HAHIRA -- Hahira citizens and City Council members questioned at Thursday's Council meeting if the city has enough water and sewer lines to sustain a proposed 48-unit condominium project by Nelco Inc.
No action was taken on the agenda item to rezone an undeveloped tract of land on West Main Street in Hahira from commercial to residential in order to build the condominiums.
Councilman Temple Ogundu said he agrees with the concerns of the Lowndes County Commissioners, who also tabled the item at its Planning Commission meeting in April.
Currently, Ogundu said, there are five to six developments under construction. He said Hahira only has 128 water and sewer connection capabilities and a lot of the subdivisions have not been permitted.
Scott Alderman was one person in favor of the project. Alderman is the real estate agent involved in the project.
"If the city wants to grow, at some point it will have to have more water and sewer capacity," Alderman said.
He suggested taxing the property, which would generate $14,000 per year.
"I cannot imagine you would want some of the types of things that could be put there," Alderman said but was not available after the meeting to clarify what he meant.
Citizens applauded former Mayor John Adams when he said Council should not listen to the scenarios depicted by Alderman, and furthermore, the water and sewer infrastructure is simply not there.
Mayor Myron Crowe said the City of Valdosta had increases in water and sewer each year starting in 2000 with the exception of 2002.
In Hahira, there was a 50 percent increase in the water and sewer fees in 1986. It was followed by additional increases in 1991 and 2000.
Other residents, who showed up in full, spoke their concerns about the water and sewer lines.
Lori Land was one of those residents who wants to raise her child in Hahira and feels safe in the city. "We love Hahira," Land said. "It would break my heart not to be able to build my home here because we can't get water or sewer."
Councilman M.C. Nelson abstained from the discussion because his son, Laurence, is involved in the project.
Citizens also had concerns about the old Smith Hospital property, which was given to Hahira last August.
Hahira resident Ralph Clendenin presented the Council with a petition signed by 225 citizens. The petition states that citizens want Council to obtain a current appraisal of the property, and include in all official documents a clause that would grant the city the right to reclaim the property if it is not used as an assisted living facility or a nursing home for a period of 10 years from the date of an approval of an agreement between the city and Larry Dean, the man whose bid the city accepted last month.
Dean bid to buy the new part of the property and exchange work for demolition of the old part of the property.
Originally, Crowe, Bert Chancy, Hugh Chancy and Larry Dean were all involved in the facility deal, but Dean was the only one whose name appeared on the bid.
Crowe said, during a previous interview, he pulled out of the deal once he heard of the petition.
Hahira resident Freeman S. Rivers said it was sad they needed a petition for the mayor to pull out. "If that's the case, we need a whole lot more petitions," Rivers said.
Because of citizens' concerns, City Manager Janice Logue suggested citizens read a copy of Council's March minutes when the original vote was passed concerning the property.
Ogundu called for an investigation into the problems, saying, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck."
Ogundu said he wants the use of privileged information by city officials to enrich themselves investigated.
After the meeting, Crowe said he wasn't clear on what Ogundu meant and wished he had elaborated.
Crowe also assured citizens during the meeting that Hahira had no financial concerns.
When Crowe took office, he said Hahira had $920,000. Now, Hahira has $1,111,944. 35. About $734,000 was spent on health insurance for city employees, because there was no previous health insurance available to city employees before Crowe took office, and vehicles and equipment for the city.
"We make mistakes, but we make it right," Crowe said to the citizens. "It is a tough job up here. If any of you all are without sin, let you cast the first stone."
In other news, Council gave a first reading to the ordinance to increase the regulatory fee from $35 to $50 and the occupational tax from $50 to $75.
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