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Residents oppose community center
Officials say survey was for Azalea Street project
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About a half dozen Azalea Street residents told the Hinesville City Council on Thursday they oppose the proposed construction of a community center in their neighborhood, and questioned the results of a mailed survey the city sent to homeowners in their subdivision.
Valarie Luckey-Merritt, whose elderly mother lives on Azalea Street, acted as spokesperson for opponents of the proposed community center.
Merritt said she, her mother and other residents oppose a community center because they experienced illegal drug activity in their neighborhood in the past, and were concerned a community center would only draw more criminal activity.
Hinesville has built affordable housing for low- to moderate-income families on Azalea Street as part of a redevelopment project, funded by a community development block grant.
Merritt suggested instead of building a community center, the city replace demolished single family homes and improve the neighborhood’s drainage by filling in open ditches where standing water will attract mosquitoes.
She also expressed concerns that police would not closely monitor a community center in a residential area.
Merritt’s mother, Vernie Luckey, said she has lived on Azalea Street for more than 40 years and has had her home and car “shot into.”
She told council members she and some of her neighbors do not want people they don’t know coming into their neighborhood, using a community center for parties and “leaving the mess for us to clean up.”
“We were told two years ago it was a done deal (we would not have a center built),” Luckey said. “The people who want it, some of them don’t live on Azalea Street. Others have been hoodwinked into saying they do.”
Merritt questioned the validity of a survey the city sent to 52 Azalea Street neighborhood homes by certified mail. She said some elderly residents did not understand the letter and so did not respond to it. Some did not receive it, Merritt added.
“I didn’t get a letter,” Azalea Street resident Kathy Winn said. Winn said she was opposed to a community center.
Merritt also handed Hinesville Assistant City Manager Ken Howard two written responses to the city’s survey from residents who oppose the center.
Howard told the council 28 people mailed their responses back to the city. Of those who responded, 22 voted yes to a center and six voted no, he said.
Howard presented council members with an operational plan for the proposed center. Recommendations included having the facility managed by someone from the county recreation department, and establishing a neighborhood organization and utilizing the existing Townhome Homeowners Association to oversee the center’s activities. Another recommendation was to have a police substation at the community center, he said.
The assistant city manager said by partnering with local non-profit agencies, meals on wheels and after school programs and a computer lab could be offered at the proposed center.
Howard said city staff was also looking at other options to provide security in the neighborhood, such as acquiring grants to help local police officers buy homes there.
Hinesville City Council Member Keith Jenkins said the city may not have done enough to ascertain whether the majority of residents want the proposed center.
Jenkins said perhaps city staff should have gone door-to-door with a survey.
Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier disagreed, and said he believes a mailed survey produced more accurate results because residents could respond to it in the privacy of their homes, without coercion from anyone.
Hinesville Council Member David Anderson Sr. said since the majority of Azalea Street residents who responded to the survey supported building a community center, the city should pursue the project.
The council did not take action on the proposed center, which, Frasier said, the city does not now have the funding to build.
However, council members did approve a final plat for 13 additional single family home lots and a one-acre tract set aside for the proposed 3,000 square-foot center as part of Phase II of the Azalea Street redevelopment project.
In other city business:
• The council approved, with various design and architectural revisions, a proposed development to include dental offices at 314 West Memorial Drive, which is in the Memorial Drive Subarea Corridor. One of the conditions included the developer constructing B-Street to city standards, upon which the city would then accept it as a city maintained street. 
• Council members approved a resolution asking the Liberty County Public Facilities Authority to issue the city a maximum of $11 million in revenue bonds to help finance construction of a new city hall and public works projects.
Edwards said the resolution would allow the city to be reimbursed for any money spent on these projects from now until the financing is in place. The city has already set aside $4 million in special local purpose option sales tax dollars for a new city hall and public works improve-

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