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Fairview park opens
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The Fairview Estates neighborhood is home to the county's latest public park, which had its grand opening Wednesday afternoon.

The Fairview Community Park was built with federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program money in an attempt to revitalize an area ravaged by foreclosures. Fairview Estates is located off Fairview Road.

The park cost $200,000 and includes a parking lot, pavilion, toddler playground, open field and a 1/4-mile walking trail with benches. The park will cost $9,081 per year to maintain, according to the Newton County Recreation Commission. County commissioners, state officials, recreation members and neighborhood residents all celebrated the opening and spoke about the long journey needed to make the park a reality.

Residents were not initially consulted in 2009 about locating a park in their community and, after being left out in the cold by the neighborhood's bankrupt developer, were hesitant to trust the county's intentions. They were wary of a third party coming in and running their community and of a public park in a private neighborhood. They wanted their own voice.

After dozens of meetings during the past two years, residents had their biggest breakthrough in March when the community finally voted to form its own homeowners' association. The Rev. Sharon Collins, who has been active throughout the revitalization efforts, was named president at a March 21 meeting of around 70 homeowners.

"I think we got 100 percent buy-in from the community and we haven't had any negative responses," Collins said Thursday. "All they wanted was an open line of communication to someone who would hear them and could make a difference."

Collins said the new homeowners' association board has set up an email address for residents and is attempting to respond to all questions and complaints within 24 hours. She puts in about 20 hours a week for the association, while vice president Sharlene Hassell puts in 40 hours a week. The board is meeting monthly.

Corporal Anthony Washington, with the Newton County Sheriff's Office, has helped leaders set up a neighborhood watch, and the board is working to get a new lawn care and property management contract.

"The entire journey we've taken was well worth it. It prepared us for the future and where we are now, because we were able to gain a tremendous amount of knowledge through the challenges we had," Collins said. "A year ago would we have been able to take over the (homeowners' association)? Probably not...I wouldn't trade anything for this journey."