A shopping mall, a car lot, a restaurant - the potential for the 21 acres at the intersection of Bel Air and Washington roads is huge.
But if a "for sale" sign is posted at Evans Middle School, the property likely will become one of the most valuable parcels of land in the county.
"There's no question its the most desirable commercial location in the Evans area," said Vernon Smith, a commercial realtor with Remax. "I think the demographics dictate that it will be high-end commercial. It could be a combination of upscale office buildings, along with upscale retail."
When it was built in the mid-1950s, the Evans Middle School campus was in the country. Today, it overlooks a traffic-packed intersection. School officials say it will cost more to upgrade the school than it's worth, a factor that would allow the state to declare it surplus and give the school system free reign to sell it and use the money to build a new school.
"I think it has wonderful potential," said County Planning Director Jeff Browning. "It's at a location one might call the 100-percent corner. It used to be (in) all the downtown areas you would identify the 100-percent corner, the most important corner where the two major streets cross. It's a sizable piece of property, about 20 acres, so it's big enough to do something significant."
The Evans Middle School property could soon be for sale if the Columbia County Board of Education gets
permission from the state to surplus the property.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Vincent and Rachel Robertson own three tracts of land at the intersection of Washington and North Belair Road that total 2.2 acres. Combined, the land alone - excluding the businesses on them - is worth $563,399, according to tax records. On the east side of that intersection is .79 acres owned by R & H Maxxon, Inc. - land valued at $249,764. The Evans 12 Theater site, according to tax records, is $221,000 an acre.
"So if you are looking at the school site, that could be as much as $4 million just in land," Browning said.
The Kroger site averages $168,000 an acre, while the Publix site is almost $199,000 an acre - both about 10 acres each. But Browning said larger parcels usually sell for less per acre. For example, he said, the Wal-Mart site is valued at $132,000 an acre, "but it had a lot of rough topography."
Mark Senn, executive vice president of Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial Corp., said he sees the property as retail or mixed use.
"It's a very desirable piece of property, just like the Target Center, Augusta Exchange, that we put together," Senn said. "It's a similar type property in my opinion, just not as big. Augusta Exchange was around 100 acres and this is 20. You want to bring in something that's attractive that's not in Columbia County today. I think it would be to the benefit of the community to have an upscale, regional commercial center there."
Browning said according to the country's comprehensive zoning plan, the property would likely be zoned C-2 (commercial).
"That's a liberal category which will allow a full array of office, commercial and personal service-type uses. All of that is potentially very lucrative and very permissive of that," he said.
But if location is its strong point, it also could be its weakness.
"The frontage is awfully close to that 100-percent intersection, which sometimes makes it harder to get it in and out of," Browning said. "If this site were to be developed commercially, I would think there would be a move to get access to Belair Road all the way down to the CVS pharmacy."
Site developers, he said, would likely try to buy those houses behind the school along Peachtree Road and Lampkin Drive which would provide another egress to Belair Road.
If the property changes hands, it would go back on the tax rolls and county officials are salivating at the prospect of what its development could bring.
"It's kind of interesting to speculate about this," Browning said. "It would be a tremendous asset to the county's tax rolls."
In the case of the theater, the improvements to the property are 1.39 times more than the value of the land, and in the case of Kroger, the building is worth 2.55 times as much as the land.
"If you were able to say the improvements on the school site were twice as much as the land, the improvements could be worth as much as $8 million, speculating what it could be in terms of taxes in the county coffers," Browning said. "It would help."
School Superintendent Tommy Price said the soonest that property could be sold and a new school built would be two to three years. Price also suggested the system may want to maintain the core of the building to use as central office space.
The school board plans to take proposals from commercial developers if and when the property is cleared to be sold.
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