Originally created 11/17/99

Laney-Walker restoration approved



The Augusta Commission approved a $1 million contract Tuesday with a local nonprofit corporation that aims to revive the Laney-Walker Historic District.

Under the contract, Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. will receive up to $1 million in Community Development Block Grant funds. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development doles the funds to cities to administer as they choose.

The commission approved the measure by a 6-3 vote, with Commissioners Jerry Brigham, J.B. Powell and Ulmer Bridges voting against the measure. Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard abstained.

The contract will pay for the construction or renovation of about 100 housing units in an area bounded by Laney-Walker Boulevard, Walton Way, and Seventh and 12th streets.

The corporation will receive $25,000 immediately to pay for administrative expenses, said Augusta Administrator Randy Oliver. The board can be reimbursed for an additional $75,000 in administrative expenses, even before it begins building or renovating houses in the district, Mr. Oliver said.

For each housing unit sold, the corporation can be reimbursed for $7,500 in capital and financial costs, and for $1,000 in administrative expenses, Mr. Oliver said.

Although most commissioners voiced support for the effort, it drew some criticism. District 2 Commissioner Freddie Handy said the Laney-Walker efforts would ignore urban blight in nearby areas, in some instances only one street away.

Mayor Bob Young defended the boundaries, saying they ensured that the corporation would make a difference by focusing its money and effort in one area.

The lines were drawn with input from residents, and have been mentioned at every meeting held about the subject since last spring, the mayor said.

"Last spring, why wasn't this included?" Mr. Handy asked. "You're just one street either way. How can you miss it?"

Commissioner Willie Mays also pushed the corporation to seek more involvement from members of the Laney-Walker community.

"None of us who live here and reside here are on this board," Mr. Mays said. "That's still a legitimate question. You need to be planning with people rather than for people."

Mr. Powell criticized the corporation for approaching the commission without a business plan, and for the involvement of former mayor Charles A. DeVaney.

Some people say Mr. DeVaney, the corporation's interim director, nearly bankrupted the city during his tenure as mayor.

Bernard Silverstein, the chairman of the corporation's board, said he asked Mr. DeVaney to serve because of his experiences with federal contracts, and because he had no time or funds to hire a permanent director.

Mr. DeVaney's run as interim director ends Dec. 31. The corporation's board will seek applicants for the position from across the region, Mr. Silverstein said.

The board delayed any business plan for the corporation because it had no money to hire consultants for the work, Mr. Silverstein said.

"I do believe that we will show, given the opportunity, a successful program for helping citizens who want help and need help, who are unable to do this on their own," the chairman said. "I see this as a positive move for Augusta-Richmond County."

Besides approving the corporation's contract, the commission also approved an annual renewal of alcoholic beverage licenses for almost all current licensees.

The commission also revoked business licenses for Awesome Scents, at 3551 Wrightsboro Road, and Paradise Spa, at 2601-D Deans Bridge Road. The businesses were accused of violating city codes that regulate massage parlors.

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.