Thursday, October 6, 2011

Urban Redevelopment or Land Grab?

Oct. 6, 2011
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

If not for the keen eyes of a couple of concerned citizens, the proposed overlay districts for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem neighborhoods may have been scuttled through at last Monday's Augusta Planning Commission meeting with no discussion and without most of the affected property owners even knowing about them. It seems that Planning and Zoning failed to mail out the required notices to the affected 136 property owners.

The overlay districts could have major ramifications on existing property owners in the neighborhood by possibly imposing architectural and  design guidelines enforced by a review board. This is similar to what property owners in designated historic districts, like Olde Town and Summerville have to deal with. Many people would argue that this kind of added layer of bureaucracy may place an unnecessary burden on existing residents of Laney-Walker, because these rules would be retro-active (meaning existing property owners would not be grandfathered in).

These residents tend to be fall into lower income brackets and may not have the financial resources to be able to adhere to the types of design and architectural rules that may be arbitrarily be placed on them without their consent. What if a longtime property owner wants to install a vinyl fence or change their shutters, or paint their house? Well, if the overlay districts are imposed, they may have to go before an architectural and design review board for approval of even the most benign renovations or changes to their property (just ask people in Olde Town!).

Mike Sheil, a property owner in Olde Town, who has fought many of his own battles against the inconsistently and arbitrarily applied historic preservation guidelines in Olde Town,  along with long time Laney-Walker resident Dee Mathis (who is one of the 136 affected property owners for the overlay district), showed up at Monday's meeting looking for answers and  to ask why affected property owners were not properly notified about the meeting. Because of the action of these two concerned citizens, a hearing on the overlay districts has been rescheduled for November 7th, and the following letter has been mailed to the affected property owners notifying them.

The following document, Section 25 of Special District Classifications, explains the overlay districts:
It appears that 10% of property owners can impose the overlay district.  So some people are wondering if this much hyped urban redevelopment program (funded mostly from the $37.5 million hotel-motel tax that was imposed to help pass the TEE Center) is really a land grab that will ultimately force longtime residents out. Below is a map of the 13 proposed overlay districts for Laney-Walker:

*** City Stink would like to thank Mike Sheil and Dee Mathis for contributing to this article ***

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