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Attorney says county can't stop Magnolia Trace development

Posted: January 11, 2012 - 12:01am  |  Updated: January 11, 2012 - 4:09am

Twitter @DonnieFetter

Columbia County officials have no recourse to stop an unpopular development in Martinez, according to a lawyer hired to investigate the issue.

“In sum, it is my opinion that any action taken at this point by the county in an effort to stop the development of Magnolia Trace would likely fail and would open the county to a suit or suits for damages and other relief,” wrote Savannah attorney Patrick T. O’Connor to County Administrator Scott Johnson in a letter dated Dec. 19. “Such actions could be initiated by an aggrieved party, the United States Department of Justice, or the State of Georgia.”

Even an “effort to stop the project” might result in lawsuits, according to O’Connor.

Commissioners voted Dec. 6 to hire O’Connor after complaints from hundreds of residents near the planned “affordable housing” project on Old Ferry Road. Those against the development have said it will adversely affect surrounding property values, increase crime and overburden the school system.

Missouri-based Affordable Equity Partners arranged last year with the state Department of Community Affairs to receive tax credits to construct 50 single-family homes on the 15-acre site.

The commission supported that effort with a resolution passed in June 2010 and submitted to the DCA.

O’Connor wrote that Affordable Equity Partners likely has “vested rights” in the Magnolia Trace development. Should the county violate those rights, the developer could “claim for injunctive relief, damages, attorney’s fees and costs.”

Also, attempts to stop the development might be viewed as discrimination, which would violate the federal and state Fair Housing Acts, O’Connor wrote.

In a subsequent letter from O’Connor dated Dec. 20, he told Johnson “yes” when asked whether the Magnolia Trace project could have proceeded without the commission’s endorsement. Unlike most items commissioners vote on, the resolution never was discussed in committee meetings before the commission vote.

Instead, it was discussed in a meeting with the developer, Commission Chairman Ron Cross, Commissioner Trey Allen and county attorney Doug Batchelor at Batchelor’s law office in Evans.

Though unwilling to discuss his findings, O’Connor said Monday that he sent the letter to Johnson on the day it was dated.

Since that time, the commission has met twice, but did not openly discuss O’Connor’s findings. However, Allen said Jennifer McCray, a spokeswoman for the residents against the development, was included in all communications between O’Connor and county officials, and that she informed her neighbors. A phone message left Monday for McCray wasn’t returned.

Considering O’Connor’s legal assessment, Allen said there is nothing left anyone can do to halt the development.

“Judging from what he told us, I don’t know what else we can do,” said Allen, who represents the Magnolia Trace area. “It’s out of our hands. I don’t see where we have any grounds to stop it.”

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Comments (3)



The existence of an income based property is not the real issue, at least in my opinion. It is whether the property is managed properly once completed. There will certainly be rules in place that if enforced (key) would eliminate most of the concerns expressed. Problem being, it has been seen time and time again, in similar developments, that lackadaisical enforcement can create havoc in a community. Very often it is occupants not on the lease, thus not properly screened, that cause the most problems. If the county can't stop the build, their next best course of action should be to ensure proper management in place when completed. If managed properly, Magnolia Trace could become a nice community for lawful, hard working families that simply need a hand up not a hand out.

Little Lamb

Hand Up

The trouble is, if they get a hand up and actually improve their household income, the tax credit thing falls apart for the management company and the investors. They have to keep low income people in the homes. That should not be hard to do if Obama wins a second term. A lot of us will qualify in a couple of more years.


Magnolia Trace

These are the FACTS:

If a firm has a client interested in purchasing property from the County- there is nothing unethical about the County Attorney being the closing agent. Everything is recorded and above board, any fee collected is for the service provided (the closing).

The developers of Magnolia Trace are spending 190k per residence to build each one, which is no shack. They are also going to be maintaining the property and homes. There is a Clubhouse. There is a $40k maximum annual income cap- which is NOT low income. Most white collar (secretaries, clerks, etc.) and blue collar workers (cops, FF, etc.) make this much or less. There is a credit check and criminal background check on all prospective residents.

I am disturbed by the ignorant "racial undertones" in the postings. "Those people" are our relatives, former co-workers and friends who have lost their homes and jobs due to the economic climate. They are unemployed or under-employed through no fault of their own and are struggling to keep their self-respect and dignity intact.

The comparison of Cherry Hill or Westwood Apt. complexes to this single family residence is a poor analogy at best. Comparing apratment complexes to homes that cost $190k to build, really? As far as "lowering property values" in the adjacent neighborhoods- is ridiculous- the subdivision being a rental property not purchase/sale property and would not be included in the "comparative sales".

Now that the facts have been disclosed- you can choose to ignore the FACTS or continue to waller in the hysteria riddled with misprepresentations. I would be more inclined to be angry that my peacefulness was purposely stomped on based on the hysterial misrepresentations, conspiracy theories and untruths of someone who isn't interested in facts, just the attention it has created for her.

Live and Let Live.