Dean Gardens Obstacles
By: Mayor Mike Bodker, City of Johns Creek
The City of Johns Creek appreciates the desire and allure to preserve Dean Gardens and possibly convert the property into an exceptional property in the grand tradition it once had. The City has certainly attempted to do so over the years. As it stands today and to date, there has not been a reasonable price that the City has considered a wise investment of your tax dollars.
Dean Gardens, prior to the site being redeveloped into a residential subdivision was surely a gorgeous piece of property. After many failed attempts at a viable purchase from the City or others, Lennar Homes, through the site development process has now converted the property to a subdivision. In the course of this transformation, it has stripped the property of a number of assets that were once its trademark. If the City decided to invest in the property now, it must factor in the purchase price and the costs associated with restoring the grounds while under limited conditions. We must also consider the current physical condition of the stripped land, the fate of the homes that have been built and the roadway that Lennar has installed that is not conducive to either a park or venue setting.
Let’s go back a bit and review the history of the property and how we came to where we are today. When Larry Dean purchased the property more than two decades ago, he imagined it would be his “forever” estate. As such, when he combined a few separate parcels together to form his estate, he sold off much of the impervious surface rights that came with the property which were then utilized by the surrounding residential communities that would later form around it. In doing so, he did not impede his use of the property as an estate, but he placed unforeseen handicaps on its future ability to redevelop.
Impervious surface rights define how many structures, parking spaces, and other impervious uses can be developed on a property. Impervious surface limitations are even greater as you get within 2,000 feet of the Chattahoochee River by virtue of state law. These limitations still stand.
When Larry Dean approached the City on several occasions to purchase his property, we were not able to come to terms on a price that reflected a fair value for the property nor were we able to spend the amount that would have been required to use the property at that time due to the timing of those discussions relative to the young age of the City.
Eventually, he sold the property to Tyler Perry whom we believe intended to use it as an estate in a similar fashion to how Larry used it previously. There was not much activity for a while after Mr. Perry bought the property until representatives of Mr. Perry approached the City to discuss his plans to alter and expand the estate. The City informed Mr. Perry’s representatives about the serious restrictions which would limit his ability to make the kind of changes to the property he desired. It is important to note that the restrictions were not imposed by the City, but rather a consequence of the disposition of impervious rights by Mr. Dean many years before. Because of his inability to redevelop the property as he desired and other factors, I have been told that Mr. Perry then decided to sell the property. It is also important to note that again the City was unable to come to acceptable terms to purchase this property from Mr. Perry either.
After Mr. Perry put the estate on the open market, perspective buyer after perspective buyer made contact with the City with interest in redeveloping the property only to find out that the restrictions caused by a lack of impervious surface rights would render those plans unviable. Eventually, Lennar Homes purchased the property and set out to rezone it for redevelopment as a detached home subdivision. As the plans came before Council, the neighboring HOA’s spoke in favor of the proposed plans, realizing that no other plans put forward could have come to fruition. It was shortly after their purchase that the City made yet another attempt to purchase the property. Unfortunately, we were again unable to come to terms on a price as Lennar simply wanted more for the property than made economic sense for the City.
There have been many ideas floating over the years of what the property could ultimately become, such as a City Center, a performing arts center or a park. Let’s take the idea of it being developed into a park as an example. Sadly, much of the value of the property in terms of its use as a park has been destroyed since Lennar began redevelopment. Today, it is has been scraped barren of many assets, such as the incredible gardens, band shell, conservatory, wedding chapel and so on, that would have been of great value in a park setting. It has now been redeveloped in such a way that the improvements that have been made are for the benefit of a home builder and not that of a park.
As noted previously, to justify the purchase of this property, the CIty would have to acquire the land at such an enormous discount (as compared to what Lennar both purchased and has subsequently invested into the property), plus spend significant funds to develop it into its final form and adhere to the impervious restrictions still impacting the property.
So, what is the real value of this property and what is a fair price? We are open to evaluating this once again with the same scrutiny as we have through past offers and ideas. But, at the end of the day, it has to make financial sense, coupled with a realistic view of what can truly be accomplished with its purchase.
We understand the desire of our citizens to preserve this land and appreciate the comments of many. The City has always believed that Dean Gardens is a special piece of property and hopes that it becomes something special once again.