RISING FAWN, Ga. — A 2,200-acre real estate development that went bankrupt won't be clear-cut, mined or transformed into a subdivision of new homes.
That's the message Georgia Land Trust officials had recently for about 30 people gathered at a clubhouse built at the failed Preserve at Rising Fawn.
"We are committed to protecting the land," said Katherine Eddins, the nonprofit group's executive director.
Talk had flown that the land trust planned to log, mine or develop some 1,800 acres it owns there, Eddins said. She called a meeting last week to quell the chatter and explain that the land trust would use a conservation easement so its land never can be developed after it's sold.
Touted as a mini-Pigeon Forge when it hit the market in 2006, the vacation resort's 2- and 3-acre lots were snapped up by about 300 people -- most from out of the area. Eventually, the project was exposed as a $40 million mortgage-fraud scheme that last week resulted in federal prison sentences for its masterminds, Josh Dobson and Paul Gott.
Like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, the land trust has spent more than $1 million since 2010 to piece together its 1,800 acres by acquiring parcels that were in foreclosure, behind on county taxes, or for sale through bankruptcy proceedings.
"What inspired us?" Eddins asked. "One thing is just the beauty of the place."
A potential buyer, Royce Cornelison, was in the audience.
The Flat Rock, Ala., man is the owner of P&C Construction Inc., a Chattanooga general contracting business that has built Krystal and Taco Bell restaurants, done renovation at Chattanooga's historic Tivoli Theatre and maintains buildings at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Cornelison said he bought 17 acres at the Preserve through bankruptcy proceedings that include "the ruins," a decaying, half-finished clubhouse and neighboring building. He plans to refurbish them.
Roughly 400 acres of the former Preserve is owned by individuals or banks or is under tax lien by Dade County. If the land trust sells the 1,800 acres to Cornelison or another buyer, the conservation easement will allow only a handful of homes to be built, Eddins said.
Cornelison has worked with the land trust before and has 500 acres on the Tennessee River in Bryant, Ala., under an easement.
"I like nature. My boys like nature," he told the crowd. "We like to fish and hunt."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.