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Hall prepares to abandon park plans
County to build road to boat storage for subdivision
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Construction on the Cool Springs park was just getting started, but the park may never see completion.

Earlier this month, the Hall County Board of Commissioners voted to halt work on the park, where about 60 percent of the grading had been completed.

Hall County Public Works Director Ken Rearden said he is working to wrap up the loose ends of the project.

"Clean up, grass it, get everything stabilized out there and move off," Rearden said.

The county will correct erosion issues and build a road leading to a boat storage area for the nearby Marina Bay subdivision.

The land for the park was donated in 2003 as part of zoning approval for Marina Bay.

"It was pointed out that our agreement included giving road access to Marina Bay for their boat storage because we displaced them when we started construction," said Commissioner Billy Powell, in whose district the land is located. "The road access was going to be the road to service the park. Now because of our contractual obligation we have to give them a place to store their boats, so we will be building a road in there."

Hall County Purchasing Manager Tim Sims said $298,000 has been spent on design work for the park, which was slated to include ball fields, a playground and a skateboarding facility.

The county has not yet received a bill for the grading work, but $737,340 was the bid amount awarded to the contractor.

"A lot of money has been spent on design and manpower and planning for the park," Powell said.

"I'm highly disappointed that the very deserving people of West Hall are not going to be receiving a park that there was a lot of excitement for, especially in light of the money was already collected and allocated from SPLOST V (special purpose local option sales tax)."

The vote to stop construction at the commission's Jan. 6 meeting was a split one, with commissioners Ashley Bell, Scott Gibbs and Craig Lutz in favor and commissioners Powell and Tom Oliver in opposition.

Lutz said he doesn't believe there's a large enough population in the northwestern part of the county to warrant the park.

"There's a couple of other Army Corps of Engineers parks and I think there are plenty of things in that area that justify the quality of life that park was supposed to provide," Lutz said. "I certainly don't see a near term need for it."

He said he also disagrees with using the SPLOST V funds designated for a North Hall park because he considers the Cool Springs location to be in the western part of the county.

Gibbs said he would eventually like to see the park developed on the Cool Springs land when the county recovers from the recession and more growth comes to the area.

"I think (Cool Springs) may have been a little bit ahead of its time, maybe," Gibbs said.

But Julius Hulsey, an attorney representing Cool Springs land donor Wendell Starke, said the land won't be there forever.

"Part of the agreement was the deed would have a reverter clause that if the county does not develop a park within a few years, it goes to Boys Town USA," Hulsey said. "So Hall County is going to lose a valuable piece of land and it does not go back to Wendell Starke or Cool Springs, LLC. I'm at a complete quandary as to why you would look a gift horse in the mouth and walk away."

The donated land has been wrapped up in an ethics complaint filed by Hall County residents alleging that Oliver and Powell benefited personally from county business involving Starke, also one of the developers of the proposed Gainesville City Center hotel/office complex project in Midtown.

The complaint alleges the two commissioners benefited financially from an attempt to buy a piece of property from Regions Bank adjacent to the Gainesville City Center project in 2009.

In August, the commission voted symbolically to accept the property after Starke stood before the commission in an attempt to clear his name and move forward with the Cool Springs park.

 

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