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Jim Blaylock
Tom Sauls speaks out against the Magnolia Trace housing development at the Columbia County commission meeting on Tuesday. There was an overflow crowd on hand for the meeting.

Columbia County to hire lawyer to stop Magnolia Trace

Posted: December 6, 2011 - 9:11pm  |  Updated: December 6, 2011 - 10:12pm
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Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross (front) and Commissioner Trey Allen listen as people speak out against the Magnolia Trace housing development.  Jim Blaylock
Jim Blaylock
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross (front) and Commissioner Trey Allen listen as people speak out against the Magnolia Trace housing development.

Twitter @DonnieFetter

Columbia County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to hire outside legal counsel to investigate any legal avenue officials might take to “interrupt” construction of the Magnolia Trace development in Martinez.

The motion came following nearly two hours of questions, accusations, insults and jeers from dozens of nearby residents angered that the commission endorsed the “low-income” housing project on Old Ferry Road.

Jennifer McCray, a resident of Petersburg Station, which abuts the Magnolia Trace property, accused commissioners of using her community as “Guinea pigs” in their “experiment” with “discounted rental property.”

“If this were poker, I would have to call your bluff,” McCray said to commission Chairman Ron Cross when he said the county could not have stopped it.

Though the commission voted Tuesday to try and stop it, and to inform Magnolia Trace developer Affordable Equity Partners and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs of resident concerns, officials said they had to endorse the project or face legal ramifications.

Trey Allen, county commissioner of District 2 in which Magnolia Trace is located, said officials were in a no-win situation.

When other Georgia cities tried to halt such developments in the past because of popular dislike, Allen said they were sued and fined by the federal government.

If they had not endorsed it, Allen continued, they again might have faced a federal lawsuit.

Allen said officials couldn’t even inform surrounding neighborhoods of the project without facing a federal discrimination lawsuit.

Missouri-based Affordable Equity Partners arranged with the Department of Community Affairs to receive tax credits to construct the “affordable housing” project, said county attorney Doug Batchelor.

The commission supported that effort with a resolution passed in June 2010.

Though rent vouchers might be available, Batchelor said only a small percentage of renters of homes owned by Affordable Equity Partners in Georgia use such vouchers.

Residents of the area have said that Magnolia Trace will lead to an increase in crime, a decrease in property values and further burden an already overtaxed school system.

Commissioners defended the about 15-acre development, which will feature 50 single-family homes, to the irate neighbors of Magnolia Trace.

Cross even repeated earlier comments that he believes the project is good for the area, though he voted to approve the motion to seek a legal means stop it.

In recent days, commissioners have noted that homes in the project will have a value of up to $190,000. They also have said that anyone wishing to rent a Magnolia Trace home must first pass checks on employment, credit and criminal histories.

However, during the meeting, Allen mentioned that the DCA only “suggests” that the developer perform such checks. They’re not a requirement.

Last week, Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle said he is “guardedly optimistic” that the presence of Magnolia Trace won’t contribute to a hike in the crime rate for that area, but that he intends to keep a “close eye” on it.

Schools Superintendent Charles Nagle said Monday that such in-fill developments as Magnolia Trace can burden the school system.

Commissioners said that the school board was notified when a rezoning request was issued for that property. That request was made in 1979, when the county only had two high schools.

County Administrator Scott Johnson said his staff’s “first order of business” today will be to find an attorney who can fulfill the requirements of the commmission’s motion.

McCray was named as a point of contact to inform her neighbors of the county’s progress.


Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115 or


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Comments (15)

A Smith


If they do stop Magnolia Trace, will that property be protected under the moratorium, or will it still be R-3 and open to be developed into the smaller, less expensive rentals the commissioners talked about?


R-3 Is R-3

In is now and always will be R-3. The county bought out Marshall Square for a whole lot less than they could buy this.
And the guidelines for apartment and developments like Magnolia Trace need to be severely tightened, which can be done. 1st District Commissioner Ron Thigpen has been a champion in this area.

