Goshen community won't get federal stimulus money after all

Questions surrounding the Augusta Housing and Development Department's request for $50 million in "neighborhood stablization" stimulus funds - including the controversial $21 million request for the middle-class Goshen golf course community - have become a moot point.

The award list for Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 is up on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Web site, and Augusta didn't make the cut.

Awards nationwide totaled $1.9 billion.

The Augusta application raised a stir last summer when Housing and Development Director Chester Wheeler, City Administrator Fred Russell and Mayor Deke Copenhaver submitted the application, which also included $4.7 million for Harrisburg, then asked the Augusta Commission to ratify it afterward.

Former Commissioner Betty Beard rebuked Russell for not consulting her and other commissioners beforehand. Russell and the mayor said they were trying to make a July 17 deadline, that there was a scramble to match up developers, projects and lenders, and there was no time to take the application before the commission first.

Several commissioners were upset that so much money would go to Goshen rather than inner-city neighborhoods, and Goshen residents reacted angrily also, worried that the grant money could bring Section 8 or subsidized housing.

The $21 million would have been used to restart the stalled Village at Goshen development.

Then a side-controversy erupted when Goshen resident Becky Shealy, in an Aug. 18 meeting, told the commission she'd been illegally denied access to the HUD application, a public record, by a Housing and Development employee.

Shealy later obtained the documents at the direction of the commission and Russell.

The commission never did ratify the application, with board members saying they'd tackle the issue when and if the city was awarded funds.

Meanwhile, the Goshen Residents Homeowners Association sent a letter to Washington expressing serious concerns about the way the application was handled.

Shealy said today that she doesn't think such efforts had anything to do with Augusta not receiving the federal dollars.

"Based upon the amount Georgia was funded, I don't think Augusta had a snowball's chance anyway," she said.

Shealy said Russell called her Friday to tell her the application had been denied, which she appreciated. The city could still apply for neighborhood stimulus funds in the future, but Shealy said she doubts Goshen would be included again.

If it were, though, she hopes Housing and Development would do a better job of informing residents.

"Hopefully, next time, they'll play by the rules," Shealy said.

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