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14,000-Acre Nature Preserve Could Be Developed After State Fails To Meet Owner's Asking Price

The family that owns a massive tract of land in northern Georgia that has long been used for hiking and recreation has ended negotiations with the state, setting up a bidding war for future development rights.

Pine Log Wildlife Management Area, land in Bartow County that is likely to be developed after Georgia couldn't reach a deal to preserve it.

The Neel family, which has owned the 16,500-acre Pine Log Wildlife Management Area in Bartow County for nearly a century, didn't accept the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' final offer by a Friday deadline, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported. The DNR, which has leased the land for 47 years, offered to pay 100% of the property's assessed value, but the price didn't approach what the Neels were seeking.

“The delta is substantial,” Lee & Associates partner Jim Ramseur, who represented the family in the sale negotiations, told the ABC. “We offered the state a $30M reduction to bridge that delta, but they couldn’t get their arms around it. We had to provide a deadline because of the way the lease is structured.”

A petition in support of preserving the land for nature uses generated 13,000 signatures, but access to the public has already been restricted in advance of the state's lease running out on June 15. DNR had been negotiating with the family for months, but was doomed by the inability to muster a bid approaching what the development community is willing to pay.

“The family very much wants to sell it to the state because it's been under lease to the state for 47 years. That's the ultimate goal,” Ramseur told Bisnow in February.

The state was negotiating for 14,000 acres of the 16,500-acre site, the entirety of which was rezoned in April to clear the way for a master-planned development that could be built over 20 years. The rezoning sought permission for up to 16,500 residential units, 800 acres of commercial development, 16.5M SF of industrial space and nearly 4,000 acres for mining, according to a proposal filed with the Department of Community Affairs. About 5,000 acres would be preserved for green space.

The family, which operates the land as The Aubrey Corp., has received about 20 offers from development groups, Ramseur told the ABC. The land could provide housing for two large-scale factories being built in Bartow County — a $5B battery plant from Hyuandi and SK On and a $2.5B solar panel plant from Qcells.