Developer, Monroe school board at loggerheads over access road

awomack@macon.comMay 11, 2014 

Until their deaths, longtime school counselor and French teacher Velma McCosh and her husband lived on a plot of land neighboring Mary Persons High School in Forsyth.

The 12-acre parcel on Brooklyn Avenue still has two houses that date to Civil War days -- and before.

A narrow, curvy access road that leads to the back of the school, used primarily by buses, was built around the property while the McCoshes were still living.

Years later, school board Chairman Dr. J. Ray Grant says the road that links Brooklyn Avenue to the back of the school is narrow and treacherous. It’s closed to car traffic during bus loading and unloading times.

In the past year or so, the Monroe County school board has negotiated with the new landowner, local developer Otis Ingram, to buy the property to fix the road and have room for future school expansion, Grant said.

Ingram, who bought the land about four years ago, says the school board is “grossly undervaluing the property.”

Negotiations have broken down.

The school board is scheduled to hold a public hearing May 27 to discuss the prospects of condemning the property, taking the situation to court -- where a judge could determine the land’s value -- and whether the school board has a legitimate need to take it.

Although Ingram’s asking price and the school board’s offer haven’t been released, Ingram said “we are many hundreds of thousands of dollars apart. ... I think the school board wants to steal it from me, and they think my price is way too high.”

County property records show Ingram bought the land in May 2010 for $120,000. The 2013 appraisal lists the parcel’s value at $124,700.

The school board had an opportunity to buy the land at the same time, Ingram said.

He said he didn’t buy it with the idea of one day “flipping it” and selling to the school board. Instead, he envisioned building a community of independent senior living apartments.

He’s filed an application to have the property rezoned for that purpose.

Ingram said he doesn’t see where the bus access road needs to be improved and repaved, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in addition to land acquisition costs.

It’s been used for school buses for 20 years, he said.

Monroe County sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Clay said improving the road would allow for two entrances to Mary Persons for cars to use. Outlawing cars on the bus access road has been necessary to prevent wrecks in the tight curves.

“If they did straighten and widen that road, it would split our school traffic and help us out,” Clay said.

Although Grant said work on the road only would require about four and a half acres, the other property is needed for extra parking for graduations, football games and a proposed 1,200-seat fine arts center.

“Mary Persons at some point will probably need to be expanded,” he said.

Ingram said the fine arts center -- an auditorium -- could be built on other school-owned property on Montpelier Avenue at the school’s main entrance.

There’s also room for expansion on the old Monroe Academy site owned by the school system, he said.

“They don’t have to condemn my property,” Ingram said. “They already have property.

“I’m not going to let them steal my property from me, especially when there’s no just cause in my mind.”

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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