Macon officials present Bartlett Crossing redevelopment project to public

For about a dozen members of the public, Macon officials at a hearing Tuesday laid out their plans to redevelop land that contains a blighted, abandoned apartment complex in the Bartlett Crossing area.

The city is looking at a partnership with In-Fill Housing Inc., a nonprofit organization run by the Macon Housing Authority, to demolish the former Macon Homes/Westwood Apartments and build single family homes in its place. Land surrounded by Ernest Street, Brentwood Avenue, Berry Street and Churchill Street would be targeted.

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 yield 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.

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 money from HUD.

The housing authority would ask for an additional $2.5 million from the state’s NSP allocation, chip in $1.3 million from its capital fund while trying to raise $9.5 million through the sale of tax credits.

“We have embraced the job,” said the authority’s executive director, John Hiscox. “In-fill hints at and directly states in the mission that we’re about the business of redeveloping the city that we already have.”

The city’s role is to demolish the existing apartments and provide infrastructure to the new development, which largely will be put together by In-Fill Housing.

The council would act as a redevelopment agency with ultimate oversight. About 75 units of low-density single-family homes restricted to low-income tenants would be built.

They would start out as rental units, with the long-term goal of turning them into properties residents could buy. Hiscox said the houses would be designed to blend in with the architectural style of surrounding homes and would be designed using a variety of floor plans, colors and amenities.

“Bottom line, it is not public housing,” Hiscox said. “And even more importantly, it won’t look, feel or perform like public housing.”

Officials will use input they received from Tuesday’s public hearing and from residents living near the development to craft a more concrete plan that will be submitted to the City Council this month for further review. If the council approves the necessary resolutions, the housing authority and In-Fill still must successfully obtain the tax credits from the state for the project to move forward.

In-Fill’s plan incorporates an earlier development plan created by Manna Ministries Inc., a nonprofit organization affiliated with Lizzie Chapel Baptist Church, which is in the neighborhood.

Although Tuesday’s public hearing was sparsely attended, neighboring residents met at the church last week to discuss the proposed development. Of 80 people responding to surveys there, 71 expressed favorable opinions of the project, said Harold Wilson, a Manna spokesman.

“With that overwhelming support, Manna Ministries then will put its weight and all the efforts it can to see that this project comes to fruition,” Wilson said.

The Rev. Ronald Toney, pastor at Lizzie Chapel, said that although redeveloping the land so that it presents opportunities for home ownership is the ultimate goal, the project as it is presented is the best option at this point.

The size and level of blight that currently exists there has confounded previous developers, and officials say it is only the federal stimulus money that now makes progress possible.

Toney and housing officials said the hope is that redeveloping the vacated complex will create a ripple effect in the area. “I think this project will allow for this community to be jumpstarted into renovation and revitalization,” he said.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.