Last fall, the Rev. Sharon Collins stood proudly in front of her peers and told them she believed in Newton County, IECDG and the public park being built in her neighborhood, Fairview Estates, calling it a field of dreams.
Nearly a year later, she’s wondering if she was terribly wrong.
“I feel like I was duped,” she said.
Collins and a handful of other residents who previously supported IECDG feel that the company has abandoned them. IECDG is the non-profit partner the county selected to oversee Neighborhood Stabilization Program federal stimulus money the county received.
Collins and others contend no progress has been made toward placing the residents in control of a Fairview Estates homeowners association, a promise that was made when Newton County and IECDG were making plans to build a park in the neighborhood. That was supposed to have occurred eight months ago, according to meeting minutes signed last year by IECDG and Fairview Estates representatives last year.
But James Hellams, chief executive officer for IECDG, said a lack of community participation has slowed progress. Before the homeowners association can be passed to residents, they must nominate and elect officers. IECDG held meetings in May and June, but no more than eight residents attended either meeting. Hellams said that isn't enough participation under the bylaws.
However, he said his firm has been working to create a document which he hopes will be able to engage the community. The document is expected to go out to landowners later this week.
If that doesn't work, then IECDG which control 27 lots, and, therefore, 27 votes for the homeowners association, could be forced to move forward without community participation. Hellams said that's something they don't want.
For years, the unfinished portion of the subdivision and the homeowners association was controlled by banks. Residents had problems with homeowners association manager Heritage Properties, which collected association dues but never built promised amenities. Gaining control of the association was a priority for many residents, and part of the reason why some backed IECDG.
In late August, Collins came to The News with her concerns, and acknowledged that doing so had created a schism in the support group. Noel Wallace is one of the residents who still fully supports IECDG.
"I understand that things won't happen very quickly, but (IECDG) wants this project completed as fast as it can be. Why would they be delaying this project? They're a non-profit. They want it done so they can move on to the next thing," Wallace said. "We can't bite the hand that feeds us...I look at this and say ‘My gosh, somebody actually saw us (and our problems) and wants to help.'"
Wallace said the groups need to find a way to get residents more involved, so homeowners association officers can be nominated and elected.
Wallace said at one point, Hellams said IECDG could simply give the HOA over to the residents, but she said she realized they need IECDG's help.
"I said ‘No, please don't. That's the scariest thought in the world right now," Wallace said, noting that the neighborhood could easily fall back into disrepair without a unified community.
However, Collins, Sharlene Hassell and William and Charlene Nations, aren't satisfied. If this was going to be such a difficult process, they asked why Hellams didn't tell them that up front. Hassell said she may never have agreed to support IECDG if she realized they would need such a high percentage of participation from residents to form the homeowners association.
They're also disappointed that the meetings and communication have stopped, despite the low turnout. Collins said they feel like they've been lied to. Last time she talked to Hellams, he was talking about placing a community resource center in Fairview Estates. This was totally new to her, and she didn't understand the change in focus when the homeowners association wasn't even secured.
"I'm really hurt. We went against our neighbors and divided the neighborhood. Now we're divided even more so," she said.