COVINGTON - Residents of Fairview Estates subdivision came out in force at Tuesday night's Board of Commissioners meeting to state their objections to the county targeting their community for its Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
The residents said they only recently found out about the plan to buy up foreclosed properties and develop a public park when a neighbor happened upon an old newspaper article, and they're upset they did not receive direct notification from the county.
About 25 residents attended the meeting, with several speaking out during the citizens' comments portion of the agenda.
They said they are opposed to the county's plans to develop the public park in their neighborhood, located off Fairview Road, because it will increase crime and traffic and decrease property values.
To add insult to injury, they say, they've paid dues for years for amenities, including a private park for their neighborhood, that they were promised by developers but never received.
"We're thinking the government is trying to take what's ours now," said 14-year-old Wendy Rodriguez, who made an impassioned speech on behalf of her parents, Jorge Rodriguez and Martha Barrera.
Residents pay $700 in dues per year for the unrealized amenities, including the park.
"We feel like we're paying for the park," that will now be public, Rodriguez said during a follow-up interview on Wednesday.
"We don't want the park ... They're basically taking other people's backyards, literally. There are people's houses right behind the park," she said.
Jamie Moore said she has lived in Fairview Estates for five years and always paid her property taxes on time and would expect the courtesy of notification.
Though Chairman Kathy Morgan said public meetings have been posted and advertised as required, Moore said residents had no reason to think their neighborhood would be a topic of discussion at a meeting.
Commissioner Nancy Schulz, who represents the district, said she wants to meet with residents and hear their input and concerns. The intent is to stabilize the neighborhood, and improve property values, not drive them down, she said.
"It's not that we want to shut you out. We want to include you," she said.
Schulz said there is a neighborhood watch meeting scheduled in the neighborhood Tuesday night to address residents' concerns about crime.
Moore said Schulz's announcement at the BOC meeting was the first residents have heard of the neighborhood watch. She said some residents were scheduled to meet with Schulz about the project today.
According to Newton County Senior Planner Scott Sirotkin, there are 185 homes in Fairview Estates and an additional 42 vacant lots.
"At the time we made the application, I believe Fairview Estates had something like 28 foreclosures and had the highest percentage of foreclosures of any subdivision in the areas the NSP funds could be applied to," Sirotkin said.
Residents say there are at least two developers of the subdivision, one of which, Crown Park Homes, is out of business.
Sirotkin said he couldn't confirm that, but added, "The key point for us in terms of NSP funding is that the properties have been foreclosed on, so now the bank owns them. Phase IV of the subdivision was not constructed and this is where we are proposing for the park to go."
The county will use the $1.74 million it is receiving from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program to acquire and redevelop some homes in Fairview Estates and develop the park.
The county will not acquire occupied properties, which are subject to the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act that would require the county to help displaced families find temporary housing, Sirotkin said.
The Neighborhood Stabilization Program was created by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which is being administered on the state level by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
The money available to local governments can be used to demolish and redevelop blighted properties and for nonresidential purposes, such as the creation of parks.
Properties must be purchased at an average of 15 percent below market value. Properties must be sold at or below the cost of redevelopment to prevent the county from making a profit. The funds must be obligated within 18 months of receipt.
Properties can be purchased directly by the county, through a land-bank or through a nonprofit organization or a development authority.
The county is partnering with the nonprofit Independent Educational Community Development Group out of Conyers.
IECDG will administer the NSP, identifying properties that can be acquired; acquiring and rehabilitating those properties; preparing and implementing a marketing sales program; making sure the program is in compliance with state and federal guidelines; and assisting with development of the park.
"We would like to show the community that this can be a very smooth, streamlined process. It can be very beneficial to the constituents. There's actually a lot of money flowing downstream," said IECDG President R.J. Fields.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at email@example.com.