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'Important to everybody'
Residents join forces to save lake

CONYERS - Paul DesRoches no longer enjoys the view of the lake he shares with his 10 neighbors. From the doorway of his Gardens of Fieldstone home, it appears the lake is filled with more mud than water, and following a spate of hot weather earlier in June, he and others had to clear dead fish off the banks.

But until recently, there was nothing else DesRoches or his neighbors could do about the disappearing lake because the property belongs to someone else.

While some may give up and try to move to a new neighborhood, DesRoches and his neighbors are coming up with a unique remedy to fix the 3-acre body of water.

"To some, it's a lake," he said. "To me, it's a pond, but it's important to everybody here."

The trouble with the lake is the lake's drain valve. Nearly 40 years since it was installed along Old Salem Road, the pipe rusted through and collapsed, causing water to drain from the lake around the pipe and into the larger Salem Lake along Underwood Road.

The trouble for the nearby residents was compounded when they contacted Rockdale County to repair the drain pipe and valve and were told the county could not do anything with the dam because it was private property.

Property lines of the residences on the lake were drawn to end at the shoreline. The lake itself was a piece of property owned for years by Ben and Alex Gross, the developers of the neighborhoods surrounding the lake.

DesRoches and the others learned that when Alex Gross prepared to retire in 1998, he bundled his remaining properties, including the lake, and sold them to Hawkins Realty Corporation, which turned around a few days later and sold the lake to Margolias New Rock LLC.

The sale was done so quickly by Hawkins Realty that the deed still shows the Gross brothers listed as the owners. To muddy the waters further, Margolias New Rock LLC was listed as a dissolved entity by the Georgia Secretary of State's Corporations Division.

DesRoches said it took a lot of work to uncover who the rightful owners of the lake are, and it's still not completely resolved. Water still leaks out from the dam.

"I consider the lake collateral damage from the housing market collapse," DesRoches said. "People have lost their houses, and there's a lot of empty houses in the neighborhoods, but there are some other kinds of abandoned property that also are causalities of the market collapse."

While DesRoches said he does not plan to move, others who have their homes on the market said the lake is hampering their efforts.

Beverly Casstevens is a United Methodist Church minister who owns a home on Surrey Trail. She put her house up for sale almost a year ago after she was reassigned to a congregation in Thomson.

Her house is situated on a wooded lot in a cul-de-sac and has a nice amount of privacy. Casstevens said she believed the present condition of the lake is a reason she had not been able to generate much interest in the house during the few times she had showed her house to prospective buyers.

"We thought we had a few promising leads even in the market we're in today," she said. "But when you have five houses to choose from, who would pick a house with a lake issue?"

Casstevens said if the house is not sold soon, she will likely let the bank take it over.

In an effort to resolve the issue with the lake, DesRoches and his neighbors have proposed to form a limited liability corporation to take ownership of the lake so they can fix the dam's drain pipe. His hope is that the homeowners could find a way that the deed could be transferred to them outright, for $1 for example, rather than purchasing the property in a tax sale on the steps of the courthouse.

Estimates of repair work run from $25,000 to $30,000. DesRoches said it has not been completely worked out how the homeowners would pay for the repairs. One suggestion would be that each property owner with lake frontage could pay a portion of the cost and then have the property lines redrawn to the center of the lake for ownership purposes.

The neighbors were encouraged earlier in June after talking to Rockdale County Board of Commissioners Roy Middlebrooks, who promised the county will do whatever it legally can to help.

"It can be a win-win situation," DesRoches said. "The county will get someone to repair their stormwater flood control in the area, and we will get our water back."

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.