Community supports park plan

COVINGTON -- Commissioners heard an encouraging report from residents of Fairview Estates on Tuesday night regarding the county's proposal to buy foreclosed properties and build a park in their neighborhood.

Located off Fairview Road, Fairview Estates was targeted earlier this year by commissioners for the federally funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program in part because at the time it had the highest foreclosure rate in the county.

But residents there balked when they discovered the county's plans, saying they should have been consulted first and that they were afraid the park would increase crime and decrease property values.

However, after multiple meetings with county officials and after mediation on the part of the Rev. Willie J. Smith with the Newton County Ministers Union and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, residents said they are now in support of the project.

Resident Jonathan Moore said it has been a strenuous and tedious process to work through the disagreements and incorrect information that has been going around about the project. But, "At this point, all has been resolved," he said.

"I appreciate that my government leaders are looking after my best interest as a constituent," he said.

The experience has brought his neighborhood closer together, Moore said, noting that three months ago, he couldn't knock on a neighbor's door to borrow a cup of sugar, but now he can.

"I grew up in a community where if you drove by and saw your neighbor, you waved. We didn't have that community. Now we do," he said.

The Rev. Sharon Collins, also a resident of Fairview Estates, said she, too, was an opponent of the NSP project until she got all the facts.

"I had the opportunity to see viable information and now I call it a field of dreams," she said, referring to the planned park. "If nothing else comes out of this, I now know my neighbors and that's priceless. Unfortunately, this may have caused some type of division in our community. But I believe all things work together for the good, and I only see good in what's happening right now."

R.J. Fields, president of IECDG, the nonprofit organization that will administer the NSP program, said that there are still some residents who aren't happy.

"This is not without dissent. We have some people that still haven't gotten on board, but we feel that there is overwhelming support for this," he said.

Newton County has received $1.7 million in NSP funding that is being administered through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The money will be used to buy, rehabilitate and sell foreclosed properties and to develop a park.

As proposed, the park would be mostly passive greenspace and could also include amenities such as walking trails, picnic tables, a pavilion and a playground, according to a presentation made in October at a community meeting. A final design has not yet been approved.

Fields said the project has been approved by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and IECDG is ready to negotiate contracts on the properties.

The intent is to help the neighborhood get an amenities package and form a homeowner's association as well, promises that went unkept by the developer, Fields said.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz, who represents Fairview Estates, thanked the residents for being willing to sit down and work through their concerns.

"They could have chosen not to come to meetings ... They've chosen to work through this. They should be complimented and celebrated for their efforts," she said.

Collins added that she was appreciative that county officials also were willing to work with residents, but added that in the future, the county should notify residents up front of any plans for their neighborhoods.

"In hindsight, I would ask that this board would first and foremost bring the community in. That's what caused a lot of the dissent," she said.