SUMMERVILLE — Mayor Ricky Waring and members of Town Council on Monday agreed to purchase close to 30 acres of land near the historic Woodlands Mansion for $6.5 million that had previously been considered for a luxury apartment development.
In November, discussions were under way between then-Mayor Wiley Johnson and an Augusta, Ga.-based developer to build apartments adjacent to the mansion and the Gadsden neighborhood.
The new town administration chose to purchase the land for two main reasons: to prevent a similar development and to save the town legal fees as 3.61 acres of the plot was involved in an increasingly expensive condemnation suit.
The town tried to use the power of eminent domain in September 2018 to seize those 3.61 acres owned by a group called Woodlands Village LLC as part of a project to extend Maple Street and alleviate traffic. Until Monday, the case was still in the court system, and it appeared likely the town would have to pay as much as $3.2 million just for that small stretch of land.
Under the move to purchase the acreage, Summerville can own the whole 30 acres, avoid future legal costs and ensure the land is used correctly, Waring said.
"I think we did the right thing," he said. "I think that (area) is going to be a gateway into Summerville before too long. I think we can make sure something nice happens to that property."
Where the money will come from to pay the $6.5 million price tag hasn't been entirely determined and will likely come from a variety of sources, including the town's general fund and hospitality tax fund.
Tom Limehouse, who owns Woodlands Mansion and has been trying to sell the 11-acre property since October 2018, praised the town's decision to buy the land.
"Where others saw problems, Mayor Waring and Summerville Town Council recognized opportunity," Limehouse said.
"Mayor Waring and Council are deserving of the appreciation of our entire community. I believe that the town will be good stewards of the Woodlands Village tract," he added.
Originally listed for $6.95 million, rumors of development jutting up to the historic property forced Limehouse to de-list the mansion until a resolution came. The site is rooted in Flowertown's history and dates to the early 1900s.
"That was hamstringing the marketability of the property," he said, and that "the apartment thing was just killing us."
Councilman Terry Jenkins, whose district includes much of the Woodlands area, said the last administration's idea of putting high-end apartments on the 30 acre plot of land scared him.
"Us having it allows us to determine the best total use of the property for the town," he said.
What that will be is to be determined. The property will officially transfer to the town 45 days from Monday, on Feb. 28, and the condemnation litigation will be dismissed.
Waring said the town wants to use at least some of the land for a park. Around four acres of the land will go to the necessary road construction, and another four acres are wetlands.
Councilman Aaron Brown said the decision to purchase the whole 30 acres was also about protecting the integrity of Summerville's history.
"That property is just too close to the historic district to let anything happen to it. It was imperative that the town take control of it," he said.
"You look at the location of that property close to what the old Summerville used to be — the historic district, the heart of Summerville — you don't want a piece of property that big that could fall into the wrong hands."