Archaeological study ordered at site of new rec park.
During a recessed meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners on Monday night, county officials voted to allow an additional 60 days to complete the due diligence phase of determining whether or not the Parker Meadows Property can be used to build a recreation facility for the community.
As clarified by Commissioner Chairman Kevin Corbin on Monday, the board has already voted to enter into a purchase agreement to move forward with acquiring the property. To finalize the purchase agreement, commissioners must complete the due diligence period, which will determine if the property can be used for its intended purpose, in this case, a recreational complex. In the event that commissioners find for whatever reason the property is not suitable for the project's intended purpose, the board can vote to not purchase the property.
The original due diligence period was for 30 days, and at the recommendation of Mike LoVoy with Alliance Consulting, the firm hired to aid the county in establishing plans for the recreation park, the county requested an additional 30 days of due diligence, which was set to expire Tuesday, Jan. 15.
As a government agency, the county is required to adhere to laws and regulations regarding archaeological studies and preservation that private owners would not be subject to. Because Parker Meadows is located alongside a creekbed, it is likely that the property was once inhabited by Native Americans. Because of the likelihood that members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) once sat on the proposed property, the EBCI requested that Macon County conduct an archaeological study to determine if development of the property would disturb any remains in the area.
In order to conduct the study, known as Phase I, the county would need an additional 60 days of due diligence to fulfill the request of the EBCI. According to LoVoy, the Phase I process would cost anywhere between $42,000 and $48,000 and take 60 days. LoVoy informed commissioners, that while the entire process would take the full 60 days, the county would know if the property was eligible for development based on requirements set by the EBCI in the next three weeks.
County Commissioner Ron Haven voiced concern about the value of the property. According to Haven, he had been told by members of the community that the property is not worth half of what the county is considering purchasing it for. “I don't know how I want to vote just yet,” said Haven. “I think the property is worth about half of what we are thinking about. I came up with these figures by talking to realtors about the property. I have not seen an appraisal on the property.”
Corbin explained that the offer the county made was based on the tax base and a previous appraisal that was made on the property. “The original estimate on the property was upwards of $800,000, and we offered to purchase it for $550,000.”
Haven explained that according to the Master Plan LoVoy presented to commissioners Monday night, the county was applying for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant based on the project plans that the total end result of the recreation complex will be an anticipated $5 million, with 50 percent possibly being paid for in $500,000 increments from PARTF.
“There is a big ‘if’ in those numbers and I would hate to think that if we didn't get that money next year or the year after that, the county and the taxpayers would be stuck biting the bullet on the whole project,” said Haven.
Haven also noted that the results of the archaeological survey are also uncertain and would leave the county moving forward on a project with several “what ifs” weighing in.
Corbin clarified to Haven the two extremes of the project were to move forward with the project and without funding, wait to develop the property, or to move forward with the property and develop fully immediately upon purchasing.
“Regardless of how we decide to move forward with the development of the property, the only thing we are voting on tonight is moving forward with due diligence on the property for possible purchasing. If we decide to do nothing but purchase the property, it will cost the county $275,000 with $275,000 paid for from PARTF funding,” said Corbin.
Commissioner Ronnie Beale explained that if the county chooses to purchase a different property for a recreational complex, the grading cost alone on an undeveloped property would be triple the proposed purchase cost of the Parker Meadows property.
Corbin noted that Phase I would need to be done on any property the county would consider because Native Americans lived in the area for 10,000 years and lived in the flat lands of the area.
Commissioner Paul Higdon said that while he supported a new recreational complex and while he understands the need for new ball fields, he is uncertain if the Parker Meadows property can serve the intended purpose and if it is worth the proposed price.
According to LoVoy, if the archaeological survey revealed that the property does in fact contain Native American artifacts, the ECBI would require that Macon County bring in three feet of fill dirt to cover the property before proceeding with development. But because a large portion of the Parker Meadows property falls in the flood plain, it would be subject to Macon County's flood plain ordinance. The ordinance states that in order to fill in the flood plain, only dirt already available within the property can be used to fill it, and there is no extra dirt on the proposed property, and the county's hands would be tied.
After more than an hour of back and forth between the commissioners, the board decided to move forward with an additional 60 days of due diligence period to allow for Phase I of the archaeological survey to satisfy the request of the EBCI. Commissioners unanimously voted to allow up to $42,000 from the county's undesignated fund balance to cover the cost of the archaeological survey.
The Board of Commissioners is expected to have enough information by the February board meeting to make a decision on the property.
In the meantime, commissioners voted to approve the Master Plan for the project, as required to apply for the PARTF grant. The grant request is due by the end of the month, regardless if the county proceeds with plans to purchase the property. In the event that the archaeological survey determines that there are artifacts on the property and the county can not move forward with plans to purchase, the county would have no obligation to retain the PARTF grant.