Bowing to pressure from preservationists, Augusta Housing Authority abandoned plans to redevelop the former Immaculate Conception church and school on Laney Walker Boulevard into apartments and a community center.
The authority, taking action on its last agenda item at the start of a regular meeting today, voted instead to move forward with what they called “Plan B,” to develop a nearby area bounded by Twiggs Street, Picquet Avenue and Wrightsboro Road into 93 units of duplexes, single-family homes and townhomes.
Before making the move, board members debated filing an official complaint against Historic Augusta Executive Director Erick Montgomery, whom member David Steele said had gone “behind our backs” to prevent the authority from redeveloping the deteriorating church and school, which are presently owned by the Catholic Church.
Montgomery had raised concerns about the redevelopment plan’s impact on the 1913 church and school, which the authority proposed converting into apartments. Both were established by the African Missionary Fathers of the Catholic Church, and the school educated neighborhood children of all faiths until the school moved to Telfair Street in 2009.
Montgomery said he was disappointed that the authority had abandoned the project and denied going behind anyone’s back regarding what are “historic, very important cultural and architectural resources” in the Laney-Walker neighborhood.
“We were invited by the state historic preservation office to comment on that, as we are on any and every project that affects historic properties in Augusta,” Montgomery said.
Richard Arfman, AHA director of planning and development, said additional requirements placed on the authority’s use on what was a historic site simply made the project no longer feasible.
“Rather than restoration,” board chairman Rodger Murchison said as the authority voted, “our job is housing. We were fighting it from the restoration side.”
The group agreed to drop the proposal at Immaculate Conception and adopt instead a proposal called “Twiggs Circle” developed by APD Urban Planning and Development, a consulting firm employed by Augusta to redevelop areas in the Laney Walker and Bethlehem historic districts.
Authority Executive Director Jacob Oglesby said most of the Twiggs property to become phases 1 and 2 of Twiggs Circle was owned by Augusta Land Bank and that the city would soon convey clear title to most of the land.
The land bank’s offering price is the best the authority can get, so long as the authority doesn’t have to shoulder the cost of demolition, authority vice chairman Rev. K.B. Martin said.
According to a site plan, Phase 1 of Twiggs Circle includes 16 duplexes and eight single-family homes, all new construction reserved for senior citizens, along sections of Wrightsboro Road, South Boundary and James Brown Boulevard.
The authority’s budget for Phase 1 is between $3 and $3.5 million, while estimated costs for the second and third phases have not been determined, according to Arfman. The authority expects to pay $1,000 to $2,000 an acre for property from the land bank, he said.
Phase 2 includes 24 new single-family homes and four restorations along Twiggs Street between Wrightsboro and Picquet, with plans for a possible park or senior citizen center at the intersection of Nicholas Street and Twiggs.
Phase 3 according to the site plan is “more of a long-term vision,” as much of the property is privately owned. Itcalls for construction of 22 single-family homes and 23 townhouses along Picquet Street.