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70 people out, questions loom. Crystal Lake Apartment case is going to court.

Meeting hopes to answer questions from apartment complex evacuees

Macon-Bibb County commissioners Virgil Watkins Jr. and Al Tillman held a town hall meeting for Crystal Lake Apartment residents Tuesday night at Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
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Macon-Bibb County commissioners Virgil Watkins Jr. and Al Tillman held a town hall meeting for Crystal Lake Apartment residents Tuesday night at Holy Spirit Catholic Church.

Code enforcement citations may be just the tip of the iceberg for the Crystal Lake Apartment saga that could play out on several legal fronts.

The owner of the west Macon apartment complex where about 70 people were forced to evacuate in February because of unsafe conditions will return to Municipal Court on March 22 to respond to a series of code enforcement citations. The owner is wading through several options related to the complex: finding a way to pay for the repairs, selling the apartment complex or having the property go into foreclosure.

There’s also an ongoing criminal investigation into the situation.

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office is looking into whether there was any fraud committed by the property management or owner related to rent payments that were supposed to also cover water and electric service, Sheriff David Davis said.

And another potential legal battle between the owner and tenants could be looming. The Macon-Bibb County chapter of the NAACP has obtained an attorney to represent the residents, said Gwenette Westbrook, Macon-Bibb NAACP chapter president.

In the meantime, Macon-Bibb County’s code enforcement case against Crystal Lake Holdings LLC and owner Steve Firestone is moving forward.

“If the owner does not sell, and the bank does not take ownership, then we would basically be in a position to treat it like other blighted properties,” Assistant County Attorney Michael McNeill wrote in an email obtained by The Telegraph. “The owner would also continue to be responsible for any code violations that have not been repaired and we could continue seeking relief through the municipal court system that way.”

The upcoming Municipal Court hearing is scheduled for a couple of days after Crystal Lake’s water could be turned off. The Macon Water Authority said Monday that the overdue balance currently owed by Crystal Lake is $40,729.

The timing of the next week’s court hearing, which was continued from earlier this month, has led to some Macon-Bibb officials questioning why Judge Bobby Faulkner is allowing the owner more time to deal with code violations dating as far back as 2017.

Faulkner has said the extra time may lead to the case being resolved without a trial. If not, Faulkner says the property may be foreclosed.

When the hearing was rescheduled, Macon-Bibb County released a statement saying it strongly disagreed with Faulkner’s decision to move the date back.

“His job was to hold people accountable and it didn’t matter what the circumstance was,” County Commissioner Al Tillman said. “I could see him saying give grandma a chance... but this has been going on for over a year and a half.”

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