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County to expand NSP area

COVINGTON -- The area targeted by the county for its Neighborhood Stabilization Program has been greatly expanded to include most of western and southern Newton.

Initially, county officials zeroed in on Fairview Estates off Fairview Road, where they intended to spend the entire $1.7 million they received in federal funding for the program, to purchase, rehabilitate and resell foreclosed properties and build a public park.

But a turn in the housing market and publicity on the project have resulted in homes being snapped up in the community and, according to Chairwoman Kathy Morgan, there are no longer enough foreclosed properties for the county to purchase there.

When the county submitted its application to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, there were close to 20 foreclosed homes in Fairview Estates, according to Senior Planner Scott Sirotkin. Now there are only a handful left. The county is in negotiations for two homes, he said.

Morgan said negotiations have been under way on up to five homes, but some sold at a higher price than the county could pay. NSP regulations will not allow the county to pay more than 99 percent of the appraised market value.

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz, who represents Fairview Estates, said that though things haven't gone exactly as planned, the intent of the NSP is being realized, because the homes are being purchased at prices above market value.

"As a byproduct, we are already seeing stabilization of Fairview Estates occurring," she said.

The county will continue to pursue foreclosed properties in Fairview Estates and is still planning to put the park there. But the decline in foreclosed properties has made it necessary to expand the target area.

The areas selected were based on census tracts that scored the highest on criteria established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, such as rate of foreclosures and subprime loans, Sirotkin said.

"I don't envision this expansion working the same way as Fairview Estates has. In other words, we won't be focusing on specific neighborhoods. Right now the available foreclosed homes are spread out across the census tracts and we would be pursuing the properties that meet the NSP criteria," he said.

Sirotkin said he does not expect the county to purchase a large number of properties in one subdivision, but if that happens, the homeowners association would be notified.

"Given the importance of ensuring all residents have correct information about what NSP is and how it works, we will investigate how best to provide such notification," he said.

A public meeting required by the Department of Community Affairs will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Newton County Historic Courthouse located at 1124 Clark St.

Several residents from neighborhoods near Fairview Estates attended the BOC meeting this week to voice their opposition to the park planned there, saying they are afraid it will increase crime.

Hal Bailey, who lives in the Winchester Park neighborhood, said he was recently the victim of a home invasion that took place during daylight hours. A cop for 20 years in DeKalb County, Bailey said a public park and a private neighborhood don't mix.

"It's like oil and water. It will be a breeding ground for crime," he said.

"In Newton County, we've got enough parks as it is. Let's take the money and use it wisely instead of creating more problems," he added.

Schulz said the so-called park will actually be mostly greenspace. She said residents of Fairview Estates are aware that the NSP area is being expanded and that representatives from IECDG, the nonprofit organization administering the program, are meeting with neighborhood representatives regularly. Residents are being consulted on the design of the park, she said.

Several residents of Fairview Estates in attendance indicated they were not aware the area was being expanded and said they were not aware of any meetings. Schulz said she would meet with them to answer their questions and encouraged them to attend next week's public hearing, adding that she wants all residents to be informed.