Our school systems have gone south, largely because of these develops.

Little Lamb

A Stranger Across A Crowded Room

The commission knew that a larger than normal group would show up for the meeting. It is irresponsible that they did not plan ahead and arrange a larger venue; perhaps the largest room at Savannah Rapids Pavillion, perhaps a large church, perhaps set up a closed-circuit TV network at the government complex, perhaps the Hardin auditorium at the library. But we have to come to the conclusion that the commission wanted the people to be uncomfortable to show them who's boss.


Meeting Room

The room worked and if anything, had a positive effect for those opposing the project. And I allm not sure they can move their meeting legally out of the government center. Lat night worked. Well.


Springs Lake Trey

I've certainly taken my fair share of shots at Spring Lakes Trey Allen over the Magnolia Trace issue. My hats off to you for your leadership last night, and my apology as well,

Little Lamb


What did Allen do to earn your apology, Blues?

easy breezy


This is very disturbing knowing that so many people oppose this development. How many people do you know that makes over 40,000 a year? I, myself, am in that bracket of income. It seems as though they are categorizing the tenants of this neighborhood and they have yet to even move in. The houses are nice, they intend on landscaping, and it's only 50 homes! I don't think it's fair to assume that this neighborhood will be full of crime. I also read somewhere that the elementary school in this area is a title one school. Doesn't that classify it as a low income area already if 40% of the children receive free lunches? I really think people are over reacting to this and it's just a way to show that many people don't care for the members of the BOC. Wow!


Magnolia Trace

We don't have a problem with them building houses, we have a problem with them building house that cost more then the ones we live in. They will only have to pay at the most $400.00 for them. Most of the people pay alot more. As for the schools, we are already loaded with all the apartments that have gone up in the last few years.



His taking the lead into looking at what we can do to get this thing stopped. And disturbing, pretty much that. We have bought a home in Petersburg Station, put a heck of a lot of financial improvements not to mention good old fashion sweat into it, and pay a pretty good amount toward our mortgage. Like many others, we are working very hard in these tough times. You bet I'm unhappy about somebody moving into a new home at a minimum rent level.

There is no right to housing. Period.

I'm all for government taking closed schools, military bases and distressed properties in non-developed areas and providing minimum housing for people that need it, and even then there should be sweat equity involved.There should be a limited for residence and there should be work stipulations such as we had with the CCC and WPA, unless there are people who are physically unable to produce for society.

We continue to enable a society that is totally department on government for virtually everything.

But to go into an established neighborhood is plain, dead wrong, rather en masse or single houses. It is an affront to hard working people.

This is way more than a Magnolia Trace and Columbia County problem, this is a growing cancer that is tearing the fiber that build this country apart.

Little Lamb

Crowded Room Again

Up above, blues550 said:

The room worked and if anything, had a positive effect for those opposing the project. . . . Last night worked well.

I'm glad it worked for the ones inside; but the ones in the parking lot weren't served well at all.


Early Bird

Not like you were warned. The early bird gets the worm and in this case, room inside. Might want ot heed this next time.

Sweet son

Housing Will Be Built!

All of the comments and banter are nice but in the end if the Federal Government and the Department of Community Affairs are involved the housing will be built. The only ones who will benefit out of this meeting will be some lawyers and you and I will pay them!!!

Sweet son

Columbia News Times

Glad to see that comments are being posted to Columbia News Times articles. Glad to see that the Chronicle has added it to the center column on the home page!


Not Pleased

This issue highlights the fundamental reason why most residents prefer to live in Columbia County; to escape the riff-raff like this which usually resides in Richmond County (and numerous others within the metro area). While this one event may not be substantial, it represents a fissure forming in the fundamentally conservative county government.

Although their efforts may now be futile in suppressing the construction, let it be known the present commissioners will NOT recieve my vote in the next local election.