After listening to concerns from residents in the surrounding Laney-Walker area, Augusta planning commissioners opted Monday to postpone their decision and give Western Alternative Corrections Inc. a chance to speak further with homeowners upset over having a second transitional facility open next to them.
A similar state center exists across the street from the site, which homeowners said has caused a host of problems because of lack of supervision.
The planning commission first heard about the residential re-entry center in July. The Nebraska-based company is seeking a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons for a center that could house both newly released prisoners and rehabilitation patients. The bureau requires any company putting in such bids to give the public at least six months’ notice before any zoning decision can be made.
Western Alternative Corrections chose a dilapidated building at 802 Seventh St. for the project. Magnolia LLC is the land owner, according to property records, with Margaret Copenhaver, wife of Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, listed under the mailing address on the property report.
In September, a second company – Dismas Charities – proposed opening a federal halfway facility in the same neighborhood at a derelict brick warehouse at 602 Taylor St.
In both instances, residents said adding another prisoner re-entry center would exacerbate crime and lower property values.
“To put another one there in the same area, that’s not going to help the situation,” said resident Stella Nunnally, who lives nearby. “It’s not safe.”
Blanchard and Calhoun Property Management Director Davis Beman, who aided Western Alternative Corrections in finding a location, told planning commissioners that 10 to 12 other locations in Richmond County were considered. He said the chosen site’s proximity to the jail and judicial services along with the existing state center made the location ideal.
Planning Commissioner Melvin Ivey said he worried that people in the Laney-Walker neighborhood were not treated fairly when it came to choosing a location.
Commissioners were nearly united in approving the property’s rezoning from light industry to general business, but when it came to agreeing to a special exception that would allow establishment of the center, the committee was divided.
Ivey, Y.N. Myers Jr., Tanya Barnhill, William Wright and Sonny Pittman were in opposition, and Denice Traina abstained. The panel then decided to reconsider the issue after the two parties had a chance to meet again.