The first of two condemnation hearings for the property was held Thursday night at Rock Creek Sports Complex.
Dawson County wants to condemn the six lots between the county's historic courthouse and the current courthouse for the new sales tax-funded expansion project.
The property is at the intersection of Shoal Creek Road and Hwy. 9.
Doug Flint, an attorney representing property owners, Jeffery Coe and members of the Turner family, said his clients plan to fight the condemnation of the property on grounds that the county does not, at this point, have a clear, concise outline of needing the property.
"You don't really know what you need the property for yet. Indeed, you haven't hired the architects yet, which of course, causes my clients to be quite puzzled," Flint told members of the Dawson County Board of Commissioners.
Flint said the Turner family has owned the property for more than 170 years.
"While it is fine to flippantly refer to it as the gravel lot, this is six city lots in the heart of Dawsonville," he said. "If Dawsonville can have a middle of town, this is it."
Additionally, Coe and the Turners have had plans for more than three years to develop the property into a small office park, Flint said.
Dawson County Attorney Joey Homans said the condemnation hearings are being held before the county can to exercise the power of eminent domain to acquire the property.
"We've been trying to get with the Turner family, and any representative they designated, for several months going back in to last year, but we've been unsuccessful," he said.
Homans said the two parties plan to meet soon to discuss the property and pending condemnation.
Coe and the Turners received approval from the city of Dawsonville in June to move forward with their plans for the development.
The partners plan to convert the property into mixed office/retail space, demolish two buildings on the site, and construct two, two-story buildings that emulate the architectural styles of nearby downtown buildings.
"We have at least four tenants already signed up for the Dawson Square Complex. These are businesses that intend to locate in downtown Dawsonville," he said.
Dawsonville Mayor Joe Lane Cox supports the Turner's proposed development, "If they are serious and are going to do what they said they are going to do," he said.
"If the county builds the new courthouse on the property on the north side of the (current) courthouse, then there's room for underground parking, they can go up three stories. We can have our cake and eat it, too," Cox said.
Rosser International is the architect firm selected by the county last month to design the new courthouse. Rosser appears to be leaning toward a design that would place the entrance of the new courthouse along Hwy. 53, according to commission chairman Mike Berg.
The property in question includes the gravel lot currently used for overflow courthouse parking. It also includes the adjacent lot to its west, which currently houses a small vacant building, as well as land occupied by the Dollar General store on Shoal Creek Road.
Rosser considers the land to be premium sites for the new courthouse, administrative building and accompanying parking facility, Berg said.Berg said Rosser has now been asked to take a sharp look at the property and evaluate the area and the land surrounding the lots to determine how the property could fit together for the new courthouse and administrative center.
K.K. Turner, the Turner family patriarch, said after last Thursday's meeting that he has offered the county an alternative. Turner said he has offered to sell four acres adjacent to the county's new law enforcement center for $100,000 an acre for the new courthouse project.
He said he just wants the county to leave the family's downtown property alone.
Berg said he was unaware of Turner’s offer, but added their were talks a year and a half ago with the Turner’s concerning land north of the new law enforcement center.
Flint explained that members of the Turner family helped establish Dawson as a county and donated a portion of the family's farm to the county for the original courthouse.
"How much do you have to give to be accepted in Dawson County," Turner said.
"It seems quite ironic that by donating property, by sowing graciousness to their citizens, to their county, a family could be penalized to this extent, Fling said.
Berg said the interest in the gravel lot has not changed and the condemnation hearings are the first step in the process to acquire the property.
If an agreement can’t be reached by the two parties, the battle would more than likely end with a court deciding the value of the property and settlement to be paid to the owners.
Turner said he is prepared to take his fight to the Supreme Court if his fight at the local level is not successful.
The final condemnation hearing on the property will be held at 6 p.m. July 24, during the board of commissioners regular meeting.A condemnation hearing is also scheduled for a lot on Shoal Creek Road, where the Dollar General store is located.
E-mail Michele Hester at firstname.lastname@example.org.