Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Access Denied! National Hills Residents Walled Off By Gate

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Augusta, GA
From Reports

Imagine waking up one day and seeing a huge metal gate with fencing blocking your main access to and from your home. Was martial law imposed overnight? Is this to keep people out or keep you fenced in? Like a scene from the movie Red Dawn, had some conquering army swept in and turned your neighborhood into a prison re-education camp? These may have been some of the questions going through the minds of residents of National Hills subdivision off Washington Road across from The Augusta National Golf Course earlier this week when a large metal gate was erected, blocking access to and from the neighborhood along Northwood Rd (see graphic at bottom of the article), the main access road from the neighborhood into National Hills Shopping Center and onto Washington Rd.

Well it wasn't the work of any invading army; there was no wall surrounding National Hills neighborhood with armed guards asking for "papers", but for many residents along Northwood Road, it certainly did feel like a Checkpoint Charlie had been set up on their street, and they felt walled in. Making matters worse, the gate and fencing blocked off not only vehicular access to the shopping center and Washington Road, but all pedestrian access as well. National Hills residents routinely rent out their homes during Masters week and it  is usually just  a short walk along Northwood Rd through National Hills Shopping Center to the course.. but now residents and guests had to walk or  drive a longer serpentine route around the shopping center to access Washington Road and the golf course.

So who was responsible for this? It appears that the gate was erected by the owners of National Hills Shopping Center, NHEP LLC. The county maintained portion of Northwood Drive effectively ends where the gate was erected, on the boundary where the shopping center property begins.. at that point Northwood Road runs through the parking lot of National Hills Shopping Center and then accesses Washington Road just across from Augusta National Golf Course (see map at end of article). However, this route is normally open for residents of National Hills to access the shopping center and Washington Road.

It appears the gate was erected specifically to keep people staying in homes in National Hills from cutting across the shopping center property to access the golf course. A sign stated " Access Closed 4/1/12 to 4/8/12" and said violators would be prosecuted under Augusta-Richmond County ordinance section 3-5-3.  The sign also said that National Hills shopping Center was solely for customer use only. However,  the gate also  blocked many long time residents from accessing the shopping center... even on foot, which many do on a daily basis to buy groceries at The Fresh Market or patronize restaurants and other businesses. Having their direct access to the shopping center blocked meant that they would have to make a more cumbersome journey to get to what for some was just a few steps away normally. And some residents  we spoke with feared that blocking off direct access of their homes from Washington Road would impair the response times for emergency responders.

Donnie Thompson to the Rescue
The neighborhood association had begun exploring hiring an attorney to have the gate opened and access restored when prominent Augusta businessman Donnie Thompson came to their rescue. Thompson owns Windsor Jewelers, which is located in an out parcel that he owns adjacent to National Hills Shopping Center  along Washington Road where Northwood Road meets it.  Sources tell us that Thompson sued the owners of the shopping center, NHEP LLC on the basis that the gate violated easement agreements.  The court sided with Thompson  and ordered the gate opened. As of late Tuesday the gate was opened for vehicles and pedestrians to pass.

So just how did this gate go up without having to be approved by the city? Would it not violate zoning ordinances? The Shopping Center owners can argue that they were simply controlling access to their property.. like someone installing a gate at the entrance to their driveway. However, this  blocked a major easement that was always available to residents of National Hills before. Also, the gate and fence were unsightly, like something that belonged in front of a prison. Residents we spoke with said they would certainly not be allowed to erect such a gate on their driveways. So was someone asleep at the Zoning Department? Residents we spoke with say they got no answers nor any action from the city on this matter and they appreciate Donnie Thompson interceding on their behalf. It looks like Donnie Thompson has a lot of new fans and probably a lot of new customers as well.***


Below is a map of the area (click to enlarge):

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