that were never built.
The city's land was appraised at $291,600 with the access needed for development. However, Brandenburg - which owns all the land around the city property - asked that the land be reappraised as though there were no access. That appraisal totaled $109,500.
Appraisals of Brandenburg's property indicated Warren Lake is worth $27,450; the 17.066 acres east of the lake is worth $90,112; and the buffer zone was valued at $19,000, for a total of $136,562.
Augusta-Richmond County Attorney Jim Wall noted in a memo to commissioners that Brandenburg's proposal is to restrict development in the 11.33-acre buffer zone, but not actually sell the land to the city. The proposal also gives Brandenburg rights to develop "water dependent activities" in the buffer zone, such as boat docks and ramps.
Those uses are supported in the Augusta Canal Master Plan. "Exceptions to the defined setbacks may be made for docks and other water dependent uses," the plan says.
Dr. Hudson said the wording in the agreement regarding development exceptions along the buffer zone must be studied carefully.
"This could be a a step forward for preservation of the canal," he said. "It's favorable as long as that covenant is consistent with the master plan." Brandenburg Properties acquired its canal-front land from the city of Augusta in a land swap in 1987, several years before efforts were initiated to devise a master plan for undeveloped areas along the canal.
In 1992, Brandenburg privately approached the city council about leasing public land between the canal and the river for a proposed River Shoals Golf Course that would have flanked a planned shopping mall at I-20 and the parkway.
The golf project later was withdrawn after Augusta Canal Authority consultants and others involved in preserving the historic waterway recommended undeveloped public land be left intact.
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