The 14th meeting about the Neighborhood Stabilization Program ended the way it started — with a divided community.
According to Senior Planner Scott Sirotkin, the NSP has been going on for nearly a year, and in that time, the county has held seven public meetings and six meetings with Fairview Estates residents. Those residents, and residents from other neighborhoods on Fairview Road, met again Monday night. Once again the topic was the hotly debated public greenspace planned in Fairview Estates.
Sirotkin outlined why the park was originally planned for Fairview Estates: high foreclosures, high subprime mortgage rates and foreclosed, vacant land. The county originally wanted to buy several houses and put in a park, which it hoped would raise property values and provide an alternative to putting more houses into a glutted housing market.
However, since the NSP process began, most of the original 20-plus foreclosed houses have been snatched up by private investors. The county just recently received permission from the state to start buying properties, but they are only negotiating on two. Sirotkin said the county believes many of those homes were purchased in anticipation of the public park.
Since they first found
out about it, Fairview Estates residents have been against a public park in their neighborhood. They have said they are concerned about increased crime and traffic in an area already troubled by high rates of both.
District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said she understood that many of the residents are also distrusting of government, because of how the subdivision’s developer left the owners out to dry. A promised amenities package was never delivered and homeowner dues have never been put to use and may have already been spent on other things.
In addition, residents from outside Fairview Estates have recently been notified of the park and many of them have complaints as well. They question the park’s location and whether it will truly serve them. Some of them also share concerns about crime.
Hal Bailey, a former DeKalb County police officer who lives on Fairview Road, said in his experience parks and neighborhoods should not be mixed. He expressed concern about increased juvenile crime, insufficient patrolling and even things like having portable toilets close to a neighborhood.
Sheriff Ezell Brown said serious crime rates are not particularly high in Fairview Estates in comparison to the rest of the county. So far in 2009, there has been one shooting, two assaults, six burglaries/thefts, one drug related offense, six property damage cases and eight juvenile problems cases.
He also referenced a Washington Post article which gave crime rates in the country’s national parks. In 2006, there were 11 homicides and 35 rapes. He said the vast majority of crimes were related to theft - 3,465 cases in 2006. He said he is neither for nor against the park, but was just trying to provide a statistical reference.
Bailey asked if Brown would guarantee that the Sheriff’s Office would patrol the park, and Brown said yes. In addition to patrolling, Brown said he has continually stressed the importance of neighborhood watch programs. Rev. Sharon Collins, a Fairview Estates resident who initially opposed the park but now supports it, said she and other residents are in the process of setting up a community watch program.
However, some residents who were opposed to the park asked why they would they want the extra hassle of having to patrol their neighborhood.
One of the biggest points of contention was the unofficial vote taken by neighborhood representatives last month. A group of four community representatives, two for and two against the park, was chosen to meet with mediator Rev. W.J. Smith, of the Newton County Minister’s Union. However at a mediation meeting, the two sides actually voted on whether they were in favor of the park. A fifth resident also came to the meeting, and the vote ended up being 4 to 1 in favor of the park.
Representatives said they did not know they were going to vote at the meeting, but they said Smith wanted to able to give some consensus to IEDDG, the non-profit partner that is administering the NSP program for the county. Opponents of the park are upset that a vote took place and said they never asked for Smith to be a mediator. In addition to the vote, a non-binding agreement was signed by the representatives. IECDG has used this document to say there is a community consensus, but opponents said it’s clear there isn’t.
There was a lot of back and forth between the two, divided sides of the room.
One of the other points of contention was control of the home owners association. Currently, SunTrust controls the HOA because of all of the foreclosed vacant land the bank owns. If IECDG buys the land for the park and some of the vacant lots, SunTrust will no longer own the HOA. IECDG has said that it will eventually turn over the land to the residents and help them set up their HOA.
This is important to the residents, because the current and previous HOAs have taken monthly dues and never delivered any amenities, one of the neighborhood’s biggest initial selling points. Many of the parks supporters aren’t thrilled about the park but believe letting IECDG set up the HOA will be the best way.
However, opponents say that according to their covenant, they will get control of the HOA on Jan. 3, 2010 anyway, and they don’t want the park. They said the community hired a lawyer for this very purpose, and asked why residents are turning from that course of action.
However, the cost of having a lawyer set up the HOA, and saving up enough money to eventually buy land necessary to place the amenities has many residents agreeing that the park and IECDG is the best path.
At the end of the meeting the divided community was seemingly no closer to a solution. However, IECDG officials and Schulz said it was important to keep the dialogue going.
As far as the actual progression of the NSP, IECDG President R.J. Fields said his company is currently negotiating with SunTrust to buy the land for the park. IECDG has offered $300,000 for the land for the park, and has asked the bank to throw in all of the foreclosed, vacant lots as well. Those lots represent the fourth phase of the subdivision which was never started. The combined land was originally valued at around $5 million according to IECDG. Fields said he didn’t know when SunTrust would respond.