The local NAACP and Newton County Minister’s Union have become involved in the Fairview Estates Neighborhood Stabilization Program park debate, but after the latest meeting this Saturday, some of the staunchest opponents of the park say they are optimistic that compromises can be reached.
The neighborhood leaders in Fairview Estates are split into two camps, those who are generally supportive of the park, and those who are against it. The opposition party decided they weren’t getting enough answers from Newton County and its NSP partner IECDG, so they turned to the NAACP and NCMU.Members from those two organizations attended a Saturday meeting at Fairview Estates between the residents and several members from IECDG. The Rev. W.J. Smith, president of NCMU, opened the meeting by saying he realized there were two divided groups, and he wanted to have two representatives from each meet together.
"If they are determined to come in here, then we’re determined to make it work," Smith said.
The rest of the meeting was spent answering residents’ concerns. Herman Brighthart, IECDG vice president of outreach, made an effort to live up to his title and made sure that all of the residents at the meeting, most of whom were against the park, had a chance to ask questions and air concerns.
When residents had questions, like what kind of barrier would be erected to maintain their personal privacy, IECDG employees asked the residents for their suggestions. Resident William Nations, whose property abuts the park, said he wanted at least an 8-foot fence. Others had different suggestions. Brighthart wrote down those suggestions and concerns and promised to address them.
IECDG Chairman James Hellams and President R.J. Fields explained that the park was mostly maintained grass, or greenspace, and that the rest of the options, like pavilions and picnic tables, and where to place them were up to the residents. If residents don’t want many amenities, which tend to attract more traffic, then very few will be included.
Privacy and safety were serious concerns, and the IECDG employees said they would work to put up fencing and foliage to prevent trespassing, even working with companies like Home Depot to perhaps have fencing donated. The Newton County Sheriff’s Office has also promised to work with the residents to set up a neighborhood watch and patrol the area more.
But what weighed the most heavily on residents’ minds was finding out if and when they would finally receive control of their Home Owners Association. The current HOA is managed by Heritage Properties, an unpopular group in the neighborhood. Because Heritage is hired by SunTrust Mortgage, if IECDG buys most of the vacant property that is owned by SunTrust, then IECDG will own the majority of land and become the HOA. The plan is then for the IECDG to turn over some of that land to the residents, who would then be the majority stakeholders.
"The HOA is hanging in limbo because the subdivision was never fully built out. When we buy the land we’ll temporarily be in the position Heritage is in," Brightharp said.
"So we’ll get rid of them?" Nations asked. When Brightharp said yes, Nations responded, "That’s what we needed to hear."
Some residents were still skeptical, and resident Latricia Jones wanted to make sure they had the promise to turn over the HOA in writing. IECDG employees said they could do that as soon as the residents gave the group the OK to move forward, but IECDG has been unable to negotiate with SunTrust in the interim.
The Rev. Sharon Collins, who was among the group that wanted the NAACP and NCMU to be involved said at the end of the meeting she had become more informed and was pleased with the progress.
"I believe as a community we can come together and work toward a compromise. I’m very optimistic," she said.
There are still many details to work out and future meetings are planned between representatives from the divided groups to work toward a compromise. In addition, the residents are in the process of electing officers for a future HOA, so they can be ready to assume control in the future.
Fields said he hoped a compromise could be reached because he believed this was an excellent opportunity for the neighborhood.
"We don’t want to go somewhere else, because this a cool deal for you," he said. "Counties have decided they want more greenspace in neighborhoods, but there was very little greenspace put in here because the developer built dense and then left … think of the greenspace as an extension of your amenities package."
Deacon Archie Shepherd, with the local NAACP, said he was pleased with the meeting, but said the NAACP would continue to watch the NSP’s progress.