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Landowner to get $6M from Georgia Power

Family turned down initial offer of $3.9M for North Hall land

POSTED: February 13, 2009 11:55 p.m.

The Georgia Power Co. must pay Hall County’s largest landowner $2.2 million more than it initially offered to install power lines along a three-mile stretch of undeveloped land in North Hall, a jury decided Friday.

Hall County Superior Court jurors decided that the utility should pay Glade Farms LLC $6.1 million for 109 acres of land it condemned inside a 5,000-acre tract off Ga. 365. The amount was more than the $3.9 million Georgia Power had offered but less than the $10 million to $18 million a Glade Farms attorney suggested to the jury during closing arguments.

The property is owned by the Goess-Saurau family of Austria and is the largest contiguous tract of undeveloped land in Hall County. A 800-acre portion of the property was sold to Hall County in 2001 for a planned reservoir that could yield 6.4 million gallons per day.

The power transmission lines Georgia Power is planning to install are the biggest the company makes, supported by more than 20 steel towers standing 110 feet tall. The company altered its original plans to avoid interfering with the possible construction of a reservoir, but the lines would still mar the scenery of a planned mixed-use development that is likely years from development, Glade Farms attorneys said.

Last year the Hall County Board of Commissioners approved rezoning a portion of the land for 2,000 units and 3 million square feet of commercial office space. The 30-year plan, if it comes to fruition, projects 19,000 residents.

“Everyone agrees it will be some years before it is fully developed,” Glade Farms attorney Michael Terry told jurors in his closing argument Friday. “It’s going to take several years to start and it will take decades to finish.”

Still, Terry told jurors they could should rely on an appraisal of the land based on its “highest and best use,” not the undeveloped timberland it is now. The 3.5-mile long, 240 foot-wide swath of power lines installed by Georgia Power will permanently alter the scenic beauty of the land, he said.

“(The property) is like a diamond up in northern Hall County,” Terry said. “What Georgia Power has done is put a crack in that diamond. It will never be as valuable. Whatever money you award, our client would rather give it back and never have this power line here.”

Georgia Power attorney Doug Henderson told jurors the company is wrongfully maligned for condemnations like the one at Glade Farms.

“We get bashed over this,” Henderson said. “Do we go out and put lines wherever we want? No. We put them in the best location we can.”

Henderson told the jury they should consider the worth of the property at the time it was taken by Georgia Power in November 2007, and not rely on speculation as to how it might be developed.

“The idea that we’re destroying this property that hasn’t been developed is just not backed up by the evidence,” Henderson said.

The jury of seven women and five men took about 90 minutes to reach its verdict at the conclusion of the five-day condemnation trial.

Afterward, Glade Farms property manager Carl Nichols, a close friend and business associate of the Goess-Saurau family, said he was satisfied with the verdict.

“The jurors were very attentive and did their job,” Nichols said. “It shows the system we have in place is quite adequate. We commend the jury for the job they did and we accept the number they gave us.”

Nichols said he hopes the proposed reservoir, stalled by the ongoing tri-state water wars, would get the needed state and federal permitting this year.



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