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Newton County board of commissioners selects Brown Bridge site for Westside youth facility
The property owner had first mentioned the possibility of donating the century-old house and four acres to the county in 2021 after the county acquired an adjacent 11-acre site in late 2015. - photo by Courtesy of Newton County

COVINGTON, Ga. — The courtroom that holds the bi-weekly Newton County Board of Commissioners meetings was packed to the brim on Tuesday with a crowd that represented a microcosm of Newton County's diversity, and that not just ethnically speaking. 

The array of opinion and discussion surrounding the site for the proposed Westside Youth Facility has been plenteous, but the speculation of where it would be located ended Tuesday.

That's when the Newton County commissioners voted 3-2 on selecting the four-acre site owned by John Addison Jr. at 11869 Brown Bridge Road over the objections of two commissioners, District 3 Rep. Alana Sanders and District 4 Rep. J.C. Henderson, who claimed both retaliation for unilaterally seeking a grant for the project and alleged racism on the government's part.

Sanders Sanders and Henderson voted against the plan.

But it wasn't just the commissioners expressing dissension. 

The four-acre site is owned by John Addison Jr. at 11869 Brown Bridge Road. It is adjacent to the Trelawney subdivision and backs up to a separate 11-acre tract the county government has owned since 2015. That drew the ire of Trelawney Home Owner's Association president Annette Alston. 

Alston said she, and some of the residents in the Trelawney subdivision, feel slighted because the decision was made without communicating with Trelawney residents. 

"In July 2022, there was a meeting with a number of planners and Commissioner (J.C.) Henderson about a proposal to create a community park utilizing the common area of our subdivision," Alston said. "We listened and made it clear that we were not interested at that time because there were too many unanswered questions. 

"None of those questions were answered and there was no effort to have any further discussion with the community. Meantime, we find out that, without our knowledge, consultation, anything, that the Addison property adjoining Trelawney is being given to the Boys & Girls Club."

The Addison property will be donated to the Boys & Girls Club and given to the county for the youth facility at no charge. However, the deal stipulates a 113-year-old house on the property must be retained and included in the Westside Youth Facility building plan, according to a report in The Newton Citizen.

It is the same property commissioners had considered accepting as a donation for use as a park in October 2021, according to a previous report in The Covington News.

Alston said that the biggest issue wasn't the presence of the Boys & Girls Club, but rather the lack of communication to the Trelawney residents. 

"Now, to be honest, I'm not sure our community would be totally adversed to a Boys & Girls Club type facility next door," she said. "But that's the point. You didn't ask us. And what makes this particularly sad is the appearance that the Trelawney Subdivision is being used in a sick, mean-spirited political game and we're the pawns. We're not in Sanders' District. We're in District 4."

Henderson said he believed the county was forcing the facility on the area's majority Black residents in a way that was similar to how majority white governments forced such projects on Black neighborhoods in the past in the U.S. 

Sanders said she opposed it because residents told her in a meeting earlier this month they did not want it on the site. 

The commissioner has lobbied for the facility for months and wanted it built on a separate 60-acre tract near Fairview Road in her district. 

However, county officials said the sellers of the Fairview property wanted more than the appraised value of $2.3 million, according to the newspaper.

Sanders accused the other commissioners of making her the victim of political payback for pursuing a $4 million federal grant for the Youth Facility separately from the county government. 

As far as the facility and the grant itself, other residents expressed comments fueled by earlier reports that the $4 million grant was in jeopardy of being rescinded. That report proved to be inaccurate, but it didn't keep residents from sounding off about it Tuesday. 

"I'm standing up tonight for the youth of Newton County and the Seniors of Newton County," said Cecily Bell during the meetings opening citizens' comments portion. "We need the money for the youth. We need the money of rthe seniors. We need those finances here in Newton County. We need those community centers to be built. The ones who did not vote for this are causing us to fail." 

Gabriel Stovall contributed to this report.