Several senior citizens protested to Macon-Bibb County commissioners Tuesday about the plan to turn the current Bloomfield recreation center into the new senior center.
About 10 people showed up to the commission’s Economic & Community Development Committee, saying they were regular users of the existing senior center on Adams Street. A poll of 125 senior center users got 63 votes against the Bloomfield site, said Leroy Thomas. Thomas said he was elected to represent center patrons who want the decision reconsidered.
The Bloomfield site is far from downtown and in a “very high-crime area,” he said.
The 2011 special purpose local option sales tax included $2 million for a new senior center, but administration officials have said that’s not nearly enough to build a new center from scratch.
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As a result, they proposed expanding the Bloomfield center, while moving many youth activities currently housed there to the adjacent Gilead Baptist Church site, which Macon-Bibb County also owns.
That will save enough money to afford many of the features seniors have asked for, Mayor Robert Reichert said.
But resident Wilson Jones said the Gilead congregation moved from the area because of crime.
Robert Curry Jr. said he thinks the selection process moved too fast.
“A few people made the choice for many, and I don’t think that’s the democratic way to do it,” he said.
Commissioner Elaine Lucas, who was chairing the committee in the absence of Commissioner Larry Schlesinger, said the full commission has approved planning for the Bloomfield site. Sizemore Group LLC of Atlanta is to get $170,365 for designing a “mega-facility” at Bloomfield-Gilead.
Reichert asked seniors to “give us a chance” on the Bloomfield location. Getting everyone to agree is practically impossible, and other proposed locations proved impractical or too expensive, he said.
Lucas said public meetings will be held to discuss the detailed plan for Bloomfield, and the location could be changed if there is enough opposition.
The commission’s Operations & Finance Committee voted 4-0, with Schlesinger absent, to adopt the International Property Maintenance Code and its Georgia amendments for use by the Department of Business Development Services.
That’s primarily to allow use of a fee schedule for the most common blight issues, in hopes of getting owners to fix problems on their own, department Director Tom Buttram said. Code inspectors will be able to send fees straight to property owners, like a traffic ticket, he said.
“Right now we take them to court, and a lot of them don’t even show up,” Buttram said. Up to 70 percent of those cited for code violations don’t appear, and it’s hard to get a bench warrant for that failure, he said. Currently, citations to appear in Municipal Court don’t carry a set fine, said Senior Assistant County Attorney Crystal Jones. Failure to pay the new specific fees would trigger a bench warrant automatically, she said.
The fee list covers all sorts of violations, from wiring problems to tall grass. All garner a $100 charge, except for violating a stop-work order, which is $500.
That measure, and all other items which passed committee Tuesday, are expected back for a final vote by the full commission March 3.
BOX BAN TABLED
Though commissioners have said they want to “ban the box” -- prohibit asking applicants for Macon-Bibb jobs about any criminal history on the initial form -- an ordinance to actually do so got tabled by a 4-0 vote, with Schlesinger absent.
The proposed ordinance from Commissioner Al Tillman, who wasn’t present Tuesday, would hold questions about prior convictions until a second interview. Gov. Nathan Deal just “banned the box” on state job applications, Lucas said, and she wants to see how the state is proceeding. She moved to table the item.
Macon-Bibb representatives, including Watkins and people from government-linked agencies, brought back lots of ideas on handling blight from a recent visit to Detroit and Flint, Michigan, said Assistant County Manager Charles Coney.
Both cities are using their local land bank authorities to resell properties, Coney said.
Watkins said Flint held more than 300 community meetings on its civic master plan. A high level of community outreach and engagement is crucial, Coney said.
“This is too large for us to do by ourselves,” he said.
Real-time information on blighted properties, carefully targeted efforts and a realistic appraisal of the high cost are essential, Coney said. The trip was paid for with a grant from the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation.
WILLIE C. HILL REDEVELOPMENT
Funding a study of redeveloping the Willie C. Hill Government Center Annex at 682 Cherry St. as retail and residential space passed 3-1, opposed by Lucas, with Schlesinger absent.
Jones Lang Lasalle Inc. will be paid $35,000 for the work, the first phase of a potential four in marketing the property, Reichert said. The total for all phases would be $149,000, but Assistant County Attorney Opie Bowen said the deal could be ended at any phase.
A developer has already expressed “sincere interest” in turning the first few floors of the building into retail and office space, with apartments above, Reichert said.
Commissioner Bert Bivins said he wants to make sure the building continues to bear the name of Hill, the first black president of Macon City Council.
The Macon Tracks Club got 3-0 committee approval to asphalt and landscape a triangular dirt lot on Rivoli Drive. Schlesinger and Tillman were absent when the vote was taken.
“They want to improve this area at their expense,” Commissioner Mallory Jones said. For years runners have used the piece of public right of way for parking, he said.
Sam Martinez, a club board member, said the 38-year-old group has more than $70,000, plus free professional help from its 300-plus members for the project.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.