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Commission to hire lawyer to try to stop Magnolia Trace

Posted: December 11, 2011 - 1:05am
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Jennifer McCray, a resident of Petersburg Station, spoke out against the Magnolia Trace housing development at Tuesday's commission meeting.  Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Jennifer McCray, a resident of Petersburg Station, spoke out against the Magnolia Trace housing development at Tuesday's commission meeting.

Twitter @DonnieFetter

Columbia County officials continued their search Thursday for an attorney to initiate a fight against a housing development in Martinez.

Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to hire outside legal counsel to investigate any legal recourse officials might take to “interrupt” construction of Magnolia Trace.

County Administrator Scott Johnson said several attorneys contacted thus far have declined the job, were too busy with other cases, or had a conflict of interest.

The motion to hire an attorney came after nearly two hours of questions and accusations from nearby residents angered that the commission endorsed the “affordable” housing project on Old Ferry Road. A protester said Wednesday that he counted more than 230 people at the meeting.

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.”

However, McCray said Thursday that she and her neighbors are somewhat satisfied that officials will seek a means to halt the project.

“The community as a whole was relieved that the commissioners are taking how we feel about this seriously, instead of trying to tell us they know better than we do and that this was going to be a good thing,” she said.

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

Trey Allen, the 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 said, they might have faced a federal housing discrimination lawsuit.

Allen said officials could not even inform surrounding neighborhoods of the project without facing federal sanctions.

Missouri-based Afford­able Equity Part­ners arranged with the Depart­ment of Community Affairs to receive tax credits to construct the rental homes, said county attorney Doug Batchelor.

Residents contend Magnolia Trace will lead to an increase in crime and a decrease in property values and further burden the school system.

Commissioners defended the 15-acre development, which will feature 50 single-family homes, and Cross repeated earlier comments that he believes the project is good for the area in spite of voting to approve the motion to attempt to stop it.

In recent days, commissioners have noted that anyone wishing to rent a Magnolia Trace home must first pass checks on employment, credit and criminal histories.

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

McCray said she hopes the controversy might sway developers to rethink Magnolia Trace.

ALSO AT THE MEETING

• Commissioners approved merit raises for non-contracted employees. Depending on job performance, Johnson said, employees might get no raise while high-performing employees might get as much as 4 percent. Raises for contracted employees will be discussed at a later date, said Commissioner Ron Thigpen.

• A resolution was approved to accept ownership of Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue stations on Hardy McManus Road and William Few Parkway. Once the deeds are transferred, the county then will own every fire station in the unincorporated area except for Station No. 15 on Burks Mountain Road. That property is leased.

• The commission agreed to seek reimbursement of about $10,000 from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency for supplies and staff time used to update the county Hazard Mitigation Plan. The plan is used to guide recovery efforts in the event of a widespread catastrophe.

• An investigation will be conducted into whether the county’s code enforcement officers are properly overseeing the replacement of trees from those uprooted during commercial development, commissioners said. The issue was brought to the commission by an Appling resident, who claims that the 5 Guys restaurant development in Evans is using substandard trees.

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Comments (1)

tsalmons

This is not a good idea.

The same thing happened in West Augusta and downtown years ago, for those who remember. Section 8 moved in and hard working folks who didn't want it moved out. Some people who receive aid from the county are simply unemployed or underemployed because of the economy, not because they are making it there job to have babies and sell drugs. I can't believe that $190,000 dollar homes are being built for the sole purpose of housing section 8. That isn't fair to the surrounding neighborhoods, because it will bring more crime to this area. The same thing that happened in West Augusta, and downtown will happen here in Martinez if this is pushed through. Unfortunately what comes along with most, not all, section 8 homes is drugs and crime and the neighbors have every right to protest. This endeavor needs to seriously be reconsidered. I will not vote for anyone who thinks that this amount of tax payer monies should be spent in such a fashion at such a time that the economy is hurting to badly. In addition, I think the people should be heard and if the surrounding areas are not comfortable with this change than their voices should be heard because they are voters too.

Tiffiney Salmons

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