Mayor Brian Brodrick says the city of Watkinsville has finalized the purchase of the Thomas Farms property: the City closed with the property owners late last week, putting the wraps on a $4.5 million deal that was announced earlier this year. The Watkinsville City Council will hold public hearings in October, gathering public input on plans to preserve the 100 acres of farmland off Simonton Bridge which the City plans to use for recreation and greenspace.
From the City of Watkinsville…
The City of Watkinsville closed yesterday on the Thomas Farm property, ensuring the 100-acre property is protected from development in perpetuity. The Thomas property, located just inside the city limits along Simonton Bridge Road, includes more than 1/3 of a mile of Calls Creek frontage, more than 60 acres of open pasture, 33 acres of woodlands, two ponds comprising approximately five acres, and one of Oconee County’s most iconic views.
“We are grateful to the Thomas family and many others who worked with us to create this opportunity for Watkinsville,” said Watkinsville Mayor Brian Brodrick. “This purchase limits development on a busy corridor, preserves some of our most sensitive environmental property, and will provide a unique opportunity to enjoy a remarkable and historic tract of land.”
The new greenspace is equal to more than 4.5 percent of the entire land area of Watkinsville, and more than doubles the city’s usable greenspace while preserving critical acres of wetlands designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We are thankful the Watkinsville Mayor and Council had a vision to remove this property from development and to create a use that will benefit the community for years to come,” said Mark and Mitch Thomas. “Our family was blessed to be a steward of this property for a short while. We are pleased to know that it will be enjoyed in perpetuity by all for generations. We know our parents ‘Hot’ and Mary Hannah Thomas would be delighted with this use of the property.”
The Thomas parcel is bordered by four existing Watkinsville neighborhoods – Morgan Manor, Simonton Place, Spring Circle and Calls Creek subdivision, and the Watkinsville Cemetery.
The city has engaged a citizen advisory group to help with refining plans for the greenspace. The committee will host public input meetings on the park on October 4 and 11. Both meetings will be at 5:30 p.m. at Watkinsville City Hall. The citizen advisory committee is focused on property maintenance strategies, on-site capital improvements, appropriate trail building for public access, and ensuring appropriate facilities are built for those who access the property.
The city paid the previously disclosed amount of $4.55 million for the land, two existing homes, and accessory structures. To fund the acquisition, the city used a mix of SPLOST funds, American Rescue Plan Act funds and a $3.5 million low-interest loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, which has an interest rate of 1.63 percent.
A permanent deed restriction on the property ensures it may only be utilized for passive uses in perpetuity, including hiking, walking, and other recreational uses that do not impact the existing wildlife habitat and watershed. Preliminary plans call for an approximately 2-mile paved or gravel walking path, an additional two miles of smaller trails, and multiple shelters and overlooks.
The property will not be open to the public until certain improvements are made; the city anticipates opening at least portions of the property to the public in 2024. More details, including photos and video of the property as well as a conceptual site plan are available at www.cityofwatkinsville.com/254/Greenspace.
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