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Hall County to vote today on Cool Springs property
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The Hall County Board of Commissioners plans to vote on whether to accept the Cool Springs park property at its meeting at 5 p.m. today.

At Wednesday's work session, Commissioner Billy Powell read aloud a letter from attorney Julius Hulsey, who represents the donor of the Cool Springs park property.

"The acreage tract being tendered as a gift is a beautiful piece of property which has extensive road frontage and desirable topography," Hulsey wrote. "Mr. (Wendell) Starke would like for the land in question to be accepted and dedicated as a public park in accordance with the terms previously offered to the county commission.

"The land is available as a gift to Hall County provided only that the board of commissioners vote to accept the land for development as a public park. On the other hand, Cool Springs LLC cannot hold the land for Hall County for an indefinite period of time. Hopefully a majority of Hall County commission members will vote to accept the property for park and recreational purposes in the near future. If you decide not to accept the land by Sept. 1, then Cool Springs LLC's offer to gift the land to Hall County will automatically expire and terminate without further notice."

The county has had the letter since June 30, but the delay comes as a result of the land's inclusion in an ethics investigation.

In April, a group of Hall County residents filed an ethics complaint with the governor's office alleging Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver and Commissioner Billy Powell violated ethics laws by benefiting personally from county business.

The complaint alleges the two commissioners benefited financially from an attempt to buy a piece of property from Regions Bank adjacent to a proposed hotel/office complex called Gainesville City Center in Midtown in 2009.

The complaint alleges Starke, another of the City Center developers' companies, is tied to the deal by giving Hall County 85 acres on Cool Springs Road to build a park at about the same time.

Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said the office has not decided if it will refer the complaint, filed by county residents, to an administrative law judge.

"There's only one condition-that the property be used as a public park," Hulsey said. "If they don't accept it then the county is giving up a wonderful gift for northwest Hall."

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell said at the meeting that he would like to see if Starke would grant the county an extension until after the investigation is over.

"I personally feel it's premature to do anything until the investigations are over," Bell said. "I think Mr. Starke is a man of integrity and I think we owe him the full benefit of the doubt to have this thoroughly looked at ... Then I think we can move forward without a cloud hanging over the project."

Assistant Hall County Administrator Phil Sutton said former commissioners arranged the gift, "before any of these guys were on the commission."

Sutton said the park was included in the 2003 zoning approval of the nearby Marina Bay subdivision.

The county has estimated the Cool Springs park will cost between $4 million to $5 million to develop, paid for by SPLOST V funds and impact fees. Along with ball fields and a playground, plans for the park include skateboarding facilities and a retention pond.