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County mulls land swap for soccer fields
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County commissioners are weighing the option of swapping a 50-acre tract of land in exchange for 33 acres engineers say would be more conducive to developing additional soccer fields near Rock Creek Park.

While there are no current plans to build new soccer fields at the park, Dawson County Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Henson said the land swap is a step in addressing a growing need. Soccer is currently the county's fastest youth sports program.

"A few years ago ... all the department heads were tasked with looking outside the box at what can we do for the future of Dawson County with [no additional funds], and this was one of the things that came up is this availability of this land next to Rock Creek," she said.

Discussions of the land swap began last summer, when Etowah Water and Sewer Authority's board agreed to the exchange with Jackie and Jerry Townley, who own property on Bannister Road next to the park. The authority plans to give the Townley property to the county for recreation purposes.

Etowah's property on Dawson Forest Road is part of an agreement that dates back to the late 1990s and involves the county paying interest on a loan the authority obtained for land to build a water reclamation facility and spray fields.

Brooke Anderson, authority general manager, said the result of the land swap will mean new assets totaling 33 acres on Dawson County's books.

"This is a net gain for the county in terms of having an asset appreciation or increase to your asset book at no cost to allow these soccer fields," he said. "Based on previous conversations with this commission, our authority has agreed a while back that we would give this land to the county not only for soccer fields or any recreational purpose that you desired."

At issue for Commissioner Jimmy Hamby during last Thursday's work session was exchanging 50 acres that is valued at $290,000 for 33.5 acres valued at $100,000 less.

County Manager Cindy Campbell assured him the swap is comparable due to the high cost associated with developing the 50-acre tract.

"By development cost, I mean development cost to build soccer fields, specifically," she said.

According to Campbell, County Engineer Corey Gutherie compared the two tracts to determine the cost to clear the land, grade for erosion control and cut access roads, among others.

"And what he came back with was $800,000 for the 50 acre EWSA tract. The reason for that cost is the topography of that tract," she said.

The 33.5 acre Townley tract was significantly lower at $50,000, due to the topography of that tract, she said.

Weighing in, Commissioner James Swafford said the proximity of the Townley's land to Rock Creek Park appears more cost effective once plans to develop new facilities emerge.

"If you go with the 50-acre tract, you're creating a whole new park, which will require more security, require more staff, more buildings. This other over here is in a close proximity that you would not have to build as many facilities," he said.

Though, Swafford cautioned that funds are not currently available for such expenditures.

"Right now we can't even light the soccer fields that we've got," he said.

Campbell said there are no immediate plans to develop new soccer fields.

"We do not have it built into the budget and I don't foresee it in the near couple of years to build soccer fields. This is just an option. If the board chooses to take that direction and seize that need for the future, this might be a low cost way to obtain that land and have that ready for the future," she said.

District 1 Commissioner Gary Pichon was a member of the Development Authority of Dawson County when unsuccessful attempts were made several years ago to market the Etowah property.

"I would remind people that the development authority tried to interest a couple of businesses ... in this piece of property. These people were interested. You get really nice views off that piece on top with the lower portion of that land for walking trail," he said. "Nothing came of that."

According to Commission Chair Mike Berg, there have been talks by the Townleys to use the property once the land swap is complete as a staging area for horseback rides through the trails in nearby Dawson Forest.

"There is a need for that, because they are just all over the place now. He hasn't definitely said that's what he's wanting to do," Berg said. "That's just one thing that he thought of."

The commission is expected to vote on the measure during its May 23 meeting. There is no meeting this Thursday.