Originally created 08/19/04

Olde Town scam



Augustans have trouble coming together to agree on anything, including the time of day. Yet an Atlanta developer has brought Augusta together over the Olde Town issue. And it's not because Augustans oppose low-income dwellings. It's because they don't like outsiders coming in and lying to them.

Two years ago Capitol Development Group of Atlanta purchased the shuttered Houghton Elementary School in Olde Town from the Richmond County Board of Education after promising to convert the property to upscale apartments. The company even enlisted Olde Town residents to help secure a special zoning exception from the local planning commission to make it happen.

Then, after getting the zoning change it wanted, Capitol Development turned around and signed a deal to sell the school and the nearby Widows Home to Affordable Housing Solutions Inc. which plans to convert the Greene Street property into apartments for low-income and market-rate tenants. That company has already received a $500,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta to get the project underway.

What it hasn't done so far, however, is apply to the planning commission for building permits or site plans. When it does, it won't find easy sledding. The Augusta Commission has signed a legal paper to stop any building activity at the Hougton school for 90 days. The commission has also authorized City Attorney Stephen Shepard to draw up a moratorium on all building permits for multifamily residential development in professional and historic districts where special exceptions have previously been granted.

Olde Town resident and former Augusta Mayor Charles DeVaney says Historic Augusta, which he now heads, should have been offered first right of refusal on the property when Capitol Development decided to resell it, but was not given the option.

The issue here isn't about being against low-income housing. As DeVaney points out, there's plenty of low-income housing in the Olde Town area - no more is needed for now.

The issue is about outsiders coming in and trying to play Augustans for suckers. "This is about fraud and deceit and people that come here and lie. We were used," says DeVaney. That certainly appears to be true.

To get the zoning change it wanted, Capitol Development promised Olde Town residents what they wanted to hear - then when they got the change, they sold out to a company that specializes in building low-income dwellings. It's hard not to believe that isn't what Capitol Development had in mind all along.

However, it's heartening to see the Augusta Commission, the city attorney, Mayor Bob Young, Planning Director George Patty and others coming together to stand against the scam being committed against Olde Town.

As DeVaney says, this is an example of "people power." Augustans will stand for a lot, but being lied to is too much. What's necessary now is to get the zoning issue under control before the 90-day moratorium expires. That means city officials must thoroughly review and revamp all zoning ordinances to ensure against future scams.