Land Plan Kicks Up Concerns Barnes Critics Point to Property Rights

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Gov. Roy Barnes' plan to preserve 20 percent of Georgia's undeveloped land for green space has environmentalists excited but some officials concerned that it's only his latest power grab.

Just months after Barnes created a mega-transportation authority that could help set local zoning policy in areas with bad air and passed legislation that will make many officials roll back property tax rates, the governor wants to use a carrotand-stick approach to force counties to set aside undeveloped land.

"You don't have to do it. You can go your own way. But we are not going to subsidize [growth] areas," Barnes said.

That could mean losing state money for things like roads, schools and water-sewer expansions.

"It's everywhere. It's not just an Atlanta problem. We have a lack of green space, a lack of places for children to play."

While Barnes is still developing his plan, it will include state incentives, probably using what is expected to be a massive surplus this year to help purchase land.

Barnes said this week that he wants to use state reserves to buy land along the Chattahoochee River as part of his effort to create a series of greenbelts.

The money would help start a second phase of aggressive land purchasing for a 180-mile park along the river, stretching from Helen to Columbus.

Barnes said Georgia ought to be "a major participant" in the second phase of the river protection effort, indicating a commitment larger than the $15 million the state allocated earlier this year.

The governor wants the state to pay for some of the land with reserve funds or from a $582 million surplus from the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The river initiative already has raised about $23 million in private donations to match about $75 million from state and federal funds, a private foundation grant and other sources to buy at least 75 miles of the river corridor, organizers said.

Frontage property along the Chattahoochee costs about $1 million per mile.

Environmental advocates applaud Barnes' determination to draw local governments into the preservation movement.

"It takes more than one entity working together to achieve long-term results," said Meg Fligg, communications manager for The Nature Conservancy of Georgia, which has spearheaded land-preservation efforts across the state for nearly 50 years. …