One year after Newton County first decided to help revitalize Fairview Estates, the county has finally put its name on a contract to purchase 12.1 acres from SunTrust Bank to build a public park.
The park land will be purchased for $300,000, and the money is officially expected to be exchanged within the next 30 days. The sum will be paid from the $1.7 million of stimulus money Newton County received through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
The contract with SunTrust was originally signed on Jan. 14 by IECDG, the county’s non-profit partner for the NSP, as reported by The Covington News. On Tuesday night, the Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to take control of that contract and pay the $300,000. The vote took place in open session after an executive session to discuss the park land.
The decision to build a public park in Fairview Estates was initially met with overwhelming opposition, but after dozens of meetings held over the course of nine months, many residents were swayed to support the project.
The supporters believe the park will be a benefit to the community, but many were even more concerned with gaining control of the home owner’s association.
Home Owner’s Association
In a separate contract with SunTrust, IECDG also acquired 4.251 acres of additional land, connected to the park’s land. One of the conditions of the county accepting the 12.1-acre contract from IECDG, was that IECDG will eventually transfer control of this 4.251 acres to the resident’s group, Fairview Estate Home Owner’s Association.
About half of the 4.251 acres is taken up by a stormwater retention pond, but the other half will be used to house the neighborhood’s amenities once they are built, like a swimming pool. An amenity area is actually required because it was written as a condition in the original rezoning of the land that took place on Nov. 2, 1999.
For years Fairview Estates’ residents paid HOA dues but received no amenities. Because of all of the foreclosed lots and undeveloped land, SunTrust was in control of the HOA and hired Heritage Properties to manage the association.
When the purchases are officially made, the HOA will be controlled by IECDG and then eventually turned over to the resident’s group.
Planning the Park
The 12.1 acres of park land will be developed in phases. The first phase is expected to take up six acres of land and will likely include open greenspace, a pavilion, walking trails and possibly a toddler playground, said IECDG CEO James Hellams Jr.
Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey said his department will cover the maintenance costs, including cutting grass and picking up trash. However, he said he expects it will cost $12,000 per year or less, assuming no extenuating circumstances, like equipment repairs. If the park doesn’t require much grass cutting, Hailey said the county could simply hire a private firm to cut the grass, to save gas and transportation costs.
There had been discussion previously about getting donations for the park from private companies. Hellams said once the contract is closed, IECDG will file an application with KaBOOM!, a national non-profit that helps communities build playgrounds.
County Chairman Kathy Morgan said the park was originally designed for the fourth phase of Fairview Estates and contains about 95 lots worth of land.
Besides the park, IECDG has also closed contracts on nine homes, including three in Fairview Estates and six more in the county on Barshay Drive, Heaton Place Trail, Jack Neely Road, Landing Lane, Mountain Way and Zelina Court, according to Senior Planner Scott Sirotkin.
Including the $300,000, IECDG has appropriated $1.2 million of the original $1.7 million in NSP money.
Hellams said six of the homes are almost completely rehabbed and will be sold to families soon. All NSP homes must be sold to families that make less than 120 percent of the area median income, $85,400 for a family of four, and some of the homes must be sold to families that make less than 50 percent of the area median income.
Hellams said once some of the homes are sold, the money will go back into the NSP fund and will be used to purchase more properties.
IECDG will also be doing some other things to benefit Fairview Estates. As part of the same contract in which IECDG obtained the 4.251 acres of land for the HOA, it also bought all of SunTrust’s other remaining property — 27 vacant lots. The lots are just more than two acres.
IECDG did not use Newton County NSP funds to buy the property, but when Newton County assumed IECDG’s original contract with SunTrust, the county specified that any development of the land or any profits made by selling the land must benefit the HOA, the park or the community at large. According to the agreement, at least two of the 27 lots have to be offered to Habitat for Humanity for affordable housing opportunities.
"The work we’ve done this far has been focused on helping the community move forward with resilience and growth and help them clean up some of the deficiencies and become a thriving community," Hellams said. "The controversy, the negative and positive comments, you’re going to get that when dealing with a community. I don’t care how good a project it is. But we’re there with the constituents and we’re trying to help communities achieve their goals and self-sufficiency. Right now it’s all shaping up."