published Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Land trust gets deal at Dade County tax auction

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    The property of Johnson's Crook (the hook in Lookout Mountain in Dade County, Ga., where the Georgia Land Trust bought 56 parcels totaling 266 acres for $146,000. Bobby Davenport, of Lula Lake Land Trust, bought the land at a tax auction for the Ga. Land Trust after the developer of the Preserve at Rising Fawn didn't pay property taxes and filed for Chapter 11 (bankruptcy) protection.

One man's loss became preservation's gain this week when land parcels once valued at $250,000 in the Preserve in Rising Fawn were sold for as little as $3,000 to the Georgia Land Trust.

"It was a pretty good day for conservation," said Bobby Davenport, who picked up 56 parcels totaling about 266 acres for about $146,000 in a joint purchase for the trusts.

Davenport, the Lula Lake Land Trust development officer and agent for the Georgia Land Trust, said the windfall happened in a spur-of-the-moment scramble. He said he heard that Dade County, Ga., was holding a tax auction of land from a failed 828-lot development in Johnson's Crook. The developer, Travis Shields, petitioned for Chapter 11 protection just the week before.

"What we were shopping for were all the caves and sensitive areas and slopes," Davenport said. "The thought of what all those septic tanks would do there still gives me the heebie-jeebies."

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley said he thought the county sold 69 parcels Tuesday for about $210,000, but a total of $350,000 was owed in 2010 taxes.

"There will be another sale in May" on about 30 remaining parcels, he said. Another 1,000 acres are tied up in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, he added.

Dade, like many county and municipal governments, has been straining to make ends meet as the nation struggles through a recession that began in 2008.

The county has laid off 18 people, and the remaining workers are on unpaid furlough every Friday, Rumley said.

The sales will not be finalized for a year, giving Shields time to pull together the back tax money and a 20 percent dividend to pay buyers if they have to return the land.

Davenport said he understand that possibility.

"I really want to hang on to this. It is by far the most important part of the cove [ecologically], but I'll take a 20 percent return all day long," he said.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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