Habitat: Gunfire hampering neighborhood improvements in Warner Robins

mstucka@macon.comApril 14, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- Neatly manicured rose bushes decorate many of the houses along a stretch of the Wellston Villas neighborhood. On a sidewalk between two of them is suspected gang graffiti.

On Monday, Houston County Habitat for Humanity’s executive director said at a Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency meeting that he’ll need much more help from the city to continue trying to upgrade the neighborhood.

The first item to address on Tom Prior’s list: “Gunfire.”

Police said Monday that a 22-year-old man was near the door to his home in the neighborhood when he was shot. The overnight shooting wasn’t mentioned at the meeting, but other problems in the neighborhood along Orchard Way, near South Pleasant Hill Road, were.

Prior said problems included gang markings and gunfire, which hurt Habitat’s efforts to upgrade the neighborhood.

“That is really hampering our ability to recruit partner families for Habitat. People just don’t want to live out there,” he said.

Warner Robins City Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins, who was at the meeting, said Habitat is helping to stabilize the neighborhood, but problems remain.

“Habitat has done a great job. But the area around there is not healthy,” Robbins said.

Stephen Roble, who helped build his Habitat house, was burglarized in 2009, on the day he was moving in, as he went back for another load of his possessions. Three other houses close to his have suffered from burglaries, he said.

Since he moved in, he built a fence and installed an alarm system, investments not originally contemplated during the building of his house.

“We never thought about it,” he said. Now, other neighbors have signs from alarm companies, and many have fences. Some bear stickers from a Neighborhood Watch program. Another resident installed a line of dense bushes to discourage people from driving through his yard. Different kinds of fencing and barriers have been tried to reduce crime from people coming through.

“I know my neighborhood. But the people coming in and out, I don’t know,” Roble said.

The Warner Robins Police Department did not reply to a request for comment and crime statistics for the neighborhood by Monday evening.

Prior said he’s been thinking about ways to lessen crime in the neighborhood, from fencing to a Neighborhood Watch. He wants the city to help with more fencing. He’s working with Gary Lee, executive director of the Redevelopment Agency, to address some of those problems.

Also, Habitat is running out of land in the neighborhood. Prior asked the RDA board to consider consolidating some of its land, purchasing more, and subdividing it again to make slightly larger lots that Habitat could build upon.

Prior said Habitat wants 53-foot-wide lots instead of the current 43-foot-wide lots, which restrict housing design to “shotgun”-style homes.

Prior also asked for help with drainage. The city has estimated upgrades would cost about $15,900.

Habitat is finishing its 22nd house in the neighborhood, which represents nearly half of the housing stock built by Habitat in all of Houston County.

In a tour of the neighborhood Monday afternoon, Prior pointed out a park at a barricade in the middle of Orchard Way. Students still wearing their backpacks gathered after school under the shade of a carport. Other children rode their bikes on a year-old sidewalk.

“There’s broad issues in this neighborhood --” Prior started to say to a reporter.

“-- That we’ve been trying to take care of for years,” Lee concluded.

In other business Monday, officials told the Redevelopment Agency that work on Commercial Circle is progressing, and landscaping could be installed next month. A barbecue restaurant is ready to sign a lease for the site of the former Meldino’s pizzeria.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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