While there have been some unusual claims and statements (to the effect that the city already has an ownership interest in everyone's property because it is an urban setting or that I have somehow prevented my clients from reading the Farmlands Group study), I do find it encouraging that, for the most part, individuals on both "sides" of the argument are focusing on the fact that it will require the city (or someone) to spend millions and millions of dollars to "preserve a farm."
I would encourage your readers to pay particular attention to last week's letters from Michael Brooker and Pat Showalter. As both authors point out, the cost of the property is in the millions. Raising such amounts to purchase the property is an idea that the Farmlands Group has publicly stated is simply not feasible.
By the same token, making up the owners' losses through some sort of tax benefit is also not feasible. As stated by SummerHill Homes' representative, by Janet Smith-Heimer of Bay Area Economics, and by me, there are no tax benefits from an involuntary, forced transfer of property. I think everyone now acknowledges that there are no magic tricks that can mask the fact that requiring the owners to transfer the property will cost the owners dearly.
To some, permitting the development of the property equals the city's abandoning its responsibilities. But let us be realistic. In this day and age, no one gets "to develop property any way they want," regardless of where the property is located. And certainly no one is asking that the city abandon its duties or to receive special favors from the city. The city will, as it should, have significant oversight and input regarding the homes that will be built on the property, just as the letter from Liz Snyder-Liles said the city did when she built her home. SummerHill Homes will pay significant fees to the city (just the same as anyone else building a home in the city since the city's ordinances apply the same to everyone) and, if the city does not want to have a half-acre park on the site, SummerHill will pay well over a million dollars into the city's park fund — again in accordance with city ordinances. All of those issues and costs will be handled through the city's normal review and approval process — as they should be.
The question to be answered, and the one that is truly before the City Council, is whether to condemn a part of the property and take it away from its owners (with the city paying the cost of that condemnation), or to permit the property to be developed in accordance with the pre-zoning designation that has been assigned to the property for decades.
Lex Watson is an Atlanta-based attorney for Betty Moore and Pauline King, the owners of the farm property.