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.