Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he is surprised by the backlash of negative comments he and other commissioners have received regarding a new Martinez development.
That development, Magnolia Trace, on Old Ferry Road will feature 50 single-family homes built on 15 acres. The houses are designed for low- to middle-income families, with many likely to receive rent vouchers from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
“We thought it would be an asset to the neighborhood, which is one of the older neighborhoods in Columbia County,” Cross said.
Though commissioners knew the project would consist subsidized housing, they still passed in June 2010 a resolution supporting the development.
“We thought it was good for the county, because we don’t have anything like that and it was not apartments and it was not Section 8.”
The backlash, Cross said, likely is due to public misinformation and the perception Magnolia Trace is a low-rent housing project.
“These are very nice single-family residences, which are three or four bedrooms, 50 units, with a clubhouse and greenspace,” he said. “It’s very well lit, it’s landscaped, and it will be maintained by the developer.”
The belief that the Magnolia Trace development will spark an increase in crime is without merit, Cross said.
Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle seemed less certain.
“We’re very curious about it and we’re guardedly optimistic, I guess you could say,” Whittle said Friday.
Though Magnolia Trace will consist of rental units, like crime-attracting apartment complexes, Whittle believes that comparison is unfair.
“There are a lot of rental houses in Columbia County that are not a problem,” he said. “But there are some that are. It just depends on the renter.”
Whittle said he feels more secure about the development knowing that potential renters must first pass criminal background, credit and employment history checks to live there.
Cross mentioned that the maximum annual household income for potential renters is $40,000, which he said would qualify more than half of Columbia County’s residents.
“I don’t know how this will affect Columbia County, but I assure you we’ll keep a watchful eye,” Whittle said.
Prejudices that Magnolia Trace will reduce surrounding property values also are unfounded, Cross said.
“The truth of the matter is that the cost of these residences is about $190,000 apiece,” he said. “That’s greater than the average cost of the houses in those (surrounding) neighborhoods.”
After 15 years, Cross said, Magnolia Trace developer Affordable Equity Partners Inc. then will be allowed by the DCA to sell the homes.
Despite Cross’ defense, many residents surrounding Magnolia Trace intend to protest the development to commissioners when they meet Tuesday.
However, it will avail them nothing.
Even if commissioners could be persuaded to stop the development, Cross said, they are powerless to do so.
“We can’t stop the project since credits already have been issued and the developer has incurred expenses,” he said. “According to DCA, it possibly would have been approved anyway, without our letter of recommendation.”