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City to buy 97 acres in heart of town
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The Covington City Council voted to purchase a wooded 97.78-acre tract in the heart of the city that touches five separate neighborhoods and could add more connectivity to the city in the future.

The Council voted unanimously Monday to approve spending $255,200 to purchase the tract, which is located between Washington Street and Jackson Highway.

Connecting Covington
The property abuts the Walker’s Bend and Inglewood Park subdivisions as well as properties on several other streets, including Pinecrest Drive, Indian Creek Circle, Rebecca Street, Ponderosa Drive, Locust Circle, West Street and Lunsford Circle.

Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said no decision has been made about the land’s future development, and he doesn’t expect a decision any time soon, but he was intrigued by its possibilities.

“We do see an incredible opportunity to do unique things and address quality of life issues,” Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said in an interview after the meeting. “It does put the city in position to be aggressive with developers and puts us in a position to have connectivity with neighborhoods. It’s a really unique and beautiful piece of property with some hills and rivers.”

At this point, Johnston said officials are simply throwing out ideas for discussion, but said he and others were attracted to the property’s ability to connect five “very diverse” neighborhoods “in almost endless different ways.”

Details of the deal
The property was appraised by Alexander Appraising, and the city agreed to buy the land at its appraised price.

The land is being sold by RDF Properties, a subsidiary of the Arnold Fund, a private foundation with a mission to improve Newton County. The group funded the building of the Clark’s Grove neighborhood and the building that houses Amici’s Italian Café and owns several properties around the county.

Johnston said Frank Turner Sr., with the Arnold Fund and former Covington city manager, called him up and said he wanted to show Johnston the property.

Turner said the property was historically used as a dairy pasture – the Parker’s home is still on site – but a land speculator bought the property years ago and members of the Arnold Fund were worried it would be built out with “ticky-tack houses.”

“We’ve held it all this time, and now we decided we weren’t doing anything with it,” Turner said.

The Arnold Fund sold the property well below its original purchase price during the housing boom.

According to the official deed transactions, RFD Properties purchased half of what was originally a 120-acre parcel for $607,500 in 1999 and later purchased the other half for $549,500 in 2005. Later in 2005, RFD sold 23 acres of the lot – the southwest corner of the property – for $711,450.

Looking back, moving forward
Turner said part of the property could be developed, but he personally would like to see most of it used as a public space with trails connecting the different areas of the city.

While the property has plenty of access to sewer, Turner said the city would have to undertake the expensive move of upgrading its sewer system if it heavily built out the parcel.

He said some of the property is also in a floodplain and may not be suitable for commercial or residential development.

Turner said the Arnold Fund discussed various ideas over the years, including building an amphitheater on that property, but officials from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra said the amphitheater would have to have lots of air conditioning to keep the climate controlled for their precision instruments. Some private schools also looked at the property, but no serious movement was generated.

As for Johnston, he wants the Council and the public to take time studying the best uses for the property before making any decisions.

“My goal, and this is just me personally, is before my first term is up (at the end of 2015) to have a bona fide plan for Parker’s Pasture that has been bought into by the community,” Johnston said.