Augusta’s Sand Hills, like many of the city’s older neighborhoods, suffers from being a bit forgotten, despite being in the center of town.
Situated midway between Georgia Regents University’s Summerville Campus and Augusta National Golf Club, Sand Hills homeowners had no trouble expressing their chief concern to Augusta mayoral and senate candidates at a Tuesday forum: Dilapidated, abandoned homes, and the problems that frequent them.
“They desert their places,” said Andrena Carpenter, one of a crowd of about 30 to attend the forum, organized by Commissioner Bill Fennoy at Sand Hills Community Center. “These are professional people, who leave their homes behind when they move.”
Nellie Cook agreed. “The property owners should be responsible for their properties,” she said.
One of three mayoral candidates to attend the forum, Commissioner Alvin Mason seized on the opportunity to say how he’d help. As city CEO, according to the Consolidation Act, the mayor “is the one that’s responsible for enforcing the laws on the books,” such as Augusta’s mothballed property ordinance and other property maintenance codes.
The mayor is “more than a ribbon cutter,” Mason said, detailing current efforts to rid the city of blight, and new ones, including offering tax credits for demolition companies that do the work pro-bono.
While Mason is touting his two commission terms as an asset, candidate Lori Myles, a language arts teacher at T.W. Josey High School, said those already serving ought to answer to the lack of action, although she committed to, if elected, “force the hand of Regency Mall.”
Other concerns raised by community members included there being “nothing here for the kids” – to which mayoral candidate and entrepreneur Helen Blocker-Adams repeated her campaign concern for children. “I have a lot of children all over this community,” she said.
Blocker-Adams supporter Orell Plummer said he’d “seen her put the work in over time” and appreciated the consistency.
Blighted homes and lack of development continue to plague Sand Hills, said Javon Armstrong, a neighborhood activist.
A recent effort to transform a nearby former Richmond County school, the Weed Street school, into a literacy program somehow got sidelined during the decision to consolidate nearby Augusta State University into Georgia Regents University, Armstrong said.
The candidates who attended stressed the importance of the May 20 election, which was targeted just last week by a civil rights lawsuit that could cause it to be held later, depending on a federal judge’s ruling.
“I still trust in the decisions of our higher elected officials,” Myles said of several state House members who are parties in the suit, challenging a state decision to move the elections from November to May 20.
Due to the suit, voters may even think the election is off when it’s not, Myles said.
“Whenever it is, go out,” Mason said. “This election is so serious; we shouldn’t play with this thing.”