When Robert Auclair moved to Grovetown 34 years ago, half of the roads in Grovetown were dirt, there was one filling station and the community was known as Trailer Town.
Things are different these days. Where Augusta ends and Grovetown begins is blurry -- no longer a drive from city to country.
And now the government has noticed. On Nov. 1, Grovetown will be reclassified as urban by the USDA Rural Development agency.
When classified as urban, Grovetown will no longer be eligible for low interest housing, repair and development loans.
"It's grown," said Mr. Auclair, who moved to Dorn Street in 1965 with his wife Patricia and five children. "Half of the roads in Grovetown were dirt. Homes, my god, there are now 10 times the amount of homes that were here. We've gotten rid of a lot of trailers -- it used to be Trailer Town -- and the ones that are left are pretty neat. We had one grocery store then -- Poole's -- no sewage and a little bitty post office. We used to get our mail off the train. They'd hang the bag on a hook in the back of Poole's and a man would take it to the post office. Now we've got a bank, two barber shops, a doctor, two dentists and we even have numbers on our houses."
In the 34 years since the Auclairs moved to Grovetown, the population has grown from 1,400 to 8,000. The city's main thoroughfare, Robinson Avenue, has become a three-lane road, there's a shopping center, restaurants, four gas stations and an industrial park with six major tenants.
Formerly the Farmers Home Administration, the USDA Rural Development agency is redrawing the boundary lines of rural areas in Columbia County. Now residents living east of Louisville Road, including Grovetown, will no longer be eligible to receive loans from the agency. This includes the city of Grovetown which has used these low interest loans in the past to improve its infrastructure.
"It hurts us that we have to move the line back from Grovetown," said Roger Jenkins, community development manager for USDA Rural Development. "But when you go from Augusta to Grovetown, there's hardly a break. It's basically built up all the way through."
It was a loan from the Rural Development agency that built Grovetown's water system. Rural Development provides business and industrial rural development loans to improve infrastructure -- such things as water and sewer -- that are basic requirements for future development.
In 1986, Grovetown borrowed $1.9 million for construction of its water system and waste water treatment plant which was completed in 1988, Mayor Dennis Trudeau said.
"We put in the water sewer system in Grovetown and the extension of that," Mr. Jenkins said. "That's why we really hate to exclude that area. We held off for as long as we could (in re-drawing the rural service area). But we are periodically charged with the responsibility of re-checking our lines. Basically we can't be operating in an urbanized area."
During the 1990 census, the population of Grovetown was 3,946 and the population is expected to surpass 8,000 when the next census is taken in 2000, said Robert Newman, Grovetown planning director. While the city of Grovetown is compact, the outlying area of Grovetown includes the area north of Interstate 20, even reaching up Columbia Road toward Belair Road.
"There's apparently nothing we can do about it (being classified as urban)," Mr. Trudeau said. "We're just growing and we've fallen into another category. Our population is sitting at around 8,000 now."
The USDA Rural Development agency offers direct and guaranteed housing loans to low income people in rural areas. The agency also offers low-interest housing repair loans to low income applicants and offers housing repair grants of up to $7,500 to the elderly.
"Basically it means where the urbanized area of Columbia County is determined to be -- on the eastern side of Louisville Road and Old Louisville Road -- we cannot use our rural loan program over there," said Mr. Jenkins. "We cannot be active or pro-active in an urbanized area because we are a rural lending agency."
Larry Askew, USDA Rural Development area manager, said his agency only made four loans in the Grovetown area in 1999, worth about $300,000.
"It won't mean very much to residents of Grovetown, because builders in the area primarily use FHA and VA loans," said Mr. Askew. "We are only a small factor in the housing and mortgage business in the Grovetown area."
The urban reclassification may not have a direct economic impact, but it does mean the city will miss the opportunity to improve its infrastructure with future USDA low interest loans, said Tim Maund, director of the CSRA Regional Development Center.
"It means that they will go into a different pile of community development block grant money," Mr. Maund said. "They're still eligible for that, but it's more negative than positive from a grant standpoint. For example, we have a loan fund that is USDA funded and we cannot lend money in urban areas. While we could make a business loan there today, once they are changed to urban, we could not make a loan in Grovetown. I don't know that it's a significant loss to them, but it's a lost opportunity because some of their public utilities were funded with USDA money. And a lot of times USDA has a better loan rate than some of the other agencies that serve urban areas."
Population growth in Grovetown is evident as vinyl siding and shingles replace the once-green countryside. Inside Grovetown's city limits, five major subdivisions have been built since 1993. In these subdivisions 496 homes have been built, with the potential to reach 708.
Outside the city limits, three sections of Kingston Subdivision -- 43 lots -- have been built since 1993. Three new subdivisions are now under development, Euchee Creek, Nicole's Cove and the Bartram Trail Club, which could ultimately bring 847 new homes to the area.
The growth outside of the city can be attributed to a the new Euchee Creek sewer extension, which will allow developers to tap on and build high density housing.
In the city, a new $1 million park is underway, a new 500,000 gallon water storage tower has been built, roads are being widened and repaved along the city's major thoroughfares and a new middle school is in the planning stages.
"I think we're really on the outskirts of the urban area," Mr. Trudeau said. "We've got so much that needs to be done before I'd consider ourselves urban."
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