County buys land for first rec center

By Ed Brock

Clayton County Commissioner Virginia Gray was truly chomping at the bit to make the motion that the county purchase the land for the first of six planned recreation centers.

Indeed, when Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer jokingly tried to make the motion during Tuesday's regular commission meeting, Gray laughingly announced "This is my motion" in keeping with the commission's apparent giddiness over the land purchase.

It is the first step in a process that has been a source of criticism and threatened lawsuits from some citizens who say the county has been taking too long to realize its promise of building the recreation centers.

"We're proud to say that we're moving ahead per discretion of law and making the right choices for the building of our recreation centers," County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said.

The approximately 10-acre tract of land is on East Fayetteville Road just west of the Masjid Al-Ihsaan mosque between Riverdale Road and Ga. Highway 314. The price of the land, according to an independent appraisal, is $415,000. Bell said there are two small streams on the property and at least one small lake.

Now that the commission has approved the purchase, Bell said, he should close on the property in the next 20 days, possibly by the end of this month.

"When we close on the property the shovels will start," Bell said.

The recreation centers are part of the $40 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program. Part of the SPLOST referendum promised to set aside the sales tax money for recreation. The other part set aside $200 million in sales tax for road improvements.

Acquisition of the property in Gray's district has been delayed for some time, and Dexter Matthews, president of the Clayton County NAACP, was beginning to threaten a lawsuit if the county didn't get to work on the projects.

"It's good that they finally purchased the land, but I hope they hurry up and buy the property for the other sites," Matthews said on Tuesday.

Matthews said the commission is already 20 months behind and was supposed to complete the project in 60 months.

"Hopefully they'll see this as a priority," Matthews said.

Bell said the county is looking at several properties for the other centers, particularly the one in Rhodenizer's district in Forest Park, but he would not give a date for the purchase.

As part of the project the county will also have to redesign the intersection of East Fayetteville Road and Highway 314 just west of the property.

"We're going to reconfigure that intersection to make it safe," Bell said, adding that he also hopes to build sidewalks near the center.