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City agrees to buy 51 acres, envisions downtown
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City officials are looking to give Richmond Hill a downtown.

City Council on Tuesday night approved purchasing 51 acres across from Ford Plantation’s Cherry Hill entrance, envisioning it as a site for a town-center development.

Following a closed session, City Council voted to buy the 51.128 acres for $1,052,849 from Plantation Village Partners LLC and Johnny and Leslie Murphy Investments LLC.

“Richmond Hill doesn’t have a downtown,” Councilman Russ Carpenter said. “The primary purpose of the land is to create a downtown area, build a park similar to Savannah’s Forsyth Park and provide connectivity from the adjacent neighborhoods.”

Along with the park, the development could include shops and restaurants and possibly the new Richmond Hill public library that is being discussed, city officials said. A focal point of the site would be a new City Hall.

“We are very quickly running out of room in the current City Hall building with no options to enlarge our space,” Carpenter said.

The $1.052 million offer for the property was “well below market value,” according to a statement from the city. City Council approved the purchase 3-0, with Councilman Johnny Murphy recusing himself from all executive-session discussions about it as well as Tuesday night’s vote.

Murphy and his wife, Leslie, are part owners of the property. Carpenter acknowledged that council members discussed concerns about the city buying land of which a councilman is a minor shareholder.

“So the question became, do we back out of a good deal because of this?” he said. “We considered other available properties, but came back to this — the property is simply right for the city, no matter who was the seller. Ten years from now, it is going to be something we are proud of, just like J.F. Gregory Park.”

The city plans to issue bonds to pay for the property, Mayor Harold Fowler said. Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds potentially could be put toward constructing the park, Carpenter added.

Richmond Hill officials sought a parcel of at least 20 acres within the city limits that could be developed, according to Carpenter. The chosen land “was one of the few that met our criteria and is located geographically in the heart of town,” he said.

“We are excited to begin work on a project that will improve the aesthetics of the city and create a live-work-play community,” Fowler said. “In conjunction with other city projects and the upcoming announcement of a downtown development authority, this is something that will benefit all residents.”

No timetable has been set for building the new City Hall, but Fowler said “not anytime soon.” The park is closer on the horizon.

“A first-class park hopefully will start in a year or two,” Carpenter said.

The city will form a committee of local leaders to discuss developing the property as effectively and beneficially as possible for the community, according to Fowler.

“We’re going to bring this group together and see if we can’t get a vision that everyone kind of maps together,” he said. “It’s wide open.”

Fowler noted that, at this point, the city only has approved buying the property. The sale is not a done deal yet.

“We still have some negotiation to go through,” Fowler said. “We have a due-diligence period that, if it doesn’t work out, then we can always pull out.”

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