As Augusta National keeps acquiring land, neighbors won’t be penalized — yet

Susan McCord, Augusta Chronicle
·3 min read

Homeowners and investors alike catch a break this year with Richmond County so far declining to use sales data to reassess properties around Augusta National Golf Club.

Richmond County Board of Assessors talked about reassessing the properties after new Chief Appraiser Scott Rountree drafted a letter to send to homeowners if their property values were to skyrocket.

“I don’t have a problem with the tax office trying to generate more revenue,” board member Bryan Simkins said. “I do have a problem with assessments being raised to what the Augusta National is paying for property.”

Over the last 25 years, the club has dropped seven-figure checks on adjacent properties, in its expansion across Berckmans Road to the west and Washington Road to the north.

Club affiliates such as Berckman Residential Properties and WSQ LLC are now owners of the National Hills Shopping Center, in a deal finalized for $26 million last year, the Publix Shopping Center, bought in 2018 for $21 million, the Stein Mart Shopping Center, the former Big Tree Shopping Center and the former Greens on Washington apartments, according to property records.

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Berckman Residential has acquired over 100 single-family dwellings, paying premium prices such as $1 million to $5 million per home to snatch up properties now part of the National’s expansion and landscaped parking area to the west. More recently, the going rate for a Margate, Wicklow or West Terrace drive house was between $300,000 and $400,000, sometimes quadruple the home’s assessed value.

Just in the last five years, some 126 single-family dwellings have sold in the area immediately below Berckmans Road, with many of them going to Berckman Residential. They include 20 on Wicklow Drive, five on Wicklow Court, 16 on Margate Drive, 15 on Ashland Drive, 11 on West Terrace Court and 12 on West Terrace Drive.

The 352-acre Augusta National itself, not including its acquisitions, is assessed at $189 million and recently paid a $2.4 million property tax bill.

Assessors board members seemed intent on not punishing homeowners for the actions of speculators or the golf club.

“It’s not fair for them to be penalized because they had no crystal ball,” member Juanita Burney said.

Currently, the office is making standard market revaluations based on similarly-styled homes in adjoining neighborhoods, Rountree said. A reassessment is done after the golf club buys and converts a home to its new use, he said.

“We don’t have a crystal ball either,” he said. “We don’t know the premium, the conditions of the sale or the true project plan or path that the National is pursuing.”

Simkins said to ignore the pricey sales while assessing the properties.

“Look at it like the Augusta National didn’t exist and wasn’t paying exorbitant prices,” Simkins said. He has a Wicklow Drive home that’s adjacent to one acquired for $458,000 in 2015, according to property records.

“We should not penalize anyone for that lack of knowledge,” he said.