City of Macon authorizes partnership to help redevelop blighted area

Macon is taking steps to create a neighborhood redevelopment plan for an area in Bartlett Crossing that surrounds and includes a blighted, abandoned apartment complex.

The City Council on Tuesday signed off on a resolution that authorizes a partnership between the city and In-Fill Housing Inc., a nonprofit organization run by the Macon Housing Authority, to redevelop the former Macon Homes/Westwood Apartments.

The block of land surrounded by Ernest Street, Brentwood Avenue, Berry Street and Churchill Street would be targeted and would incorporate an earlier development plan created by Manna Ministries Inc., a nonprofit organization affiliated with a neighborhood church.

Funding would come partly from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which when passed through the state’s Department of Community Affairs is expected to distribute more than $4 million to the city and county. The rest mostly would be acquired through the sale of low-income housing tax credits that In-Fill Housing will apply for.

Macon’s role is to demolish the existing apartments and provide infrastructure to the new development, which will largely be put together by In-Fill Housing. The council would act as a redevelopment agency with ultimate oversight. Between 70 and 100 units of low-density single-family and duplex homes restricted to low-income families would be built.

The council’s action Tuesday was still somewhat preliminary. Next will come a public hearing, probably in about two weeks, said Wanzina Jackson, interim director of the city’s Economic and Community Development Department. The hearing will give residents a chance to contribute their ideas to the development. After that, a more concrete plan will be resubmitted to the council for further review.

About $1.5 million of the NSP money would be used on what is described as a $15 million project, plus the city over the next few years would funnel in about $500,000 of its yearly Community Development Block Grant appropriation from HUD.

Council members generally praised the redevelopment effort as one that is sorely desired. For nearly a decade, they said, the vacant apartments have dragged down a part of town that used to be much nicer.

“Inside of that area is 26 acres of just pure blight,” said Councilman Virgil Watkins. “Rust, dilapidated stuff — just falling over.”

Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said the work is long overdue.

“Something needs to be done quick, fast and in a hurry,” she said.

Still, several said they had questions that need to be answered before they give final approval to the project.

One is the role that Manna Ministries will play. Council members were perplexed when a Manna representative told them the organization backs the project only a few hours before they received a letter from another Manna official that they said expressed misgivings about the proposal.

Also, some council members were uncomfortable with the council’s role as a redevelopment agency and wondered whether the city ultimately would wind up committing itself to more than was bargained for.

But it generally seemed expected that the public hearing would allow ample chance to iron out any concerns while keeping the plan on track to meet necessary grant application deadlines.

“We definitely need to get this done in whatever way amenable we can for this area,” Councilman Charles Jones said.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.